It’s so great to be back at the ballpark again

Clay Kallam

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Jon Lester’s suffering – exacerbated by this Starlin Castro error – was actually part of the fun.Getty Images

OK, it was $50 to park. The tickets aren’t cheap. I don’t even think about buying anything to eat or drink.

But it was a perfect San Francisco day, a cooling breeze blowing through blue skies in lovely Oracle Park, and despite all the hassles and expense, there’s so much more to savor when you’re there in person.

Especially since the Giants have the best record in baseball and pretty much removed all doubt in this 10-4 win after the third inning. And yes, you can watch it on TV, but then you would never have gotten to appreciate, among other things, Jon Lester’s unintentionally hilarious body language as he watched the game collapse around him.

First, Lester has been one of the best pitchers of his generation and will likely win his 200th game this season. He has beaten lymphoma, won four World Series games and made five All-Star teams.

Now, however, he is in the twilight of his career, trying to slip 90 mph fastballs past players a decade or more younger, and hoping that guile and an occasionally darting slider can get it done.

After getting one out in the first, Lester walked Wilmer Flores (his own fault). Mike Yastrzemski then hit a grounder between first and second that many big league second baseman gobble up. Alcides Escobar, another veteran, had to dive for the ball, and it hit off his glove – if he manages to catch it, he probably gets Yaz at first.

Darren Ruf then hit a long fly to left, causing the fans to gasp in anticipation. It quickly became clear, though, that Geraldo Parra would track it down at the warning track. The runners tagged, and maybe Flores would get to third.

But Parra dropped the ball, for no apparent reason. Bases loaded. Donovan Solano followed with a rocket to left, driving in a run, but really, had Escobar and Parra made routine plays, the inning is already over.

After a long Brandon Crawford sacrifice fly, there were two outs and two runs in, so Lester can avoid disaster by getting Joey Bart, making his 2021 debut. Bart hits a hard ground ball that ricochets off Lester’s shin. No play. Base hit. Big bruise.

Lester just stood there, disgust radiating from his posture and pain radiating from his shin. But at least a run didn’t score, bringing up Thairo Estrada, a player few have heard of. Lester fools him badly, resulting in an ugly swing – and a ball that travels about 40 feet down the third-base line. No play. Base hit. Run scores. Lester’s shoulders slump, but only momentarily. He’s a veteran after all.

The second inning finds Lester back to his glory days, but Ruf starts the third with a fly ball that somehow finds the grass between Victor Robles and Juan Soto. It was reasonably hard hit, but pretty much any other spot on the field, it’s an out.

Solano then hits a routine grounder to third. Starlin Castro kicks it, for no apparent reason. Two soft singles follow, driving in two runs and bringing up Estrada again. By this time, Lester’s frustration rolls off him like fog rolls off the Pacific, but luckily Estrada is up, the Estrada who looked so bad in his first at-bat.

Estrada looks just as bad this time. In fact, precisely as bad. In fact, he rolls another 40-footer down the third-base line. No play. Base hit. Lester is immobile, as if stunned into catatonia. The pitcher bunts, but Austin Slater lofts another soft single to score a run, and Lester has lost interest in the project. He has pitched OK and is behind 7-0. By the time he leaves the mound, it’s 8-0, and with the All-Star break imminent, one has to believe he’s into his second beer before the Washington Senators finish a scoreless bottom of the third.

Sure, this was on TV, but watching Lester as the disasters mounted around him, as his good pitches went to waste and his bad ones got crushed, was impossible to appreciate unless you were there.

And of course, you don’t hear the music sitting on your couch, which means you would have missed the Rolling Stones classic “Gimme Shelter” just before the first pitch. “Gimme Shelter”? With the famous chorus “Rape, murder, just a shot away”? Say what? Is this the music of a woke franchise?

And then there’s the organ music, charming in its own way, and as old-fashioned as the fans unabashedly singing along to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. Even the hardest heart – and mine is among them – can’t help but melt a little while soaking in such sincerity and simple joy. On TV, it just seems hokey; at the park, it’s a heartfelt tribute to a pastoral game.

We also had a bended-knee proposal in the stands, a long home run by the ageless local boy Brandon Crawford and a sparkling pitching performance from Anthony DeSclafani.

Some of the experience, of course, can be captured by passing pixels, but especially after the paranoia of the pandemic, the presence of a lot of people partaking of the national pastime was pretty special – even without the alliteration.

In short, it was great to be back at the ballpark.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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