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San Francisco Is Crazy, And Everything About Anaheim Totally Sucks

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The following post is half baseball stuff and half trip journal, so, since people don't come here to read about my life (I hope), I'm putting it after the jump. Doing so also comes with the added bonus of keeping Deanna's latest post visible on the front page, so if you haven't read it yet, check it out. Deanna's a gifted writer and I can't thank her enough for filling in for me while I was away. If you liked what you were reading, you can check her out at her daily Marinerds blog, which should be hosting some interesting Japanese baseball commentary pretty soon as Deanna takes a vacation of her own.

And away we go...

I've always been jealous of those people who take extended baseball road trips. I love watching games, I love walking around unfamiliar stadiums, I love to travel - while it's not sharing a summer beach house with Eliza Dushku for a month and a half, it's pretty much my ideal (realistic) vacation, and one of those things I've wanted to do for a real long time. So imagine my excitement when I realized that this August would extend to me the opportunity to take such a trip. Nothing huge and expensive, of course - I am a student - but the schedule worked out perfectly to catch a game in each of the six West Coast stadiums around the middle of the month, so I decided to go for it. I pitched the idea to a friend in July, and it was settled: come mid-August, the two of us would embark on a whirlwind tour of the California and Washington Major League ballparks. Some we'd already visited, some we hadn't, but it wasn't so much about seeing new places as it was about seeing so many places in such a short timespan.

Here's the thing about students - when it comes to the planning stages, the preferred course of action is to sit on your ass and wait for something to make you get started. In the weeks leading up to the trip, both my friend and I looked at the various schedules and talked about how we wanted to go about doing all this, but nothing was written in stone. For much of the summer, the whole idea was purely hypothetical. Finally something happened - a delay at my friend's office forced us to push back our date of departure and cut the trip in half. It was at that point that we decided we had to get serious about planning, because if we didn't do something soon we may not be able to go at all. And so we scrambled to slap a plan together: drive to LA, take the train to San Francisco to catch a game in AT&T Park, take the train back, catch a game in Anaheim, drive home, and catch a game in Petco. It was only three stadiums instead of six, but it was something, and we were looking forward to it. That's where we stood last Tuesday.

The problem with wanting to take a train from LA to San Francisco, though, is that the plan requires that there be a train from LA to San Francisco, which apparently there isn't. We discovered this on Wednesday, roughly 36-48 hours before we wanted to leave. The only available options as far as ground transportation was concerned were (A) some convoluted series of train and bus rides through San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, and Emoryville, and (B) renting a car (neither of our cars are reliable enough to take on such a trip). Being both undesirable and impractical, we turned to airplanes, and settled on a reasonably affordable 6am Friday morning flight from LA to Oakland (whose international airport is closer to San Francisco than San Francisco's). For those of you that don't know, I live in San Diego during the summer and LA's a two-hour drive, so just staying up and driving to the airport in time for the flight was going to be exhausting and miserable, but like Harold and Kumar, at this point it wasn't as much a matter of enjoying the destination as it was a matter of getting there in the first place, so my friend and I agreed to do it. That's where we stood last Wednesday. Thursday night I stayed over at my friend's house, and together we got ready for the early-early-morning drive that would kick off our vacation.

And the Mariners lost.

Despite warnings of increased airport security, we were parked by 4:45 and at the gate by 5:00, weary but determined to make it to San Francisco before finally succumbing to fatigue. I still must've fallen asleep, though, because shortly thereafter I awoke to a low rumble and my eyes told me that we'd set down in Oakland. Like zombies, my friend and I walked off the plane, grabbed our luggage, and headed for the shuttle that'd take us to the nearest BART stop.

