A few weekends ago, driving back from Marin (county that shares the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco) to my home in Sonoma County, I tuned the radio out. I ignored the person in the passenger seat.
I wasn’t thinking straight. Something was going through my head. I had just spent the night with family, saw my newborn niece for just the second time and was returning home for a Sunday of football, baseball and sports writing.
But that wasn’t on my mind either.
Early that morning, a 6.0 earthquake had just struck with the epicenter about 15 miles from my house in the town of Sonoma. Being woken up at 3:20 a.m. wasn’t what concerned me. I knew that my family and loves one’s were okay. Instead, the worry was what I would be returning home to. Was my house still standing? What damage had been done to it? What about the health of my pets?
All this crossed my mind as I drove on Highway 37, which on a clear day you can see San Francisco from. Then it hit me. And it hit me big time. This year is the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that remains the biggest natural disaster in the modern history of the Bay Area. Then I got to thinking even more (probably not good for someone driving a car). I started visualizing and remembering where I was and what was happening in my life on that fateful October afternoon in 1989. I was just a young pup (six years old), but the memories of that day came crashing into my mind as if it were yesterday.
Growing up an Oakland Athletics fan, I was excited for Game 3 of the 1989 World Series against the San Francisco Giants (though I couldn’t tell you much about that series today). I do remember Tony La Russa, the Bash Brothers, Dave Henderson’s smile, Walt Weiss’ wizardry at shortstop, Rickey Henderson’s base-stealing, the amazing death stare of one Dave Stewert. And Eck…yes I do remember Dennis Eckersley.
The reason I can’t remember the 1989 World Series is not because I was too young (though that might be somewhat of a reason). Instead, it was because baseball itself took a back seat on October 17, 1989.
See. My grandfather, who really did act like a father to me (God rest his soul), worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the East Bay. His normal route home to Marin was the Bay Bridge at about the exact same time that the bridge itself collapsed.
Could he have been in one of those cars? Waiting with my mother and grandmother to hear about him was my first understanding of just how valuable and fragile human life was. There were no cell phones for him to communicate with us. He couldn’t just text me to say he was okay.
As it turned out, he wasn’t working at his usual location that day, instead he was in San Francisco and took the Golden Gate Bridge home. But we didn’t find this out until much later in the evening.
On the baseball field and at Candlestick, stories started to come in. The Bay Bridge had collapsed, there were fires burning out of control in the historical Marina District, which had bared the brunt of the last major earthquake in Northern California back in 1906.
The last thing on our minds was a baseball game between two Bay Area teams. No…we wanted to make sure that the Bay Area itself was surviving the biggest disaster in the region in nearly a century.
And we all tuned to the television sets to see what was happening. The results, as expected, were horrifying.
Just miles away from the epicenter, I was never in any real harm. Growing up in California, we had regular earthquake drills. Get underneath your desk, find a stable structure and hide underneath that. But this one incident, which lasted nearly a minute, made me understand full well just how quickly tragedy can strike.
For players from the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, it was pretty much the same. On the field about ready for first pitch, members of both teams quickly surveyed what was happening and then attempted to find their family in the stands. The scene at Candlestick was surreal, as was evidenced by ABC’s introduction to Game 3 of the World Series.
The World Series itself wouldn’t continue for nearly two weeks as the region attempted to overcome the loss of life, damage to multiple structures and the financial impact of the mega quake. And when it did continue, Oakland finished off a four-game sweep of its cross-bay rivals.
Now 25 years (almost to the day later), the Giants have an opportunity to clinch their third trip to the World Series in five years. They will be doing so in the very same city they were playing in 25 years before. They will be doing so in a stadium that wasn’t even thought of when the quake hit back in 1989. And they will be doing so with Candlestick itself facing demolition following the 49ers move to Levi’s Stadium.
Driving back from Marin to Sonoma a few weekends ago, my thoughts were all over the place. The 49ers were about to open up their new digs in Santa Clara that afternoon. The Giants were playing in Washington, while Oakland was hosting the Los Angeles Angels.
Yes. I was preparing for a day of sports watching (and writing). But I was also preparing for the worst at home. Upon entering my house, I couldn’t open the front door. And then reality struck big time. Pushing through the door, I saw broken glass all over the place, pictures had fallen from the walls and the house itself was a complete disaster. Though, my pets were okay.
Needless to say, I communicated with my boss that I wouldn’t be able to work that day. Cleaning up, I continued to think about 1989 and what it meant for both the Bay Area and my own memory of Bay Area and the game of baseball that I love so much.
Now with the Giants one win away from a trip to the World Series, it brings all of us in Northern California closer to that fateful October day 25 years ago Friday. It helps us separate between who we root for and a region we share. It enables us to look past a simple game and into the sobering eye of what life is all about.
We rebuilt as a community. We moved forward with the understanding that this was all we could do. We remember those who were most impacted by the disaster that hit. And in reality, we look forward to a simple game of stick ball that has transcended sports itself. A game that has been with us through thick and thin. A game that helped us move on from the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, 9/11 and so many other tragic events that have occurred in our shared history.
And it allows us to look forward to the World Series with an understanding that we are sharing in something great here. The human experience, the drama and the intrigue.
So next time a fan of a rival team comes calling at you, remember it’s just a game. And as we witnessed here in Northern California 25 years ago, some things enable us to move on from our fandom and help one another out at a time when we need it the most.
That’s a lesson we can all learn from the 1989 earthquake. That’s a lesson that I took from that day. And that’s a lesson that we can teach others moving forward.
Photo: SF Gate