Getting sentimental about Candlestick Park

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December 17, 2013 by juicefong

I’m finally old enough to have a real sense of nostalgia. Growing up in the Bay Area in the 80s and 90s, Candlestick was home to so many memories for me—some of which I experienced right there in the park, others watching TV or by radio.


Candlestick Park, current home of the San Francisco 49ers and former home of the San Francisco Giants, is closing down after next week’s Monday Night Football game. The old decrepit park will be torn down and the land redeveloped. Seats are being sold for $750 a pair and I actually thought about ordering some today, even though that is the dumbest idea because I live in a shoebox apartment in Brooklyn.

As a sports fan, I was blessed to grow up watching Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Brent Jones, Ronnie Lott, John Taylor and so many more turn into one of the greatest dynasties in the NFL. Right there before my eyes. The Giants in the 80s and 90s were not nearly as prolific, but I remember idolizing Will Clark, Matt Williams and Kevin Mitchell among others. We got swept by the A’s in the 1989 World Series, but it was exciting to advance that far. Then of course the Bonds years began, and that began to change things. Barry used to absolutely crush homers to that second deck in right field. No kidding there was some enhancements going on, but man that swing was beautiful.

While the Giants of that era didn’t have much glory at the Stick, the 49ers were all golden highlight reels. You had The Catch, Montana to a leaping Dwight Clark to beat the Cowboys en route to the Super Bowl in 1982—I was an infant, presumably enjoying that in a Niners onesie. It’s still the most famous NFL replay of all time. Another of my favorites is Steve Young’s 60-yard, tackle-breaking stumble into the end zone against the Vikings in 1988.

I was at my friend Tyler’s house when we watched the 1999 playoff game against the Packers. They had eliminated us three straight years. With 3 seconds left and down by 4, Steve Young trips and then fires a perfect pass to Terrell Owens who gets slammed but holds on in the end zone. This became The Catch 2. You’ve never heard Candlestick that loud—at least I never had. I remember screaming my face off at Tyler’s house. Everyone was going nuts. It’s worth watching the whole 2-minute drill in this 9-minute clip to get the full sense of the lead up, plus it’s vintage Madden/Summerall. T.O. leaves the field crying.

As classic as The Catch was, no one seemed to have a problem when they named T.O.’s catch The Catch 2. It was that big. And then Alex Smith found Vernon Davis on a post route in 2012 for The Catch 3. Vernon left the field in tears. It was a helluva comeback against the Saints, and established the Harbaugh 49ers. You really get the crowd feeling from this replay, shot in the stands.

I could go on and on, but thinking about my favorite memories at the Stick, they’re full of life lessons, too:

• It must have been my seventh birthday party, or somewhere near. Our family owned a 30-foot motorhome so we packed about 15 giddy second graders in that sucker and went to the Giants game. My parents had gotten them to put my name up on the big screen but I somehow missed it. When it’s your birthday at the ballpark, take your face out of that helmet ice cream cup and keep your eyes glued to the big screen.

• Speaking of motorhome: my parents and our neighbors would sometimes tailgate with it (brilliant). We usually had teriyaki chicken and crab legs (this is how 49er tailgating is done) and we’d always bribe the rangers at the state park across from the parking lots to let us park there in exchange for all the food they wanted. Anything in life can be yours if you bring great food.

• My grandpa had season tickets to the Niners and I often joined him. Kind of awesome thinking about a little kid and his grandpa at the game every other Sunday. Anyway, the neighboring ticket holders were a fun-loving bunch from Sacramento and a couple old grumpy geezers. I always wondered why they needed to share that water bottle, and why they took sips from it so carefully. When sneaking in vodka, a Crystal Geyser bottle is your best bet.

• In 1989, the Giants played the Cubs in the National League Championship Series. My family got tickets to all the home games and we split up who would go with whom. I got to go with my grandma to a day game but it was on a weekday—I was in third grade. My parents were teachers, so I needed a 106˚ fever to miss school. I never missed school. Except to go see the Giants in the playoffs that one time. We won that day. The playoffs are definitely more important than school.

• Sometime in the 90s, the Giants installed bleachers out in left field. On weeknights, you could get bleacher tickets for something like $7—they didn’t draw big crowds back then. My friends and I could spontaneously decide to go after school. One night we’re sitting there, freezing our asses off as usual, shivering under military grade blankets, and a homerun ball comes flying our direction. We start drifting towards it and it lands right nearby us. A couple of us get scurry and reach out to grab it but someone else nabs it. We were not nearly aggressive enough. When it comes to loose baseballs, take no prisoners. About 11 years later, I redeemed myself at Citi Field, breaking a rib in the process of diving for a foul ball off of Juan Uribe’s bat, captured here.

So, here’s to Candlestick Park, the coldest place in the world. Thank you for being such an important place in my life. Thank you for creating so many vivid memories for all of us. I will always have a special place in my heart for you.

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