That turned out to be the Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop, with McAfee in plain view a few blocks away. Granted, we didn't step foot inside, but everything you've heard about it is true - it's ugly, it's uninviting, and it's in the middle of a sketchy neighborhood. Not difficult to understand why the A's consistently fail to draw much in the way of attendance despite being a successful team every year. We joked that, instead of McAfee, the stadium should be sponsored by King Stahlman Bail Bonds, and that, based on the lack of both foot and motor traffic, there must've been a home game going on. For some reason I thought the stadium might be better looking, that its reputation as a concrete eyesore might be overblown, but, no. It's dreadful. The big player posters they have hanging around the sides are like smiley face stickers on a coffin.

We hopped on the BART train and looked out the window as it took us through the city. As it turns out, everything in Oakland looks like it's in a sketchy neighborhood, with rusted metal, dilapidated houses, and industrial property as far as the eye could see. Presumably the BART just runs through the worst parts of the city, because it can't possibly all be that bad. Can it? The thick low-hanging clouds certainly didn't make it look any better by casting a gray shadow over everything, but I dunno, the entire area looked pretty inhospitable.

Oakland disappeared from view as the train went underground, and several minutes later we arrived at the stop nearest our hotel in San Francisco. We emerged from the station to discover that we were apparently staying in the local barrio, but by that point my friend and I were so tired that we'd have been perfectly happy falling asleep on the sidewalk. A few other people evidently beat us to the punch, though, with old blankets and shopping carts full of supplies and everything, so we found breakfast, checked into our hotel, and slept through the afternoon. We woke up at five, and fifteen minutes later we were out the door and on our way to AT&T Park. Brad Penny and the Dodgers vs. Jason Schmidt and the Giants on a Friday night? That's an incredible matchup, and the nature of the rivalry is such that San Francisco could've been winless and they still would've sold out. I was excited.

It didn't take long to arrive at the ballpark. (San Francisco's public transportation is simple, quick, and convenient, and a great way to get to a game.) Once there we walked through the main gate and spent a little while trying to figure out where we were supposed to go with out standing room only tickets before we realized that we could be anywhere we wanted along the entire outfield promenade. There's a wide concourse that stretches around from the Coca-Cola bottle and replica glove in left field to McCovey Cove in right, and SRO tickets allow you to stand wherever you want along the walkway. It's a terrific deal and a welcome break from the cramped, crowded environment of a typical sellout. Which isn't to say that there weren't a lot of people milling around - it was a big game, after all - but I rather appreciate the option of being able to stretch my legs and see the game from a different vantage point whenever I want without having to bother the person seated next to me.

It didn't take long for us to figure out that Dodgers/Giants isn't just your friendly everyday rivalry. All you ever hear about anymore is Yankees/Red Sox, and sometimes you forget that there are other teams that hate each other just as much. There were a number of Dodger shirts, jerseys, and hats along the walkway, but anyone that had so much as a single blue thread in his wardrobe would get mercilessly berated by a dozen other people in orange and black. Seemingly everyone in attendance had to respond any and everytime a Dodger fan walked by with a shout, gesture, or insult. It came as naturally and automatically as breathing - these people have been conditioned for their entire lives to hate Los Angeles, and their immediate response whenever they catch a glimpse of Dodger blue is to boo and make a derogatory remark. It's really something to behold, and the sort of thing you can't imagine taking place at Safeco.

Mind you, it's worth considering that pretty much everyone around us was intoxicated. Now, I go to a small college, but I've still never seen so many drunk people in one place in my entire life. This was almost certainly at least partially to blame for the hostile environment, along with the frequently subpar nature of the trash talk. I present to you a typical discussion between the rival fans:

Giants Fan: "LA sucks!"
Dodgers Fan: "Yeah yeah whatever."
Giants Fan: "Go back -...go back to your smog!"
Dodgers Fan: "First place baby, first place!"
Giants Fan: "Fuck LA! Fuck you! Fuck LA!"
Dodgers Fan: "First place!"

Repeat ad nauseum. You think I'm exaggerating but I'm not; apparently inebriation does a number on your creativity. That said, Giants fans more than made up for their lack of imagination by starting a loud and powerful "Beat LA" chant well ahead of the first pitch. Completely unprompted, too. As a Mariners fan, I didn't even know that was possible.

