Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

San Francisco: Might be giants

Just up the road from Joe DiMaggio Playground and Pool, the street party was in full swing.

Pot smokers high-fived uniformed police officers, college kids passed their bottles of Jameson's to strangers walking past, and a lone vuvuzela rang out above the sound of beeping car horns around the Italian suburb of North Beach, San Francisco.

Not since the Summer of Love in 1967 - or maybe even the gold rush - had the city gone collectively wild like this.

The city's baseball team, the Giants, had just thrashed the Texas Rangers 4-1 to win the 2010 World Series - the over-egged name for America's domestic baseball championship.

A team full of "rejects and misfits" had ended half a century of underachievement since the franchise relocated from New York in 1958, and ignited the kind of frenzied reaction that, fingers crossed, New Zealand will experience come the Rugby World Cup final on October 23 next year.

I had arrived in San Francisco the previous night on Halloween and checked into the charmingly retro San Remo Hotel in North Beach. After explaining that the president of the San Francisco Ghost Society had just conducted a paranormal investigation at the hotel, the manager gave me directions to a few good baseball bars.

I pitched up at the Columbus Cafe, just around the corner from where Frisco-raised DiMaggio, who went on to star for the New York Yankees, married Marilyn Monroe.

Thanks to the patience and good humour of the bar staff and local barflies, I learned about the Giants' main players, where the strengths and weaknesses of the team lay, and quickly felt like a card-carrying member of the fan club.

The three-hour game was a bit like chess meets 20/20 cricket - subtleties and strategy mixed with explosive power hitting. In the end it came down to two of the Giants' great characters to claim the match. First baseman Aubrey Huff, who wore a "lucky" red, rhinestone-encrusted jockstrap for two months during their surge to victory, hit a home run. While cult hero pitcher Brian Wilson closed out the match with a succession of 150 km-plus thunderbolts.

By now the Giants were 3-1 up in the five-match World Series. So the following night I found another North Beach bar from which to watch the finals action - same excitement, and crucially, the same result.

Cue ticker-tape parades, keys granted to the city, and politicians - from the outgoing California governor Arnold "Gubernator" Schwarzenegger to the Batman-lookalike mayor Gavin Newsom, trying to bask in the glory.

And wherever DiMaggio is now, the city has finally produced a team he would have been proud of.

BIG GAME HUNTING

Top five places to watch Giants baseball games in San Francisco if you can't get to the AT&T stadium.

1. Vesuvio, North Beach: Mike the bartender was there when the Giants lost the World Series in 2002 - and more importantly when they won it this year. He'll happily share tales of torment and redemption while mixing a mean margarita.

2. Brickhouse Cafe and Bar, Soma: If the Giants are in town, head to this little bar a few blocks from the AT&T to soak up the atmosphere with fans attending the game. Plus the burgers are tasty.

3. Columbus Cafe, North Beach: A bar full of baseball aficionados, where you can choose from 21 beers on tap and buy two pints for US$5 ($6.59) during the early-evening happy hours.

4. Maggie McGarrys, North Beach: For beer-swilling good times, head to Maggies for a wide choice of beers and at least three big screens. Just don't ask for an iced tea - one young lady got the boot for such impertinence.

5. The Black Horse London Pub, near Union Square: Not for the faint-hearted, but a good place to settle on a stool and get a baseball lesson from a wide array of San Franciscanites.

GETTING THERE

Travel Air New Zealand direct to San Francisco with economy class fares from $2117 a person return. Air New Zealand operates five direct services to San Francisco between April and November, and daily (seven) direct services between December and March. Call 0800 737 000 for information.

Bevan Hurley travelled to San Francisco courtesy of Air New Zealand.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 02 Aug 2014 21:59:24 Processing Time: 618ms