It is a cold, concrete edifice that sits out on a blustery point alongside San Francisco Bay.
Many nights, I froze my backside off there, and I still have a Croix de Candlestick button or two to show for it. Many days, the afternoon winds kicked up so hard that I could swear I saw the Marlboro Man holding onto his hat on the ad next to the scoreboard in left field. In fact, it may have been the most inhospitable setting for professional sports anywhere at any time.
And in truth, I haven’t set foot in the place since a Giants-Reds game in 1998. But when demolition begins a few months from now – one if by wrecking ball, two if by TNT – I can tell you it will hurt a little bit. Saying goodbye to Candlestick Park, for people of my generation, is like saying goodbye to a cantankerous old friend or relative that you probably came to appreciate more toward the end than at the time. It reminds us of so many things in life: joys, heartbreaks and sentiments.
There are many whose personal timelines include the ’Stick, as Modesto’s Kathy Riggs reminded us recently. She was a 13-year-old girl who attended both the official Beatles concert there in 1966 and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney’s concert Aug. 14, the last event before the stadium comes down. Many of us have vivid memories of the place as well, but Candlestick would have been nothing without the people who played there and the fans who remained loyal to their teams and the memories created by the generations.
I was born three years before it opened in time for the Giants’ 1960 season. It is where I saw my first major league baseball game, my first 49ers game, where I later covered the Giants during the only World Series ever delayed by an earthquake and the 49ers through three Super Bowl championship seasons.
More important, it is where my dad took me to my first big-league game and where I took him to his last 49ers game, and spanned all that happened in between. Graduations. Turning pro at that sportswriter thing. Marriage. The birth of my daughter. The deaths of so many people who meant so much, from great-grandparents (big Giants fans) to grandparents and numerous other relatives and friends, and yes, my dad. The rites of passage, of lifetimes.
I suspect most folks have a place or two that factored into their lives and are now just memories: Maybe one like the John Muir school in Modesto or old high school buildings torn down and replaced by new ones that meet earthquake standards but never replicate the character of the originals. They remind us of times in our lives, but more so the people with whom we shared them. And that is why when Candlestick goes, people throughout Northern California will have at least a tinge of emotion, if only in the form of nostalgia.
Candlestick was an eccentric place even before they added the upper deck all the way around when the 49ers moved in during the early 1970s, but just as much so afterward. The major difference was that hot dog wrappers that would blow out of the original stadium would circle it three or four times after it was enclosed and became the world’s only self-cleaning ballpark. Writing late into the night after games, we’d watch the wrappers eventually settle into the northwest corner of the stadium, where workers picked them up.
Pardon me if the following random recollection ramblings are chronologically incorrect:
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As we settled into our seats, an elderly gent came up the steps holding his ticket and looking for his seat. He worked his way along the row above us, the wind gusting and giving him problems. We all turned to help steady him, as did the folks in the row above. When he reached at what he thought was his seat, someone was in it. He looked at the ticket more closely this time.
“Aw!” he moaned, adding an expletive or two. Wrong section. Turned right when he should have turned left. So he turned and headed back in the opposite direction, grumbling his apologies. We all steadied him again, fans bonding in the moment of good samaritanship.
A few months from now, after the last seat is removed and everything of value has been stripped away for salvage or auction, Candlestick Park will come down. Whether by explosives or seriously big wrecking balls, demolition crews will try to do what Mother Nature could not 25 years ago: destroy the place.
But they can’t destroy the memories, the anecdotes and those moments that spanned generations.
Only time itself can do that.