Anyway, the game started, and the Dodgers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead courtesy of a Nomar Garciaparra RBI groundout. Two batters later Jeff Kent came to the plate to a chorus of short-lived but heartfelt boos, a kind of "reminder" boo to Kent that, while San Francisco is a year and a half into getting over his backstabbery, the city still hates him and want him to suffer. He popped out to rabid applause.

Penny and Schmidt traded 1-2-3 innings, which took us to the bottom of the second. And I have to say, my first Barry Bonds at bat in AT&T left much to be desired. After receiving an ovation that was more out of acknowledgment than expectation, Bonds grounded out weakly to first and returned to the dugout. Then the rally started. A single, double, and wild pitch tied up the game, and two batters later an Elizier Alfonzo sac fly gave the Giants the lead. Cue another "Beat LA" chant. Again completely unprompted. My jaw hit the ground. A picture of Paris Hilton appeared on the scoreboard next to a speech bubble saying "That's hot." (I'm dead serious.)

After Schmidt got out of a jam in the top of the third my friend and I went in search of food. On our way around the concourse and down a staircase I mentioned to him that I'd been to a Giants game in Candlestick before, but that I came away disappointed because all I wanted was to hear the fog horn, and no one homered. Literally 30 seconds later we heard a roar from the crowd and the fog horn sounded. Nearby TV monitors told us that Omar Vizquel had just put the Giants on top 4-1 with a two-run homer. While I was happy that I got to hear it, I didn't get to watch the actual homer, so this struck me as pretty lousy timing to visit the concessions. The moment was salvaged, though, when I got to hear yet another "Beat LA" chant, this time from underneath the bleaches in left-center field.

We got our food and returned to the walkway upstairs to watch the rest of the game (AT&T makes a mean Italian sausage). With a lull in the action, though, pretty soon we came to understand the main drawback of SRO tickets in San Francisco - standing right next to the bay leaves you vulnerable to the chilling breeze that blows in off the water. For the final four innings or so I was literally freezing, the frigid temperature in right field nowhere close to the reported 61 degrees behind home plate. It wasn't enough to ruin the experience by any means, but it became a frequent topic of conversation between my friend and I as the game wore on. "Fuck, it's cold." "I know." "Fuck." People around us seemed to be dealing with the conditions significantly better, but they were all plotzed out of their minds, and alcohol has a way of keeping you warm on even the coldest of nights.

In the bottom of the sixth, Shea Hillenbrand launched a two-run homer to center field, triggering a series of "This ship is sinking!" jokes. I got to hear the fog horn again, and also get sprayed by these four pillars behind the right-center fence that shoot water when a Giant goes deep. A picture of Lil Jon appeared on the scoreboard next to a speech bubble saying "Razzle Dazzle." On top 6-1, the Giants were about to run their winning streak to five, pulling themselves back into the pennant race. Another "Beat LA" chant started, only by this point in the evening people had thrown back enough firewater (the Jack Daniels stand certainly didn't help) that "Fuck LA" caught on instead, at least in right field. Winning breeds confidence, and confidence breeds belligerent arrogance, I suppose.

Schmidt cruised for another inning and we got to the top of the eighth, still 6-1 Giants. After retiring Julio Lugo, though, Schmidt walked the next two batters he faced and got yanked, returning to the dugout to a standing ovation. Not the kind of dumbass standing ovation Safeco gives pitches who allow fewer runs than innings pitched - this one was actually deserved, because Schmidt pitched his ass off in an important game. Replacing him was Vinny Chulk who proceeded to walk Nomar to load the bases. A sac fly and single later, Andre Ethier came to the plate as the tying run, and Felipe Alou countered with Mike Stanton. Only, it almost didn't work, as Ethier launched a high fly ball in our direction that was finally run down on the warning track. The entire stadium exhaled, as the Giants had escaped despite being only a few feet away from a colossal meltdown.

