MOMENTS, MEMORIES and MADNESS with STEVE CAMERON: A memorable game to ease Dad’s pain

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My dad’s birthday would have been last week.

Each year around this time, I repeat the same emotions.

First, frustration because he was the coolest and most fun guy I’ve ever known — my hero, if that doesn’t sound too corny — and because he wasn’t in my adult life nearly long enough.

When I start to feel sad and a little bit angry once again, recalling his death that came five years after he was paralyzed in a car accident for which he had no blame…

I let the disappointment wash over me just briefly, and then I have to start laughing.

He’s joining me, too, without a doubt.

Neat feelings, indeed, but hang on...

You have to hear some background here, and you’ll see why a bit later in our story.

My father was born and raised in San Francisco, right in the city itself, which you’ll see has a lot to do with this story.

More than just being born in “The City” — that’s the only reference we ever used — Dad also worked there his whole life and never lived more than 14 miles away.

IT’S SIMPLY gospel that a native San Franciscan like my father would have no use for Oakland — or any of its nameless suburbs.

Legendary columnist Herb Caen, who was the voice of the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 50 years, once wrote: “I think I was in college before I knew that the only reason Oakland existed was to hold up the other end of the Bay Bridge.”

In the world of sports, Dad’s feelings were distinctly personal.

He and his partner in the firm of Marshal and Cameron were the first accountants to handle the books of the San Francisco 49ers — yes, back in 1946 when the franchise was founded.

I have a photo of Vic Morabito, who owned the team with his brother Tony, bouncing me on his knee at the age of, um…

You know, that age when you don’t know what the adults are talking about, but they squeeze your cheeks and get you great treats.

Anyhow, the 49ers were family.

Besides handling the corporate affairs of the football club, Dad also did income tax accounts for individual players — and boy, that was way beyond neat for a kid.

Our ties to the 49ers made my dad’s distaste for Oakland even stronger when Al Davis and the Raiders opened for business in the American Football League.

Just the idea of the 49ers having a “rival” across the bay seemed preposterous — and it was positively grim when the two leagues first played Super Bowl I, and then began facing off in exhibitions prior to the formal merger in 1970.

Thank heaven the 49ers won the first “Battle of the Bay” against the Raiders in their inaugural regular-season matchup.

And even better, the 49ers won in a 38-7 romp at the Oakland Coliseum — clinching a division title in the process.

YOU LIKELY have the picture by now.

Even as I type this, I’m trying to think if we — as a family — ever actually went to Oakland.

For any reason at all, except perhaps…

Passing by on I-80 on our way to vacations at Lake Tahoe.

So there was a terrible irony in the fact that the crash that ruined my dad’s life happened in Oakland, as he was heading back toward civilization from visiting his only accounting client in the East Bay.

The five years he lived after that day were miserable for everyone, but for Dad…

Here was a man who took two years relearning to talk, and even then it drove him crazy because he couldn’t make words come out as quickly as he was trying to say them.

The right side of his body was almost useless, so if we were leaving the house, Dad had to be bundled into a wheelchair — which of course he hated.

Basically, he was stuck at home, so one day I got an inspiration that might get him to go do something different.

I said: “Hey, let’s go to a ballgame.”

NATURALLY, to my father a “ballgame” meant the San Francisco Giants.

He didn’t immediately nix the idea — which he generally did — so I ran with it.

I phoned Candlestick Park to ask about tickets, and discovered that the Giants (illegally) had no facilities for wheelchair customers.

So that seemed to kill the notion of a game.

I didn’t want to give up, though, so I quietly called the Oakland Coliseum — after noting that the A’s were playing at home that night.

It turned out that they had plenty of seats, including at the ends of rows, where wheelchair companions could sit side-by-side.

You have to understand that suggesting a trip to Oakland, baseball or not, was like asking by dad if he wanted to spend a winter weekend in the Yukon.

He blew it off instantly.

But eventually my mom got into the discussion, and practically begged him to go since he’d hardly been out of the house in, like, forever.

So finally…

Done.

I HAD to act like this was just a trip to the market, but inside I was thrilled.

A ballgame with my dad, who had been trapped at home for more than two years…

Terrific.

Of course, Dad grumped all the way across the bay.

“Oakland,” he mumbled. “Damn Oakland. Why did I listen to you?”

He couldn’t see me smile.

So we got settled in very good seats along the first base line, and despite the fact that it was a typical foggy spring night near San Francisco Bay — May 8, 1968, in fact — we determined it would be a fun evening.

And it was definitely just about baseball, since Dad — even though a true sports junkie — couldn’t give a tiny hoot about the A’s or the Minnesota Twins.

We settled in with some hot chocolate and watched a game with virtually no action.

Oakland got a run in the fifth or sixth inning, and what the game lacked in action, it made up in speed.

Then, as Minnesota batted in the top of the eighth…

Dad reached over, grabbed my arm and squeezed it. It was hard for him to talk anyway, but even if his vocal cords had been fine, he wouldn’t have said anything.

Just a squeeze.

Oakland’s Catfish Hunter had not allowed a baserunner.

THE NEXT half-hour was a combination of tension (with the Twins batting) and slightly less tension (with the A’s batting, but just the thought of what might happen making our hearts race).

Hunter breezed through the eighth, and suddenly he was three outs away from history.

Finally, Dad spoke up as Hunter warmed up to pitch the ninth. Dad kind of willed out words in slow and broken sentences – which was the best he could do.

“I…could…use…another…chocolate,” he stammered, “but...only…

ONE OUT.

“If…they…put…whiskey…in…it.

TWO OUT.

Dad: “Oh…my…God. Make…this…end.”

The 27th Twins hitter was a solid contact guy, a left-hander named Rich Reese. He took a 2-2 pitch that just missed as the crowd howled.

Then he fouled off a high fastball.

And fouled off another high fastball.

And fouled off a third high fastball.

At last, Reese swung and missed at yet another high fastball.

Catfish Hunter had pitched the first American League perfect game in 33 years.

My father smiled and said: “Why…couldn’t…it…be…the…goddam…Giants?”

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball each Tuesday.

Steve’s various tales from several decades in sports — “Moments, Memories and Madness” — run on Sundays.

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