Ann Killion
Thursday October 28th, 2010

This town likes nothing better than a party. A really big party. Preferably one with costumes and cross-dressing and some watercraft involved.

This week it has one.

The World Series is in San Francisco for only the fourth time since the Giants abandoned New York in 1958. And with all due respect to 1989, when a honest-to-goodness California earthquake interrupted the series, this event may be even more uniquely San Francisco.

"Welcome to San Fran Freak Show," read an orange sign held aloft in the arcade above rightfield. The game inside AT&T Park was freakish -- a come-from-behind throttling of previously untouchable Cliff Lee with the Giants' own Freak, Tim Lincecum, on the mound. And the scene outside was purely freaky San Francisco.

With the World Series opening in San Francisco for the first time in 48 years, the boats started pulling into McCovey Cove -- the waterway alongside the ballpark -- around the same time the commuters started unloading in the financial district a few blocks away. Watching the water traffic from the walkway was a crew of diehard fans who had arrived at 2 a.m. to line up for the free viewing portals outside rightfield.

"Go ahead, try to rub it off," said Joshua Hernandez, 24, who has the intertwined SF logo tattooed on his neck. "I've had it since I was 21."

That means the tattoo -- indeed, real -- was inked when the Giants finished last in the NL West.

By the first pitch, the freeloading fans who couldn't drop the thousands per ticket being asked by scalpers were rowdy and ready. Fifteen hours after they arrived, they took their spots to cheer Cody Ross and heckle the Rangers.

"Our fans are fantastic," said Ross, who played in the emptiness of Florida. "This is how you envision the big leagues. It's so much fun everyday."

It was epic fun Wednesday. By 3 p.m. the scene outside the ballpark was full-on Halloween parade. There were bearded women (wearing fake tributes to Brian Wilson's beard), bewigged men (with Lincecum locks), men in tutus and knock-offs of Aubrey Huff's rally thongs, girls in orange Afro wigs and Grateful Dead Giants shirts (Jerry Garcia was a big fan), one guy with a carved Jack O-Lantern over his head. Wafts of pot smoke blew over the crowd -- California will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on Proposition 19, a measure to legalize marijuana. If the Giants fan base is an indicator, the proposition may pass.

That was the land-based carnival. On water, you could have walked across McCovey Cove on your hands without getting wet. It was wall-to-wall watercraft: yachts, kayaks, canoes, rubber rafts, one young boy on a paddleboard. The San Francisco Police Department patrolled on Jet Skis. The Coast Guard parked its cruiser out in the mouth of the cove. Kayakers scooted past it like eager partygoers past a cooperative bouncer.

"I don't think we've ever filled it up," said one Coast Guard officer, looking at the narrow waterway.

But it was getting close. And wild. On a motorboat sporting a large sign stating "We'd Bust for Posey," young women busted out of their tops, flashing their breasts at those on land. A man in a wolf mask with a fishing net navigated a rowboat. Two men in pink wigs on a pink rubber raft waved to the crowd onshore. More than two dozen kayakers slipped between the larger boats.

Bob Simons of Napa was tucked neatly into his kayak, snacks and beer below, a radio suctioned onto his side. Though he couldn't see the game from the water, he was part of the party.

"There's a camaraderie out on the water," said Simons who is something of a regular. He cruises over to the fancy boats to check out the action on flat screen televisions. He mostly stays dry, though he once got dumped chasing a home run ball. He doesn't want to repeat the experience.

"It's cold," he said. "And not so clean. That's the water flowing out of the city."

The city of San Francisco has come up empty in four previous trips to the World Series. In 1962, there was an assumption that one of baseball's most storied teams would continue its success despite being transplanted to California. So a seven-game loss to the Yankees wasn't completely devastating. Not with greats like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey on board.

But it took 27 years before the Giants got back to the World Series. The 1989 series against the cross-bay Oakland Athletics is an earthquake-interrupted asterisk. The Giants were swept and few people really remember much more than collapsed freeways and general devastation.

The 2002 World Series was a seven-game drama of hope and heartbreak. That team boasted the best player in the game, so getting to a World Series wasn't a complete shock. The manner in which the Giants lost -- with a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 6 -- was.

McCovey Cove became famous during that period -- when Barry Bonds was chasing home run records and ballhawks flocked to the water. But despite AT&T's short right porch, it takes a turbo-charged swing to get the ball wet. Only 78 home runs have been hit into McCovey Cove -- so-called "splash hits" -- and of those, 35 were hit by Bonds. Now that the Bonds era is over, the ball finds water less frequently. Only 18 balls have been hit into the Cove in the past three seasons, and only two in the postseason.

So the Wolfman guy with the net was overly optimistic. The scene on the water Wednesday was more a uniquely San Francisco party than a serious souvenir pursuit.

In the decade since charming AT&T Park opened, it has become part of the city fabric. The ballpark anchored new development; San Francisco's downtown has stretched out to meet it. The area has become a true neighborhood. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Alcatraz Island, the Giants' home park has become one of the great water-centered attractions in one of the world's top tourist destinations.

Inside on Wednesday, the man who used to send the balls into the Cove with regularity was a spectator. Wearing throwback leather and a remarkably smaller physique, Bonds was cheering on his old team. But in the pecking order of San Francisco icons at Game 1, Bonds was relatively low on the totem pole.

Among a group throwing out the first pitch was McCovey, perhaps the most beloved Giant of all time, the man whose sharp liner to Bobby Richardson ended San Francisco's first bid for a World Series. Juan Marichal, Monte Irvin and Gaylord Perry were also on hand; Mays was supposed to be there but was feeling under the weather.

Joe Montana was in the stands. So was Steve Young. This raucous, surprising run by the Giants seems a little more like the 49ers' first Super Bowl season in 1981 than any other recent Bay Area sporting event: it's a surprising, feel-good development.

Tony Bennett sang his ode to San Francisco. When Metallica was playing, Lars Ulrich was on the big screen; likewise when Journey's "When the Lights Go Down on the City" played as the white lights of the Bay Bridge twinkled behind the stadium, Steve Perry took a big-screen bow.

And the San Francisco icon of the moment was on the mound. The freaks were paying tribute to their Freak. They bought unofficially licensed Let Timmy Smoke T-shirts -- complete with a marijuana leaf. They gave him ovations. There were far more No. 55 (Lincecum) jerseys being worn than No. 25 (Bonds). He and his opposite -- clean-cut young Buster Posey -- have won over San Francisco, along with the rest of the team.

Lincecum got the win on Wednesday night. And the San Francisco party raged on.

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