A Giant influence

The old man would have been on quite a roll these days.

His beloved New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions and they have ticker-taped through his streets of New York twice in the past four years. His cherished San Francisco Giants celebrated their first World Series title in 56 years in 2010 and their first in his adopted Bay Area. On Wednesday night, Matt Cain (who was 5 years old when Dad left us) pitched the first perfect game in the history of the franchise, New York or San Francisco’s, Dad’s first home and his second home.

I never adopted the love for the football Giants that my Dad had. But I fell for the baseball Giants. Hard.

I can now thank him for that inheritance. For so long it felt like a curse. I was secretly bitter he wasn’t a Yankees fan despite growing up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium in the heart of the Bronx. I always thought life would have been so much easier to follow George Steinbrenner’s money than to be so emotionally connected to the sad-sack Giants. Now, I have an appreciation for grinding it out.

When my father died of cancer at the age of 59 in 1990, we had never thought either of us would live to see the San Francisco Giants win a World Series. His football G-Men were fine. They won a Super Bowl three years earlier and were four months away from another when he died.

It’s funny. None of us in the family adopted his football team. But watching Scott Norwood’s field-goal attempt sail wide right in January 1991 was a life highlight for everyone my Dad left behind. That ball got away from Norwood for my Dad. I’m convinced of it.

Twenty-two Father’s Days after his death, I don’t recall ever writing a tribute to him, prior to his death or after it. I don’t know why I am doing it now. Maybe I’m just tired of Father’s Day not meaning anything.

I feel comfortable doing it in this forum, because I wouldn’t be in the field if it wasn’t for him. The passion for sports came from Dad.

This was a guy who drove to Philadelphia to watch the classic Giants-Colts championship in 1958 because it wasn’t televised in New York. This was a guy who moved his wife and young daughter from New York to the Bay Area in 1959 for one reason: the Giants moved there the year before. He was stationed in San Diego in the Marines earlier that decade. That was his only trip to California prior to the move. But he was going to be close to the Giants again. Moving west was the only logical choice.

Sports bonded us our entire time together from him teaching me how to play them to him taking me to countless games, including the 1984 All-Star game at Candlestick.

My last good memory of him came within a couple weeks of his death. One day, we were watching ESPN. Lawrence Taylor had just ended his holdout. He arrived to the Giants with a new haircut and he looked pretty fancy. Taylor was my Dad’s favorite all-time Giant. He liked Y.A. Tittle, Kyle Rote and Frank Gifford. He loved L.T.

Barely able to talk, my Dad cringed at the sight of his hero. “I never thought I’d live to see L.T. look like a (wimp),” he moaned. I laughed. It was one of the last times I laughed in September, 1990.

I’m proud my Dad was able to see me start my career as a sports journalist. I had an internship at the local paper. That summer, just when he was getting sick, I was assigned to do a story on Willie Mays’ role with the Giants.

Mays was my Dad’s all-time favorite person alive. They were two Willies. They were born eight days apart in 1931. They served in the military at the same time. They both bled black and orange.

He was thrilled I was going to interview the Say Hey Kid. After the interview, when I remarked to my father that his hero was a difficult interview subject, I was scolded. He told me that Mays didn’t have time to talk to a 22-year-old punk and that I better step up my game if I wanted to deal with legends.

Twenty-two years later, the Mays interview remains one of my toughest of my career. But my Dad was right. I was a punk, who needed to step up his game. Thanks, Dad, for giving me the strength to become a man in your absence.