If people were relieved when Ethier flew out, they were positively giddy when Steve Finley's old ass led off the bottom of the eighth with a homer to right. A picture of Snoop Dogg appeared on the scoreboard next to a speech bubble saying "Fo shizzle." That sealed it. Even with the four-run lead, Armando Benitez was summoned from the bullpen and capped off a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout of Julio Lugo. Dodger fans scurried away as the stadium erupted, Giants fans eager to erase the memory of their sweep in Los Angeles just a week earlier. As my friend and I exited the stadium in the direction of the nearest BART stop, we heard another powerful and proud "Beat LA" chant from the people descending the ramp to our left. The amount of passion was almost surreal. I have never been to a stadium with so much energy.

45 minutes later we were back in our hotel room (which was suddenly in the middle of a lively neighborhood, as the ratty closed storefronts we saw in the morning had opened up to reveal a number of bars and clubs), getting ready to sleep.

And the Mariners lost.

We woke up in the morning and decided to take advantage of the few remaining hours we had in the Bay Area by grabbing lunch at Pier 39. I only mention this because, while we were waiting for our food, one of those delightful San Francisco crazies walked by the restaurant, carrying on a very animated conversation with the group of companions in his head. I don't mean to make fun of the mentally ill, but this is really a feature that's unique to San Francisco, as they seem to have more homeless schizophrenics than any other city in the world. You know how you always hear about how people who have ear pieces for their cell phones look crazy when they're talking? The homeless in San Francisco are those crazy people. And the cosmic joke is that, with San Francisco being one of the most expensive places to live on the planet, the homeless peoples' favorite spots on the sidewalk are probably worth more than my house.

So after we finish lunch we head to the Oakland airport, which comes with the unfortunate side-effect of having to go through Oakland again. Seeing it in the daylight made it look a little better, but it was still slummy and gross, and not a place I'd want to raise my kids. We got to the airport at 3:00 and were waiting by the gate at 3:10. I don't know where all the people traveling were this past weekend, but they certainly weren't in California.

The next game on the schedule was in Anaheim on Sunday, with Seattle in town for a 12:35pm matinee. With nothing to do aside from travel on Saturday, we got into LA, grabbed some dinner, and had a relaxing night of sleep.

And the Mariners lost.

The next morning we drove down to Angel Stadium and pulled in around noon. My first thought upon seeing the fans walking towards the gates was just how fresh and clean all of their red and white team apparel was. Anaheim isn't exactly the kind of place where it's easy to keep clothes clean, considering even their air made it almost impossible for me to keep my eyes open for more than ten seconds at a time, so the only logical conclusion was that all of the shirts and jerseys were newly purchased. Which, of course, makes sense, given that Anaheim has a reputation of being the biggest bandwagon city in baseball. Apart from one guy in a Nolan Ryan jersey, the farthest back any of the names went was David Eckstein. There were a ton of bright new Vladimir Guerreros, a couple hilariously pointless Darin Erstads, and a smattering of Garret Andersons. I already felt dirty, and we weren't even out of the parking lot.

Eventually we got to our nosebleed section along the first base line, mercifully hidden from the sunlight in the shade of an overhang. Less than enthusiastic to bear witness to Jake Woods' first career Major League start, I sighed and settled into my seat behind a girl who roughly two years from now I'll legally be able to call attractive. Looking around, I noticed something else in addition to all the new jerseys - there were a gazillion children in attendance. Angel Stadium is apparently the hotspot for parents who're too poor for Disneyland to take their kids. Generally I don't have a problem with children at baseball games since they get exposed to the world's greatest sport, but these kids clearly aren't getting any superior baseball knowledge passed down from their parents, which means they're just raising a whole new generation of know-nothing bandwagoners. Apparently it wasn't enough for Angels fans to be unbearable - now they're breeding, too.

