Take a brand-new $7 million stadium, splash it with sunshine, whip it with a cold wind, add 42,269 fans, a pride of politicians, two baseball teams and four umpires, season with a lacing of high society, chill for three hours and there you have it—Opening Day at Candlestick Park, the Giants' new home in San Francisco.
The opener against the Cardinals was an occasion for great civic hoopla. Candlestick Park, regardless of its shortcomings (and it has them), stamps San Francisco as major league once and for all. Seals Stadium, the transplanted Giants' first home in California, was a charming little park, but in San Francisco, where appearances count for a lot, it was a reminder of the times when the town was minor league. As the splenetic Charles McCabe noted in the Chronicle, the games at Seals Stadium "always looked rather as if a major league team was playing in the high school field...for some terribly worthy cause."
Last week's festivities started the night before the game with a $10-a-plate dinner in the Garden Court of the Sheraton-Palace Hotel. Brooklyn-born Actor Jeff Chandler, who grew up to root for the Giants and play Indian in Hollywood, was the toastmaster, and the speeches were succinct. "You must realize that in New York our sentiments differ from yours," Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick assured the happy gathering. "There's a tear for every laugh, a sigh for every smile, and when you drink your toasts tonight, you're drinking our heart's blood in New York."
Vice-President Nixon, who lately has been attending so many sporting affairs that Senator Kennedy has challenged him to get out of the locker room, wondered about a Senators-Giants World Series. "But," said Nixon, "I realize that the chances of that happening are about the same as my getting the Democratic nomination for President."
California Governor Pat Brown shook up the house when he allowed that he hoped to "see the Giants and the Dodgers in the Series next fall."
On Tuesday morning, fans set out for Candlestick Park by diverse routes. Since the park is smack on the shore of the Bay, about 100 yachtsmen elected to boat down. A grisly note was struck when Hilary Belloc, son of Hilaire Belloc, lost the end of the ring finger on his left hand in the anchor winch of his ketch. His son Martin picked it up and they both raced to a doctor's office downtown where it was sewn on as good as new. Father and son then sped back to the park, arriving in time for the second inning.
The majority of fans traveled by land, even though it meant leaving home early to avoid the monstrous traffic jam the papers predicted. Everyone was so careful that no jam occurred. But on Thursday, before a night game with the Cubs, almost everybody decided to get to the park at the same time. Cars were backed up for miles.
The chic place to start out from on Opening Day was Trader Vic's. Thither society repaired to swizzle a rum concoction known as a Mai Tai, a sure morale booster for the run down the freeway to Candlestick. Robert Roos, board chairman of the Roos/Atkins stores, threw the party, and he shepherded his guests to the park in a motorized version of a cable car, stocked with pennants and affixed with dingdong-daddy bells. "This is our 100th anniversary," Roos said, peering over his Mai Tai, "and the cable car is in keeping with the tradition of the city."
Chartered buses were popular, and that's the way "the third-base group" went. The group, composed of a hard core of a half-dozen society matrons who attend every home game, met at the Roger Lapham Jrs.' at 10:30, then went downtown to pick up their husbands. Afraid of being snarled in traffic, they roared straight down to the park—and arrived almost 2½ hours early. "It was really very embarrassing," confesses Mrs. Thomas Carr Howe, the group's expert on what's "in" and what's "out."
At the park, the group ate box lunches ("chicken is out except for Opening Day—too messy"), had a round of drinks (gin and juice is in, but Scotch over ice is out) and cheered or barracked the players, depending on whether they were in or out. Daryl Spencer, traded by the Giants to the Cardinals for Don Blasingame, got the treatment. Mrs. Lapham held aloft a sign saying, "Welcome Blasingame from Spence's friends." Said Mrs. Howe: "If you ever hear anyone shouting imprecations, you know where they're coming from."
Very much in are Sam Jones, Willie Mays, Eddie Bressoud and Salty Parker, the Giants' third-base coach. When Parker began coaching at third last year, the group presented him with two dozen roses. Concealed inside was a bottle of gin. "When the group spotted Salty on Tuesday," Mrs. Howe said, "we all yelled, 'We're here,' and he turned around and got bright red. But he knows we love him, so he's safe."
Although the sun shone brilliantly, the park, laced by the west wind (see above), was frightfully cold. Besides numbing usherettes, the wind played tricks with the ball as the Giants won 3-1 on a three-hitter by Sam Jones. Some of the tricks: a high fly hit to left would hit the wall of wind, then plummet like a shotgunned duck. Flies to center were blown toward right field by perhaps as much as 30 or 40 feet. Something on this order happened when Cardinal Center Fielder Bill White had trouble finding a cyclonic drive by Orlando Cepeda (he's in) in the first inning. The ball went for a triple and drove in two runs that put the Giants ahead for good. Later in the game White slammed against the wire fence to pull down Cepeda's bid for another triple. Says Willie Mays: "You can't stand still while fielding a ball in this wind. You got to keep circling around because the wind might catch the ball and change its direction." Flies to right hooked toward the foul line, and the Giants' Willie Kirkland played them spectacularly—as though he had springs in his legs.
According to U.S. Weather Bureau statistics, the wind will probably get worse as the season goes on. It builds up to a peak in July, then slackens off slightly in August and September. At night the wind generally dies down. The first homers over the left-field fence came in Thursday night's game with the Cubs. But now and then a windy blast will sweep across, just as one suddenly did Thursday night, when the Cubs broke up a tie on a wind-blown fly to left.
The outfield wind isn't the only Candlestick innovation. The infield grass is "twice as fast" as it was in Seals Stadium. This could mean a lot of double plays at Candlestick—which is O.K. for the Giants, who have a good double-play combination in Bressoud and Blasingame. The fast infield will also mean more hits.
But the wind may lead to low-scoring games. Right-handed hitters will have difficulty getting the ball over the left-field fence. Right-handers will spray their hits as Mays is now doing. He went four for five in the second game against the Cards, and one of the four was a bunt single, supposedly the first of his career. Mays won't hit 20 homers in Candlestick, but he may bat .400.
Left-handed pitching will also keep scores down. A left-hander—and the Giants have three fine ones in Johnny Antonelli, Billy O'Dell and Mike McCormick—will have the wind to help him keep right-handed power hitters in check, and, of course, a left-hander has a natural edge anyway against left-handed hitters.
There is talk that the Giant management may bring in the left-field fence, but Vice-President Chub Feeney says, "We haven't even started to think about it. We would have to give it a great deal of study." Right now, windy Candlestick looks as though it will work to the Giants' advantage. The players are young, fast and alert, and conditions seem to bring out the Ty Cobb in them all. Says Mrs. Lapham of the third-base group: "We're going to win—and freeze—in that great park."
Average wind velocity 12 mph