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Profile of a Giants fan

Through high and lows, diehards endure the torture
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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Ask just about any San Francisco Giants fan what they think about their team and they’ll sum up the experience of watching a game or season in one word — torture. “Everything comes down to the last pitch,” said Auburn resident and longtime Giants fan Steve Wardwell. “It’s really hard to take as a fan but you persevere.” Wardwell has been a fan since the team arrived in San Francisco in 1958. He was 8 years old at the time. Since then he has collected first-year team photos, has a gin rummy card signed by baseball legend Willie Mays after a chance meeting on a golf course and is hoping that this will be the year he’ll be able to watch the Giants win a World Series in their hometown. “Once within my lifetime, being in San Francisco, I’d love to see it happen,” Wardwell said. And Wardwell is not alone. This year the Giants have made it through the first round of postseason play, defeating the San Diego Padres to be crowned the National West division champions. They then ousted the Atlanta Braves to advance to the National League Championship Series. On Thursday, they LED 3-1 headed into game 5 in a seven-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies in a battle for the National League pennant. Loyal fans and those swept up in the mania have packed AT&T Park’s more than 40,000-seat stadium. And the team has plenty of support in Auburn as well. ‘Playing’ the game from home Some fans are almost players themselves. Just like players, a few Auburn residents have superstitions and wear the same thing when they watch a Giants game. Most are on the edge of their seats during key plays and some have to remove themselves from the scene when things get a little too intense. Auburn resident Leslie Maita has been a Giants fan for about the past 10 years. “They’re a fun team to watch,” Maita said. “They hold your attention to the last minute. One announcer called it torture baseball because it keeps your attention.” Maita said she makes it out to a few games a year but mostly watches from home. However, the scene can be almost as intense. “It’s just on the edge of your seat,” Maita said. “Sometimes, when they’re not scoring, I have to look away and do something else.” At times, Maita has also told her husband, Steve Galyardt, who said he is not a huge sports fan, to leave the room. “I watch with her if she lets me,” Galyardt said, laughing. “At times I’m told I can’t watch them with her because I jinxed them the last time I watched, they lost.” Maita has a few other superstitions, too. She wears the same T-shirt while watching and doesn’t wash it unless they lose. She also posted an “authentic Giants fan” sign she picked up at a recent game in one of her front windows and it’s stayed there through the postseason. Wardwell said lately he’s been wearing the same Giants hat during games. “Every time I’ve worn it, they’ve won,” Wardwell said. “One time I didn’t wear it and they lost Game 2 of the NLCS. So I don’t know if that’s a new-found habit or not.” And as for watching at home, Wardwell said he’s working on keeping it down so he doesn’t startle his wife or their dogs. “My wife doesn’t like it when I get too excited so I just try to stay calm and watch it and I may have a few choice comments to the TV,” Wardwell said. Players fans like to see play Wardwell describes the players on the team as the “characters” and said this year’s group of men is a “mishmash.” “The current team is made up of a mishmash of has-beens and castaways that have come together to create quite an atmosphere,” Wardwell said. “It’s a good feeling that I hope is not wasted because the fan energy is certainly behind them.” Wardwell said his favorite player on the current team is center fielder Andres Torres despite the tough time he’s had playing lately. “He’s been playing in the league for quite a while but he’s been a real cliché spark plug for the team,” Wardwell said. “He’s been real important.” When it comes to favorite players in the Giants’ history, Wardwell is quick to name Willie Mays and Willie McCovey — both of whom he watched play for the Giants. “Willie Mays was not a big man — he was only 5 foot 10 and 180 pounds but to watch him hit a ball and throw a ball was amazing,” Wardwell said. Auburn resident Pete Aroz Jr., who manages Pistol Pete’s Brew & Cue in Downtown Auburn, said current Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s size versus abilities amazes him. The 5-foot-11, 172-pound Lincecum is a two-time winner of the National League Cy Young Award, which is given to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. “I just can’t believe he and I are the same size and he can throw a baseball at 100 mph,” Aroz Jr. said. “There’s no way in hell I can do that. He’s kind of a phenomenon.” Maita said she likes pitcher Brian Wilson, who currently has fans capitalizing off his dark facial hair with “Fear the Beard” posters being held up at games. “He’s got this dark, dyed beard and he wears these bright orange tennis shoes,” Maita said. “I saw him in person pitching about two weeks ago and he throws so hard. He’s just a presence out there on the mound.” Being a fan for all seasons The Giants history has had highs and lows for fans. Mention the 2002 World Series loss to the Angels and die-hard fans remember a dark, depressing time in their life. “When they lost in 2002 that was more than most of us could take,” Wardwell said. Lifetime fan and Auburn resident Phil Booker agreed. “After they basically had the game won, due to an error, they ended up losing the game,” Booker said. “That was the low point. It was immediate depression.” Booker said he also not so fondly recalls when there was talk in 1992 of moving the team to Florida. “That just took the wind out of my sails,” Booker said. “They came back and obviously acquiesced but it was a depressing situation.” But there are highlights as well — including this year’s season. “It’s been very positive,” Booker said. “We started the season with rather mediocre expectations and through trades and good play, the Giants have excelled.” For Wardwell, a highlight this year is seeing a new side of the team. “I think they’ve proven they can play with just about anybody,” Wardwell said. “They’re playing one of the best teams in baseball right now (the Phillies) and they are comporting themselves with a professionalism I didn’t know they had.” Fans love fans Local Giants fans agreed that whether it’s a longtime fan or someone who is jumping onto the bandwagon during playoff hysteria, a chat with someone wearing a Giants shirt, jersey or hat always ends up friendly. Maita said she had a half-hour discussion with someone she spotted wearing Giants gear at a recent wine and food festival in Downtown and Old Town Auburn. Booker added that many fans can bond over their shared frustration and love of the team. “I think over the years we’ve been tortured and loyal and intense,” Booker said. “We have an intense love of the team.” Wardwell said that he and a few other Auburn fans talk about two or three times a week about the Giants. “Most of us are brutally honest with each other whether they’re playing good or bad or indifferent,” Wardwell said. Wardwell said he likes the brutal honesty and shared intensity for the team. “I told somebody yesterday at Rotary Club, it’s not a matter of life or death,” Wardwell said. “It’s more important than that that the Giants keep winning.” Reach Jenifer Gee at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Ticket price history The cost of a Giants ticket has ranged from the price of a 20-ounce soft drink to what many would consider a well-paid salary. Here’s a glimpse at ticket price changes. - In 1958, general admission to a game was $1.50, according to promotional Giants items owned by Auburn resident Steve Wardwell. - If the Giants make it into the World Series, ticket prices for Game 1 at San Francisco range from $379 for standing room only to $91,894 for one ticket at the Oracle Suite level, according to StubHub.com - Regular game tickets for next season range from $8 in the Gamer section to $55 per seat for Club Level Outfield ----------