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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Class A in San Jose

By Eric A. Carlson

"He could throw a lamb chop past a wolf."

--Westbrook Pegler, on Lefty Grove

THE SAN JOSE GIANTS are a class A ball club affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, and play in withered but glorious Municipal Stadium in sun-beat San Jose. The team is currently battling the Stockton Mudville Nine for first place in the North division of the California League. Watching the games in Municipal Stadium is almost the most fun you can have with your pants on. Oddly, the team is not mentioned in San Jose's "officially" sanctioned website, City of San Jose (www.ci.san-jose.ca.us), which lists only the Sharks, Sabercats and Earthquakes as professional teams. Earthquakes?

As I watched the SJ Giants pull the wings off the San Bernardino Stampede--a 9 to 4 dismemberment--memories of halcyon youth and the Salt Lake City Bees washed over the shores of my medulla oblongata. Third baseman Max Alvis came to mind, his cheek so engorged with chewing tobacco that it frightened small children in the stands. And a memorable evening when the Chicago Cubs showed up for an exhibition game . . . and were humiliated by the lowly Bees, 25 to 1. A big Bee named Walt Bond, who never amounted to a hill of beans in the majors, routinely hit towering home runs over the right-field fence to the delight of bubbly Bee fans.

Baseball has been played in San Jose since 1898 when the San Jose Dukes enjoyed great success. In 1942, Municipal Stadium opened for business as a cozy nest for the San Jose Owls. The San Jose Giant incarnation began in 1988--an unholy alliance with "The City" Giants. Play continues in the friendly, and peculiar, confines of Municipal Stadium.

When I heard Frank Sinatra crooning from loudspeakers as I approached the stadium, I took it as a good omen. Within, a phone booth is bizarrely camouflaged by a mural of Clark Kent turning into Superman and a snippy Clark-dishonoring Lois Lane talking on the phone. Next to the Superman homage stands a Blimpy the Clown candy dispenser with "Try me, I talk" painted over a microphone. I did not talk into the clown candy dispenser, as everything was happening very fast and I was a bit overwhelmed by the richness of it all. I had been transported 40 years back in time, into Very, Very San Jose. Nary a sign of Silicon Valley--thank God.

Two spectacular San Jose Courtesy Girls, Toni and Dani, cheerfully pointed out stadium amenities as I parked myself, heavily laden with chili dog, nachos and extra jalapeño peppers, and a 20-ounce cup of Red Hook beer. I savored the spirituality of the moment as men raked the base paths and the sun warmed my bones. I was experiencing a near-life experience.

The singing of the national anthem caught me off guard. Socorro Tartoria sang it as if it meant something--no hip-hop diva warbling her tonsils and shaking her tail feathers or punishing sports fans with jazzy "interpretations," but a voice that filled Municipal Stadium with glory, hope and soaring music. Beautiful.

Turkey Mike's BBQ is impossible to ignore. It is part and parcel of Municipal Stadium and is named after "Turkey Mike" Donlin, described as "scrappy and wild-eyed," who played at the turn of the century (1900). Sit at one of 40 picnic tables adjacent to left field and chow down on succulent fare.

Promotions and prizes are nonstop and droll. At one point the announcer barked out a description of a car and license number, and then added that the lucky owner was entitled to a free car wash--as his car had been designated the dirtiest in the parking lot. Duct tape night and Rotten Robbie day are just around the corner--no, really.

Final note: At the Speed Pitch, on my way out, I purchased three balls from Audrey to test the ferocity of my fastball. Balls are hurled at a plastic tarp and the speed recorded. I registered a wimpy 54 mph, and my arm hurt the rest of the day.

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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