The starting lineups renewed my interest in the game, because not only had Ichiro moved to center to accomodate Chris Snelling (!!) in right, but the Angels were also starting Reggie Willits, who's cute and harmless the way that Brandon Fahey is cute and harmless. Even his batting stance is suggestive of a guy who's going to take every pitch he sees until he's forced to slap at something with two strikes. Anaheim seems to have a never-ending pipeline of these guys.

The game started in predictable fashion - Ichiro singled, Lopez looked stupid, and minutes later Richie Sexson struck out to end the inning. I was convinced that the Mariners would need at least six or seven runs to win with Jake Woods on the hill, so I didn't really want to see any wasted half-innings, and striking out swinging three times against Ervin Santana in the span of five batters wasn't a great sign going forward. I came to accept that this game was going to suck.

The longer it went, though, the less it sucked, with Jake Woods actually looking something like a pitcher and Richie Sexson blasting an absolute bomb over the center field fence to put the M's on top 2-0. I've been to two Seattle/Anaheim games this year, and both times Richie's put a ball in the fountain. That guy loves his low fastballs, and when he hits a ball well, it's a no-doubter.

The game was delayed for a moment when a beach ball fell onto the field.

Minutes after Sexson's home run I felt like the Mariners were on the verge of breaking things open. There were two outs at the time but Betancourt was standing on second, Snelling was standing on first, and Rene Rivera was working on a 3-0 count. I was convinced that, should Rivera walk, Ichiro would drive in at least two runners in the next at bat, and the ball would get rolling. Sadly, it didn't come to that, as Rivera's awfulness negated my optimism and he struck out swinging. Inning over, threat over, anxiety returns.

Watching the Mariners take the field between innings was always a treat. Snelling would warm up with what I can only guess was an Anaheim batboy or bullpen catcher in right field, and he looked happy and loose for the first time in weeks. Ichiro would run out to center and signal for a ball so he could warm up with Raul, and whenever anyone threw it to him it would invariably come up short, so Ichiro would routinely reach behind his back and make a great catch without breaking stride. This guy is just constantly putting on a show. All it takes is one afternoon of watching him in person to realize that his status as a superstar isn't just about the numbers.

Things got a little hairy in the bottom of the fifth when the Angels put men on the corners with one out, but Wood somehow fanned Chone Figgins and got Howie Kendrick to fly out to end the inning. After five, the Mariners still had their 2-0 lead, and I was gradually beginning to feel a little optimistic. At the time I didn't realize how much the bullpen was struggling, so I thought that, if we could just get through the sixth with the lead, we'd have it in the bag.

Anaheim kept pressing in the bottom of the sixth, and Vladimir Guerrero cut the lead in half with an RBI double. The game was delayed for a moment when a beach ball fell onto the field. Then some fans below us tried to start the wave. Woods retired the next two batters before giving way to Julio Mateo, though, who popped out Robb Quinlan to end it. I'm far from the world's biggest Julio Mateo fan, but somehow, some way, I felt comfortable with him pitching in that situation. I was still nervously rocking back and forth like Leo Mazzone until Snelling gloved the fly ball, but I would've done the same if it were vintage Gagne on the hill, so that's no indictment of Mateo.

The seventh came and went, with the Mariners squandering a few more baserunners, the fans to my left finally showing up to the stadium just in time for the stretch (no joke), and Mateo looking sharp in a 1-2-3 inning despite the rally monkey making its first appearance of the game. Evidently Anaheim's idea of humor is to take clips from popular movies and splice in images of their celebrated disease-ridden fleabag, and while it works on the kids (and adults with the intellect of their kids), I was incensed by how they desecrated Snakes on a Plane by adding the monkey. SoaP is a phenomenal movie (seriously, it's awesome). In a stadium named after angels, this was blasphemy.

(I should also note that, prior to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, the stadium had someone sing God Bless America, which I absolutely hate at baseball games but also isn't unique to Anaheim. It's stupid. Why? I mean, really, why?)

