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Attention deficit

Aside from Bonds' chase, not much going for Giants

Posted: Saturday July 28, 2007 2:44AM; Updated: Saturday July 28, 2007 2:44AM
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Barry Bonds hit his 754th career home run Friday night, pulling him within one of Hank Aaron's all-time record.
Barry Bonds hit his 754th career home run Friday night, pulling him within one of Hank Aaron's all-time record.
Brad Mangin/SI

SAN FRANCISCO -- The train ride from my home in San Francisco to AT&T Park runs along what is known as the N-line, which is more commonly called the N-Judah. It can take as little as 25 minutes door-to-dugout, but Muni has been a mess lately. As I boarded a train Friday evening, I anticipated a grueling, crowded ride.

But the car was almost empty and the train cruised along, and I found myself at the last underground stop in record time. It was at this stop, Embarcadero, when a pack of Giants fans boarded the train. Most were kids with their parents and most wore Giants hats or sweatshirts. Moms carried layers of clothes for the kids for when the night turned cool and (most likely) windy.

The train rose to street level and began tracing the edge of the bay. The water is on your left and the city rises up to your right. You can see the ballpark a few stops before you reach it, and as it came into view the kids' anticipation grew. Two stops short of the park, one kid asked his father for his glove and he immediately put it on his left hand, as if Barry Bonds might hit a homer the minute he stepped off the train.

It was difficult for me to feel any childish enthusiasm upon our arrival. This would be my first Giants game this season, and I wouldn't have gone if an editor at Sports Illustrated hadn't told me to attend. I'm the latest staffer -- like Jonah Freedman and Chris Ballard before me -- to pull Barry Duty, cursed because we live in the Bay Area. Had I not gotten the call, I would not have attended the game even if I was offered a free ticket, nor would I have watched one second of it on television. I have not watched an inning of Giants baseball this season.

If you feel a steroid rant coming, don't worry. I have not been boycotting the Giants because of their bulky leftfielder and what he did or did not do in his effort to hit the ball further. I'm glad Bonds hit his 754th homer Friday night, a 420-foot drive to left-center that sent the kids (and journalists) home happy. But I've found it difficult to get excited about Bonds pursuit of Hank Aaron or anything else about, as the ads, say "YOUR San Francisco Giants."

I grew up a Giants fan, raised in Northern California by a man who loved the Giants. On Sundays, my father listened to games on a small silver radio while he cleaned the garage. The seeds of fandom often fall from our fathers, and hearing my dad curse the failings of Greg Minton (who my father referred to only as "Moon-Man") was my indoctrination into the Giants camp.

I was sold when Willie McCovey came to my school and signed autographs before his final season in 1980. On the car ride home, while I fingered the ball McCovey signed for me, my father explained why McCovey was his favorite Giant.

"People always talk about Willie Mays, how he was the greatest Giant," my father said on the car ride home that day. "But I always liked McCovey more. He came up with the Giants after they moved to San Francisco and played almost his whole career here."

The ball McCovey signed for me sat on my desk though high school and it joined me in Indiana for college. It has been on my desk wherever I've worked, be it Los Angeles or Minneapolis or, now, San Francisco. I've followed the Giants at every, always finding reasons to like them.

But not now.

Ray Ratto, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a story recently dissecting what will happen after Bonds hits 756, "The chase is what invigorates SpectatorWorld, and once achievement occurs, we seek out the next chase," Ratto wrote.

His guess for what will be heard the day after Bonds breaks the record: "The sound of crickets."

I hear crickets already. Going to a baseball game to watch one player bat five times -- a span of perhaps 15 minutes max -- is a poor allocation of one's time. I bet others feel the same, despite the national reputation San Franciscans have as a lot that would pay to watch Bonds tie his shoes and then cheer vigorously when he is done.

The Giants have tried to get us excited about others things, primarily their young starting pitchers -- Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Tim Lincecum. But how much can one love a player who starts only one day out of five and rarely plays more than six innings.

What the Giants need more than another young starter is something they haven't had since the mid-1990s: young position players with promise. In 1996-97, the Giants brought Will Clark, Robby Thompson and Matt Williams up to the majors. They also had Chili Davis, a homegrown talent who's vast potential always seemed on the brink of being tapped.

Clark, Thompson and Williams had different styles, and everyone had their favorite. There were others, like Royce Clayton, and when the Giants won the 1989 NL pennant (their first in 27 years) it felt like a graduation party. Our kids had grown up and won it.

The Giants of 2007 feature no youngsters worth charting. Fred Lewis and Pedro Feliz were the only position players from the Giants farm system in the starting lineup Friday. Feliz hit his 16th homer in the fifth inning and he has always looked the part. But he's not a great player. Had he come up with the Oakland A's, Billy Beane would have dumped him on some sucker general manager long ago. Lewis is a rookie, so he deserves some time, but if he was a superstar in waiting one can assume San Francisco GM Brian Sabean would have traded him already, probably for another round of A.J. Pierzynski.

The remainder of the lineup is a mix of old mercenaries and middling talents and, of course, Bonds. When he made his final plate appearance Friday night in the eighth inning, the fans stood and raised their cameras, and kids like those on the train readied their mits. Flashes went off after every pitch in anticipation that he'd swing and the crowd got louder and louder. If that's your thing, it was probably exhilarating.

But then, after only a few minutes, it was over, and the Giants were back to being the Giants, old and stuck and not worth the train ride.