For the first time in 13 years I found myself down at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf playing the part of a tourist. It was, as I remember it all those years ago, a surreal experience. The sheer number of people, the smell of the water, the breeze of the bay, and the scenic views attack your senses. It’s more than enough eye candy for any regular Joe or Jane. But for someone who has done it before, albeit years and years in between, it comes to be a reminder of what I left behind since moving to Boston.
I’ve lived in Boston for two and half years now — the longest I’ve lived anywhere other than San Francisco. It’s grown on me but it’s not home. At least not yet. There are certain views, like the one from my grandmother’s house, that are ingrained in my brain. I don’t have that here yet. I guess the whole part about making a new home in the Bay State, not the Bay Area, is a much longer process than the time I’ve put in.
When I got to Massachusetts, it was at the precipice of winter. But that didn’t deter me from exploring the city. I played the tourist here for at least six months (probably longer) in order to soak up the the setting. I’ve walked through Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, Faneuil Hall, the North End, Harvard Square, Coolidge Corner, and have been through every other neighborhood at least once. I’ve done the Duckboat tour, the Freedom Trail tour, watched Shakespeare on the Common, been to the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, TD Garden (all as a fan of the game) and have found myself walking aimlessly on Newbury Street. Let’s just say that my knowledge of the city is still shallow. As time has gone on, and work has become a greater focus, I’ve gotten into a pattern of doing the same things in Boston over and over again. In a sense, my feel for the city is that of a business traveler. I know the hot spots, but little else.
What’s the answer? Become a tourist all over again.
Why not? This city has a lot to offer and I’m getting tired of telling people that the best I have to show them is Fenway Park, the Common and Harvard Square. (I also mention the Duckboat tours, but those are only during the nice months.) I would be happy to have a working knowledge of various food options outside of the North End that are moderately priced. I’d be delighted to bring visitors to a neighborhood that they can walk from bar to bar. It would bring me joy to bring folks to a park that is not located in the center of the city, but somewhere closer to its heart.
(I think I need quite a few more months as a tourist before I can call myself an insider. Surprisingly though, I still feel like I’ve done more in the city than some of its residents. What’s up with that?)
The idea, I guess, is to have an image of Boston ingrained in my head that is unique to my experience. One that hopefully isn’t just sports related. Is that too much to ask for? I don’t think so. But then again, I’m asking it of myself.
But in San Francisco, last season’s World Series title has created a shift in what was most definitely a football city. It’s fair to say that the reign of Alex Smith has destroyed any semblance of the golden years for the 49ers. And the reign of Tim Lincecum — and before that Barry Bonds — has given the Bay Area a sense of unbridled success that none of the five other professional sports teams has provided in a long time.
It’s hard to characterize it completely, but with the 49ers’ playoff drought so long and the depths of its porous play so low, you’d think the fervor over the red and gold would waver. That’s not the case. But the overriding feeling is that the 49ers have become a hopeless franchise — one that is habitually one or two pieces away from being complete. However, for the Giants — who havn’t been stacked with talent through the lineup in generations — the fervor over the G-Men has risen past the dominating football fandom. Casual baseball fans now count themselves among the diehards. Transplants to the city now claim the Giants as their team. It’s all topsy turvy in a city that has a changing culture and changing demographics.
Nothing about San Francisco sports is the same as it was 10 years ago. Steve Mariucci was still in town. Terrell Owens, too. The Warriors didn’t have an identifiable league star. The Raiders were Super Bowl contenders. The Giants were on the cusp of the playoffs. But everything revolved around the 49ers. Not until 2002 did the Giants steal a bit of the limelight with its first World Series trip since with Bay Bridge series in 1989. Barry Bonds followed that up with the home run chase.
The only blip on the Bay Area sports timeline that surpassed the interest of the 49ers and Giants in that time was the Warriors’ 2007 playoff run. The excitement over their series win over the Dallas Mavericks reverberated throughout Northern California — speaking volumes about the need for a viable basketball team. But it was quickly forgotten with the dismantling of the team, starting with one of its core players in Jason Richardson.
(On a side note: Remember Monta Ellis being a super sixth man on that team? Good times.)
The last time the 49ers went to the playoffs was 2002. Their last Super Bowl win was in 1994. For the diehards, it has been an eternity. For the casual fan, it’s been an opportunity to divert their attention to the region’s better team: The Giants.
A whole generation of young fans in the Bay are growing up on the success of the Giants and will know nothing of the 49ers’ glory years. Specifically the kids, who are always the lifeblood of new fans, don’t know that in the last 30 years the 49ers went to the playoffs 18 times. That’s because those playoff trips were within a 22-year time span starting in 1980. (Before last year’s World Series win, the Giants’ previous playoff trip was in 2003. They’ve been to the playoffs 7 times in the last 23 years.) That generational shift in fan favor, coupled with the casual observers and the transplants to boot, are painting a new picture in San Francisco. A picture in black and orange.
So while pessimism and angst are sorely ingrained in the conversation about the 49ers — who are expected to do well in San Francisco — optimism and cheer reverberate around the Giants. The two are polar opposites of where they were just a decade ago.
So I wrote a little thing about Boston sports summer storylines knowing very well that this topic was going to come up. You know, Bay Area sports storylines.
Here, again, I’m dividing them by individual team. Now, because the Bay Area obviously has more teams than Boston, I’ll just have to write more. But you know who comes first….
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Just shored up the cash for my first flight back to California since leaving last October. I’m pumped for a couple of reasons.
- I never had a real opportunity to say goodbye to my folks in San Francisco. They got out of dealing with me the easy way — without seeing me. So I gotta get back and get under their skin a little.
- I get another opportunity to take all the pictures of the wonderful skyline (as displayed above) that I love.
- I might even sneak in a couple of pictures of my nephew Chase, who is walking now.
I’ve got other things that I want to get out of the way, too. This trip is a long time coming (three months). I don’t think I’ve taken this long to see SF since college. So I’ll enjoy this visit a lot more because I’m not sure when my next voyage to the west coast will be. (NBA Finals???)