To the eighth we went, when Mike Scioscia was able to stop whining just long enough to exploit the Mariners' platoon DH slot by countering Eduardo Perez's pinch-hit appearance with Brendan Donnelly. Platoons are always susceptible to matchups like this, so while a .900 OPS from two DH's is nice, it's never as good as a .900 OPS from one DH who's capable of hitting both lefties and righties. Anyway, Donnelly - who strikes me as one of the most obvious steroid users in the history of baseball - induced Perez into an inning-ending double play, which took us to the bottom half. Rafael Soriano came in and the first thing I noticed was that he was throwing 91. The whole time. He struck out Kendrick before allowing a walk and a single, and at that point I was ready to shut him down for the rest of the season. He's very very very clearly not right. His velocity has been down for a little while, now (he was touching 90 when he allowed that homer to Swisher a little while back), and there's just nothing to gain by sending him out there day after day when the team sucks and isn't playing for anything. Hargrove has fallen in love with his favorite relievers, and while they were good for a while, the downside is that pitchers get fatigued and need time off. The did it with Lowe, and now they need to do it with Soriano. Even if they're not hurt yet, pitching tired leads to bad mechanics, and bad mechanics lead to injury, so every second that Soriano stays on the active roster is just borrowed time until something goes wrong.

Thankfully Soriano induced a pop-up to catcher for the second out. The game was delayed for a moment when a beach ball fell onto the field. Hargrove then went to his bullpen and, instead of calling on George Sherrill to face Garret Anderson, he went with JJ Putz, who came in throwing 93-94 and promptly allowed a seeing-eye single to tie the game. He made Quinlan look stupid on a two-strike splitter to end the inning, but the damage was done. My friend turned to me and said, "well I guess we'll be here for a while," but I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that we'd be leaving a lot sooner than he expected.

And it certainly didn't take long. Several thousand fans didn't see it because they left the freaking stadium before the ninth inning of a tie game, but the game ended pretty quickly. The Mariners torched Donnelly in the ninth, but both Johjima and Ichiro hit the ball right at the outfielders, and three batters into the bottom half the Mariners lost. Fireworks went off, bandwagoners celebrated, and Jeff looked to the sky, kicked a chair, and rather belligerently reminded several fairweather fans in his section that their team would be watching the playoffs on TV just like his. Snelling trudged to the dugout, head down (presumably to make sure he didn't trip on anything and shatter his patella), while Ichiro and Raul jogged in together, chatting as if nothing had just happened. I wasn't sure what to think.

I got over the devastation pretty quickly - while it might've been the worst Mariner game I'd ever experienced in person, 11 consecutive losses have a way of numbing you to the pain. We grabbed a meal, drove to a friend's apartment, and stayed the night, looking ahead to the drive back on Monday in time for a Padres night game.

After resting up from the whirlwind travel, my friend and I drove down to Petco and walked through the outfield gates just as the national anthem ended (which is a great time to get to the ballpark). We ran up some stairs to our section in left field and my friend, who's a Padres fan, remarked "there sure are a lot of Dodgers fans around us." We were quite literally surrounded, with bright striking blue in front of us, behind us, and to our sides. They were a reasonably vocal group, too, fighting the scoreboard-prompted "Lets Go Padres" chants with "Lets Go Dodgers," and shouting a lot at Andre Ethier.

The game got underway, with Tim Stauffer getting a suprise start after Chan Ho Park had a recurrence of his internal bleeding. Stauffer and Chad Billingsley each started well and nothing happened until Stauffer himself singled on a swinging bunt in the bottom of the third. With two on and two out, though, Brian Giles - whose declined way more than you probably think he has - grounded out to end the inning. My friend put his head in his hands.

