Nov. 2, 2010
FRESNO, Calif. - A jaded and flustered fan base swells with unbridled enthusiasm as the residue of scandal is washed away in a feel-good flood of emotion. A team none of the experts expected to be there is suddenly on the brink of a city's first world series championship. With upset after upset, dramatic win after dramatic win, an eclectic collection of ballplayers ranging from the oddball to the straight-laced, the wide-eyed rookie to the title-starved veteran, revels in the pure fun of the game. Seemingly immune to the inherent pressure of the ultimate stage, these fan favorites continue to uncover unlikely heroes as they ride the crescendoing wave toward baseball immortality. Radio talk shows are bursting at the seams with callers who swear they've never been this excited about anything. It's truly a phenomenon that transcends sports and lifts the spirits of an entire region. The funny thing is, we've seen it all before, or in the words of the inimitable baseball oracle Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."
The parallels between the San Francisco Giants' improbable run to the World Series and Fresno State's Underdogs to Wonderdogs of 2008 are impossible to miss. Isn't the best kind of sequel the one that packs just as much punch as the original? Through every "torturous" twist and turn, the Giants are giving us as exhilarating a ride as those Bulldogs did. Don't just take it from me, ask Mark Gardner, the Giants' bullpen coach who had the San Francisco clubhouse monitoring his alma mater's magic moments in Omaha. Ask him to consider the role of the hard-throwing but erratic left-hander who morphs into the epitome of command and control when the season's on the line. Would Gardner see any difference between Jonathan Sanchez playing that part as opposed to Justin Wilson? Track down baseball's strikeout king, now owner of the American League champions, Nolan Ryan. Watching Juan Uribe rob his Rangers at third base may give Ryan a little indigestion as he sits in the front row at AT&T, but it was no more impressive than what he witnessed from Warren Buffett's box at Rosenblatt, when Tom Mendonca's glove work had Ryan excitedly applauding. Nolan's Rangers ended up drafting Mendonca, so he probably wouldn't even argue if you took the two-headed hot corner act of Uribe and Pablo Sandoval to match Mendonca's Most Outstanding Player performance at the CWS.
The consensus NCAA Player of the Year in 2008 was none other than Buster Posey, whose Florida State Seminoles went "two and BBQ" in Omaha. To Posey, pose this query: is the ebony-bearded closer he's catching now, Brian Wilson, any quirkier, any more unfazed by occasional failure, or any more clutch when it counts than Brandon Burke, the right-hander who pointed his pistols at the Omaha sky and then got dog-piled behind the mound? Posey himself is a bit like Danny Muno, a rookie who doesn't play like one, an offensive spark with plate discipline beyond his years. Matt Cain's Tennessee drawl has diminished through his years by the Bay. The slight twang in Clayton Allison's speech adds to his engaging personality, but always seemed a little out of the ordinary for a guy from Visalia. Both of them let their arm do the talking, and for that pair of tall, broad-shouldered, unassuming right-handers, the results are strikingly similar. Take your pick for the dependable and defensively dynamic second baseman who might be the toughest out on the team: Freddy Sanchez or Erik Wetzel? The veteran outfielder whose teammates feel he deserves the title more than anyone: Steve Susdorf or Aubrey Huff? Huff's infamous red rally thong may be the Bay Area equivalent to the self-described "goofballs" and their games of invisible "death rays." Have you seen a looser, more unaffected team than the Giants? I know, I know, not since the Bulldogs in 2008.
Fresno State coach Mike Batesole characterized that "sixth-graders at recess" mentality as a reflection of the trust the players had in each other. With no superstar, no pressure to try to be the hero, just a determination to do one's job and depend on teammates to do theirs, those Wonderdogs discovered the freedom to just go out on the field and have fun. Tell me you don't see that in Bruce Bochy's Giants. That's where the magic is. Get beyond all the uncanny similarities, which seem endless. Facing a do or die game against San Diego (Toreros/Padres). Having to outlast a motivated squad from the Peach State (Georgia/Braves). Needing to win on the road against a dynasty nobody thought they could defeat (Arizona State/Phillies). I could keep going down the line with the cast of characters, but why don't we wrap up that discussion with the ultimate rise-to-the-occasion role. By now you've probably figured out that Cody Ross is the obvious choice for the part of Omaha hero Steve Detwiler, the only thing left is for Ross to catch the final out and then stick the ball in his back pocket.
The most powerful parallel is that the team is so much more potent than the sum of its parts. Turn these Giants into your fantasy league entry, and you'll fall to dead last. It's not about the eye-popping stats, it's about the power of we over me. The days where names like Victor Conte, Greg Anderson, and Barry Bonds dominated the headlines have gone the way of Fresno State's Stacy Johnson-Klein, Ray Lopes, Terry Pettis era. Nothing fires up a fan base like a team of genuine, selfless soldiers who make us believe we can achieve the impossible dream too. Sink down and soak in it, Giants fans. Get ready for an orange and black dogpile that reminds you of that raucous red one at Rosenblatt. And maybe when Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner make like the Bulldogs and have a season that started for them in Fresno conclude at the White House, they can take a slight liberty with the quote President Bush attributed to Detwiler. Would any of us argue with "torture is temporary, pride is forever?"
Paul Loeffler is the radio voice of Fresno State sports on KMJ, author of Underdogs to Wonderdogs, and a lifelong Giants' fan. To add your own observations to his comparison, join the discussion at kmjnow.com
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