Ann Killion
Tuesday November 2nd, 2010

Packs of pandas roamed the Marina District. Freak flags flew in the Haight. The thongs were out in the Castro. Bearded women screamed in the Mission.

While their team celebrated in Texas -- of all the unlikely places a San Francisco baseball team could pick to win its first title -- the local residents were reveling Monday night. This city of oddballs and offbeat celebrated their band of castoffs and misfits. Guys who just happened to become world champions.

From City Hall to Coit Tower -- both buildings lit up in orange lights -- to the Steps of Rome restaurant in North Beach to the raucous scene outside AT&T Park, Giants fans were delirious with not only happiness but utter surprise.

There was newness to the celebration, a feeling of astonishment -- that's our team? -- that hasn't been felt here since a kid named Joe Montana showed up and found shaggy-haired Dwight Clark in the end zone.

People in this city have been waiting to do this for their baseball team since long before there was a Transamerica Pyramid. Or a Silicon Valley. Or even the Grateful Dead.

Past generations of Giants fans waited. People like my father, who stood on Market Street in 1958, in a coat and tie with my older brother perched on his shoulders to watch the ticker tape parade welcoming a big league team to his city. Back when the term "big league city" meant something.

My Dad, who died a decade ago, taught his children about San Francisco baseball: that Willie Mays is the greatest player to ever play the game. That you should call Willie McCovey "Stretch." To always bring a warm blanket to a baseball game. To not be bothered if hot dog wrappers and peanut shells fly in your face during the game. To greatly dislike the Dodgers (though he didn't encourage Marichal-like violence).

And that, hey, you didn't have to win a World Series to enjoy the game.

Baseball in San Francisco could be as frustrating and as uncomfortable as a cold night at Candlestick Park (and there wasn't any other kind). Two different iterations of the Giants boasted the generation's best player -- Mays and then Barry Bonds. Despite baseball royalty, there were zero championships. A line drive to Bobby Richardson off McCovey's bat in 1962. An earthquake that rendered the 1989 World Series loss virtually meaningless. A rip-your-guts out collapse in 2002.

The theme of this season was "Giants baseball: Torture." But the torture started long before this season. It lasted a full 52 years.

Until this team. This group was, yes, castoffs and misfits as their manager Bruce Bochy called them: waiver wire claims and washed up shortstops with torn tendons in their arm (Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria, the respective NLCS and World Series MVPs). But, more importantly, it was bolstered by the most formidable gathering of raw-boned, homegrown pitchers that the game has seen in a long time.

This wasn't the Giants way: a team traditionally short on pitching talent but big on the slugging superstar -- a Bonds or Mays or Will Clark. That formula changed in 2010. This team jelled and worked and believed and -- ultimately --startled the baseball world. And its own city.

Ten thousand people gathered in front of a big screen at City Hall. Intersections were clogged, fireworks shot off and chants of "Ooooh" "Ree-bay" broke out all over the city. Thousands still remained outside AT&T Park when the team arrived home at 4 a.m.

Fans fell in love with this team that had so much fun. And that figured out a way to win.

"We're a bunch of old grinders," said Aubrey Huff, who appropriately enough laid down the first sacrifice bunt in his 10-year career during the winning rally in the seventh inning.

Well, they're not all old. There are the young country boys, who wandered into San Francisco like it was Oz and decided to make themselves at home: Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.

And then there was Tim Lincecum. How appropriate it was to have Lincecum on the mound, earning the clinching win in the World Series. No one did more to change the vibe and feel of the Giants franchise over the past few years than Lincecum. The quirky long-haired kid from the Northwest supplanted Bonds as the face of the franchise, even occupying Bonds' infamous locker stall, replacing the Barcalounger with a dog bed for his little white bulldog Cy.

Lincecum's arrival signaled change. He was unconventional and fun. And the pieces started to fall in around him.

"They don't have a superstar," an emotional Willie Mays told Comcast Bay Area Monday night. "That's what this team is all about. Twenty-five guys pulling for each other."

Though the past hasn't been particularly kind to the Giants, the Giants hold it close. McCovey and Mays are often shooting the breeze in the office of clubhouse manager Mike Murphy, who has been with the team since 1958. The photos of the greats line the hall of AT&T Park. The team brings the old guard back often. And they could all sense something special happening this season.

"This for the greats of San Francisco that played before us," said Brian Wilson, the man who launched 1,000 beards.

And for the fans that never had a chance to celebrate. Until Monday night.

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