That brought us to the groundscrew. The Padres have guys go out and rake the infield every three innings, but between the third and the fourth they also have one of them - in normal grounscrew get-up - go out and breakdance behind second base. Depending on who you are he's either hilarious or embarrassing, but what's most notable is that he continues dancing until the infield is done, at which point he leaves the field and returns to the clubhouse from whence he came. In talking about it my friend and I decided that it's just a clever ploy for the dancing guy to get out of doing actual work.

Stauffer then ran into trouble in the fourth. With two outs and a pair in scoring position it looked like he might get out of the inning unscathed when he got Jeff Kent to hit a fly ball to center, but Mike Cameron looked a little skittish closing in on it near the right fielder and the ball dropped in front of him for a two-run single. Our section went crazy while much of the rest of the stadium was silenced. Meanwhile, I just sat there staring, wondering what 2001 Mike Cameron would've done with that ball.

Minutes later, momentum would switch sides. With two outs and a man on, Adrian Gonzalez doubled to left and Geoff Blum walked, bringing up Josh Barfield with the bases loaded. Billingsley then uncorked a wild pitch, and when Martin recovered the ball and tried to flip it to Billingsley who was covering home, he hit Barfield in the back of the head, allowing the runner to score. Suddenly the lead was cut in half, and an inning later it had disappeared altogether with a Todd Walker RBI double. Our section was remarkably quiet.

I'm going to tell you right now that it's impossible to go to a baseball game without choosing a side to pull for. Sports can't be viewed from a neutral point-of-view, as you always need to have a rooting interest. So, last night, I was pulling for the Padres, both because (A) they were at home, and (B) they have Mike Cameron. So I was twice as excited as everyone else when Cameron led off the bottom of the sixth with a triple and scored on Gonzalez's groundout to make it 3-2 San Diego. A "Beat LA" chant started in right field, and while it wasn't nearly as loud as the ones we heard in San Francisco three nights earlier, it was unprompted, which was something. It's easy to see that, while the Padres/Dodger rivalry is nowhere close to being as intense as the Giant/Dodger rivalry (last night's game wasn't even sold out), it's in the early stages of development. There's definitely a mutual dislike between the two fan bases, and all they need are a few big September and October series between the two teams for things to really escalate. San Diego's not much of a baseball town, but the groundwork is there.

We went to the seventh, and Cla Meredith worked out of Alan Embree's jam to preserve the lead. Moments later Brian Giles' RBI ground-rule double in the bottom half brought everyone from a level of quiet anxiety to audible enthusiasm, and when Kenny Lofton grounded into a double play to end the eighth, the place was rocking. They knew what was coming. Three Padre outs later, we got to witness the greatest player intro in the history of baseball.

I've written about Hells Bells and Trevor Hoffman before, but if you haven't experienced it for yourself, you don't know what it's like. Nobody else's introduction even comes close. Even now, with Hoffman throwing 8-10mph slower than he did in his prime, he's still armed with arguably the greatest changeup in the game, so good that even the best hitters can't touch it when they know damn well that it's coming. And the fans know it, because they've been watching this happen for as long as anyone can remember. So, even before the song starts, everyone climbs to their feet clapping and cheering, going absolutely batshit crazy as soon as the first bell tolls and not quieting down for a solid two minutes until the inning actually starts. It's both effective and intimidating, and you just know that it gets into opponents' heads.

After allowing a first-pitch single to Nomar to lead off the inning, Hoffman struck out JD Drew on a changeup and induced Jeff Kent into a double play to end the game. Hoffman's 468th career save was every bit as dominating as his first. You rarely hear about him just because San Diego doesn't get much in the way of baseball coverage, but you'd be hardpressed to find many relievers who are more consistently terrific than Trevor Hoffman, a local hero who's ten saves away from Lee Smith for the all-time record. He's an absolute joy to watch.

As quick as it was, the trip's over, and I'm back to the harsh reality that is an 11-game losing streak with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels due up. That said, as difficult as it is to remain so loyal to this team sometimes, I saw three contending teams win important home games in four nights, and I know I want to be there when the Mariners get back to where they used to be.

I love baseball.