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Murph: Are things changing at Oracle Park?



© John Hefti | 2023 Jun 19

There was something different coming through my TV and radio Monday night during the Giants’ wild comeback win over the Padres.

Was it the sound of . . . Bonds Era/Bochy Era crowd energy??

Holy cardboard cutouts, sports fans.

Have Luis Matos, Pat Bailey and Casey Schmitt begun the re-emergence of Oracle Park?

Have Blake Sabol, Keaton Winn, Ryan Walker and Tristan Beck helped jump start a movement, a new era?

There were 35,376 win streak-loving Giants fans filling up the screen last night, and it made for a rich tableau. Life seems more regular with fans in seats on the shores of McCovey Cove. You’ve hated the sight, since 2019, of foul balls on weeknights bouncing around empty green seats. Foul balls heading to packed sections of jacket-wearing Giants fans on a Monday night is a much more soothing sight.

Yes, yes, I am aware the Giants won 107 games in 2021. I got the memo. But that was a COVID-affected year in which the team only drew 1.67 million fans for the season. 

Historical context for the Gen Z crowd: in Oracle Park’s first 19 seasons, the Giants drew over 3 millions fans every year but two, and even then they drew 2.8 million in the post-Bonds transition years of 2008 and 2009.

In 2021, emerging from the pandemic, even during the historic season, the Giants never drew a weeknight crowd as big as Monday night at Third and King. 

Let’s be rational and allow for some mitigating factors: It was Juneteenth, and many had a holiday. Also, believe it or not, little outcrops of Padres fans (!) encouraged to emerge from decades of anonymity by the star-laden roster, helped fill some seats.

But still.

This feels different.

A 6-0 road trip capped by a sweep of the Dodgers in L.A. (!) will inspire. Comebacks galore —Mike Yastrzemski homering with one strike left in the game in St. Louis; going from getting no-hit in L.A. Friday night to a Wilmer Flores-Brandon Crawford-led masterpiece; heck, let’s even go back to Pat Bailey laying down a squeeze bunt in Colorado for a comeback special! — sure do help.

(Maybe it’s a $9 beer? I don’t know. Hey, I tried my best with Larry. If you’re mad at 14-ounce domestic light beer, then I can only do so much.)

However you come up with the reasons, embrace this: the Giants had a chance in front of a big audience to send 35,000-plus home happy. 

Instead, they chose to send them home delirious.

Two in the bottom of the ninth with three rookies playing vital roles — a Sabol walk and score on a wild pitch, a Matos fly ball to advance Yaz, and a Bailey sac fly to left to tie the game – juiced ‘em up. And when (Tranquilo) Camilo Doval — admittedly, not a rookie, but a homegrown 25-year-old with a rocket ship attached to his right shoulder, to paraphrase John Brebbia — whiffed Manny Machado on the 11th pitch of an at-bat, the crowd surged some more.

And then . . . Yaz into the water.

A movement had its moment.

Given the chance to audition their wares in front of a fan base waiting to love them, the Giants delivered the performance of the season. It was as if it were Opening Night on Broadway, and the critics from Vanity Fair, the NY Times and Variety! were all sitting in the front row. 

You can’t wait to read the reviews — in this case, meaning going to the ballpark and finding the joy of high-fiving a stranger in a Schmitt jersey.

The park hasn’t looked like that or sound like that on a Monday night in years. 

What a way to start a summer.