Another season, but for the Giants, not another season. A season in which they are no longer misfits but winners. A season in which they are no longer unappreciated, but admired. A season to follow the season of them all.
Opening Day has arrived, a first game on the last day of March against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Dodgers, who for decades drew envy and enmity from fans of the Giants. Until 2010.
Until the Little Team that Could became the biggest team in baseball. Until the situation had so reversed itself that Dodgers fans were writing letters to the Los Angeles Times saying they were jealous of San Francisco — the team. They’ve long been jealous of The City.
The Giants enter 2011 with the confidence of a champion but also the realization no team has won consecutive World Series since the Yankees of 1999 and 2000.
The Giants enter 2011 with reassurance — with that group of starters, who wouldn’t be reassured? — but also with worries.
Is Brian Wilson’s strained muscle only as temporary as everyone hopes, or is it going to be one of those month-after-month problems which wrecks any chance of a repeat and makes us understand how fortune weaves its way into the best-laid plans.
Things have changed. In the region. In the dugout. Giants general manager Brian Sabean said San Francisco, meaning the Bay Area, had become a baseball town. Indeed.
On Grant Avenue in Chinatown, on BART trains in Oakland, in restaurants in San Jose, are the reflections of success — kids in Giants T-shirts, senior citizens in Giants hats. Paraphernalia has been restocked. Season tickets are gone. Everyone loves a winner, especially when there was a half-century of not winning.
But these Giants, even with the Big Four Plus on the mound, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Barry Zito — he certainly was sharp Tuesday night — and Madison Bumgarner, are different. The icon, Juan “Uuuu-ribe,” is gone, to the Dodgers no less. The World Series MVP, Edgar Rentaria, is gone.
The shortstop is Miguel Tejada, whose range isn’t what it used to be. The third baseman is Pablo Sandoval, whose weight isn’t what it used to be. For a while, there’s no Cody Ross. Brandon Belt will be there, and in the Opening Day lineup.
Baseball is a sport in which line drives are turned into outs and dribblers sometimes become base hits. Baseball is a sport of an occasional bad call by an umpire and an occasional bad breaking ball by a pitcher.
The Giants are good — skeptical scouts even agree on that — yet last year they only won the NL West and made the playoffs by a single game.
“They intend to show us last year was no accident,” were the brave words Giants president Bill Neukom told a civic gathering Tuesday, referring to his ball club. It was no accident, true, but neither was it expected.
Now it is. The Giants went through that season of sweet torture, of deep breaths and wins which realistically might have been defeats.
The memory of Wilson crossing his arms after the final pitch in the World Series is wonderful, but it’s time to put it away: Next year is starting.