Wednesday, October 14, 2009

1989 World Series Earthquake Game Revisited

This week is the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the SF Main Library is hosting an evening of remembrances tonight (see below). I thought I'd do the same here. The day of the quake, filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis brought his VHS camcorder to Game 3 of the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park. I just brought my hefty Canon AE-1. And unfortunately those cameras aren't auto-focus, because after that 6.9 hit, my hands were pretty shaky. This is what I managed to assemble as I walked around the park that day.

Here's my ($40!) ticket, which I saved to remember how safe I was in my seat. When the earthquake hit on October 17th at 5:04, there were 60,000 fans in the stands, many of them quite drunk and ready for the Giants to best the A's after two bad losses in Oakland. Because of the rowdy crowd, I initially thought the quake was the sound of thousands of stomping feet overhead. Then I noticed the arms of our seats were shaking like a vibrating chair gone amok. My brother and I made pop-eyed contact with one another at that point, realizing we were in deep shit. I looked up at the dark, foreboding upper deck above our heads. It was moving in concentric circles and fluttering in a way that can only be described as concrete Jell-O. "Concrete is not supposed to do that," I thought, and I had a flashback to an amazing oceanography class I had taken at SFSU where I learned much about earthquakes.

The 15 seconds of back-and-forth motion I was feeling was indicative of the worst kind of earthquake. This type of motion tends to cause the most damage because two plates of land mass are moving against each other in opposite directions for an extended length of time. Don't ask me how I knew all that in less than a minute. Let's just acknowledge that education is a good thing. And a scary thing, because while the majority of fans were cheering the end of the quake (not knowing the damage yet), I was sitting very still, very pale, waiting for the entire park to collapse on top of me and my immediate family, killing all of us instantly. When that didn't happen, I mentally thanked cold, miserable Candlestick Park, momentarily the most beautiful ballpark of all time, and decided to get some photos.

The elderly couple from Wisconsin sitting directly behind us scooted out of their seats as soon as the shaking stopped, and with a look of grim determination on both their faces, left the park immediately. But we of the Bay Area stuck around longer, not knowing what else to do, and maybe thinking the game would get going somehow. We were really pumped for that series, obviously.

Look at the old-timey scoreboard. They don't make 'em like this any more.

After the quake, anyone who could, went out on the field. That meant players, management, their families, cops, and journalists. I don't blame them. I wanted to go there too and get away from all the potentially loose concrete.

Candlestick was definitely a rock. Despite some crumbling stairs on the upper deck, she held firm.

We in the stands, salute you, Candlestick.

When the electricity didn't come back on, we knew the game was not happening, but no one wanted to leave for a while because no one knew what was going on outside the park. Well, some of us did, like the guy in the stands who brought a portable TV. He let us watch the news footage of the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge and the tragically pancaked Cypress Freeway in Oakland. My photos from that point on got a lot blurrier.

I had a great shot of shocked Giants here but a guy walked in front of me. That's the bill of his cap, getting in the way. He immediately turned around and apologized for walking through my shot. My brief annoyance turned into a bout of "looking at the big picture." We were all fine after a huge earthquake, sir. Don't worry about it.

The police (with Will Clark) were just as mystified as anyone else as to what was going on.

The press, doing their thing with Roger Craig, or trying to.

I don't know why I didn't get some A's shots. Was it bias? My family has been rooting for the Giants for my entire life, even though they moved from San Francisco to the East Bay almost 50 years ago. They're true fans, I guess, or just insane. Same thing.

I did see a group of very dolled-up women in the box seats, lower deck, that made me think, oh, an escort service must have gotten some primo tickets today. Then I realized that the group consisted of Jose Canseco's wife and her friends. I know that's rude, but I honestly thought they were a group of prostitutes out for a day excursion. Perhaps it was the skin-tight leather jumpsuits, voluminous frosted hair, and severely long nail tips in shades of shocking fuchsia. Sorry, Mrs. former Canseco.

The story of Dave Dravecky and his arm is poignant.

I reported my findings to my family and we convened in the parking lot. My dad and my brother watched upsetting footage of quake damage on a fellow fan's portable TV. This guy also shared some beers with my dad. People were calm and nice that day and remained so throughout the week.

My mom with Candlestick in the background. I was so grateful to that ballpark for keeping my family safe. Hat's off, Candlestick Park at Candlestick Point.

We decided to head over to Grandma Tocha's since she lived a couple of miles from the park. She was, at the time, attending a funeral of one of her brothers in Arizona, but her renters, who lived in her (illegal) garage-apartment, let us into the house. When her family expressed concern over the earthquake, Grandma, not knowing the magnitude yet, reportedly told them, "Oh, we get those all the time." That's a classic Grandma Tocha story. I just threw it in there.

Grandma was a hoarder, which served us well. I somehow found her scented floral candles and her portable radio (with batteries). We all celebrated by finishing off a box of Scooter Pies for dinner. You could always count on her for a good meal.

And luckily, her neighborhood was one of the first to get the electricity back on that night. We were then able to obsessively watch earthquake footage on the news until finally giving up and going to bed early. Earthquakes are stressful and even if you're not hurt in one, they are exhausting.

My parents and brother headed back to the deep East Bay the next day, leaving me at my Fillmore Street flat with five dollars in my pocket. We forgot the banks couldn't open until the electricity came back on in the rest of the city, which would take a few days for the most part. My roommate Aya lent me a twenty and we spent the afternoon walking around the Marina, gaping at the buildings that had fallen off their foundations and landed in the middle of their streets. We gasped and vowed never to live in a corner apartment built over multiple garages made of brick. Especially in the Marina. It didn't matter, because we would never be able to afford to live in the Marina anyway, earthquake or no.

Ten days later, my family and I were back at Candlestick for the make-up game. It was a little scary to be there again, but also kind of uplifting. We had somehow come through a terrible disaster and if it hadn't been for the World Series, many more people would have been commuting on the freeways at 5:04, so baseball did actually save some lives.

At 5:04, the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon, led by Mr. Peanut, sang "San Francisco" with the crowd. Nothing bad can happen when Mr. Peanut is in charge. And except for the Giants getting pummeled, it was a fine day.

Close-up on Mr. Peanut

Original interrupted television broadcast.

The opening to the make-up game, two weeks later, featuring a rousing sing-along to San Francisco. I tear up whenever I watch this.

Giants and A's reminisce on SFGate.

Tonight at 6:30 the San Francisco Main Library is hosting 5:04 PM: A First Person Account of the 1989 World Series Earthquake Game. The write-up: Using video and photographs along with local and national television news reports and photographs, filmmaker and baseball fan Jon Leonoudakis brings viewers back to that fateful day. A discussion follows the film.


Unknown said...

I didn't know you were at the game! That's great.

Unknown said...

Great post-- really enjoy your writing.