San Francisco, CA: Hangin’ with Willie in McCovey’s Cove
This is Willie McCovey. It’s a statue; it’s not Stretch himself.
In the sixties and seventies, Willie was one of the best hitters in baseball. Spending most of his time at first base for the San Francisco Giants, he earned his paycheck by making pitcher’s knees buckle from sixty feet and six inches away in the lefty batter’s box. When Stretch came up to bat, Giants fans would all shift over toward the right field deck at Candlestick Park with hopes of catching a souvenir – a shift defensive players could have benefitted from too if that defensive mindset hadn’t been forty years before it’s time.
Willie never played on the field backing up to China Basin, feeding Mission Creek and then San Francisco Bay – but his namesake cove, built and named twenty years after his retirement – is now a paddler’s monopoly on blasted home run souvenirs.
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As of June 28, 2016 – the day I paddled the McCovey’s Cove – only 111 times has a player sent a game ball up and over the 309-foot right field fence at AT&T Park, high enough to clear the crowds standing on top of the 24-foot-high wall, and then out over a 27-foot-wide sidewalk – ultimately splashing in the narrow China Basin.
Belonging to Barry Bonds, 35 of the 111 sit in the record books with an asterisk.
San Fran, man
I drove up and down King Street for two hours; ok, maybe it was thirty minutes that felt like two hours because of the rush hour traffic, herds of biking hipsters cutting me off, and a one-way-street ‘U-turn’ design that even Google Maps couldn’t figure out. Finally, I sold my soul and paid $30 to park.
Welcome to San Fran, man.
In the comfort of my hotel room, a way-too-expensive Motel 6 almost an hour away from downtown in the not-so-booming metropolis of El Sobrante, the weather was perfect: mid-seventies, sunny, with a refreshing bayside breeze blowing the taco truck smells toward room 219. When I parked the car downtown and walked to the launch on China Basin, the six-foot swells were creeping over the seawall, the wind was howling uncomfortably, and the smell of tacos was overcome with discouraging conditions and salty danger.
I couldn’t paddle my little hybrid rec-canoe in chop that would make a sea kayak sweat.
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Sacrificing batting practice to avoid the perfect storm, I waited it out at a nearby pub – canoe locked to the bike rack out front.
Who’s laughing now, bike riding hipsters?
Mad-Bum for SF Mayor
A dozen oysters, a few Anchor Steam beers, and a cold front later, I launched into Mission Bay – a slightly less windy and considerably colder Mission Bay than a couple of hours ago.
I didn’t get a splash hit – now one of the signature features of baseball in San Francisco. Batting practice was over by the time I paddled two-miles around the Central Basin Marina, the docked cargo ships at Pier 50, and landed around two new friends. Greg and Brian had kayaks better suited for the conditions and the local knowledge and guts to go for it during batting practice. Their nautical grit paid off. As the only two paddlers in McCovey’s Cove at the time, they landed all the splash hits – now bartering away batting practice souvenirs in exchange for beers with the late-arriving yachters.
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While none of it crept past the giant Levi’s sign on the right field concourse, there was no shortage of offense inside AT&T Park. Jake Smolinski’s three-run homerun highlighted a five-run 8th-inning that gave the visiting A’s a 10-8 advantage and an eventual 13-11 win.
We listened to Dave Flemmings’s call of the game on the radio, cracked Oakland socio-economic jokes – because that’s the cool thing to do in San Francisco, apparently – and pleaded Bruce Bochy from the water for a Madison Bumgarner pinch hit appearance down two in the bottom of the 9th.
The paddle back was calm, the swells became canoe-comfortable, and I tossed the statue of Willie one last nod.
Thanks for having me, Stretch.