Bob Welch's commute home last Friday afternoon was nearly complete. After finishing a workout with his Oakland A's teammates, he had ridden a BART train from the Oakland Coliseum past the crumpled Nimitz Freeway and under the Bay to the Embarcadero station in San Francisco. From there he had cabbed it to the Marina Safeway supermarket, which was as far as he could go by car before being stopped by the barricades erected to discourage traffic in the badly damaged sections of the Marina District. He had walked across Buchanan Street and was headed down Beach Street toward his house when he noticed a new sign posted on a building. NOTICE TO MARINA RESIDENTS: DO NOT DRINK THE WATER.
When Welch reached his house halfway down the block, he was stopped by a group of neighbors. "Did you get one of these?" a woman asked him. He looked at her large yellow pass that read NO OCCUPANCY CARD: EMERGENCY ACCESS ONLY. "I had to go to the [Marina] Middle School and get one of these in order to continue to come in and out," the woman told Welch. " Joe DiMaggio was over there today, standing in line like everyone else."
Welch's block on Beach Street showed unmistakable signs of the earthquake that had struck 72 hours earlier. The street had cracks and buckled pavement. The water warnings were posted throughout the neighborhood. Nearby a house had collapsed. Welch is the only player on either of the World Series teams who lives in San Francisco, and for this season he and his wife, Mary Ellen, had rented a two-story stucco house here. Now they had no heat, water or electricity, but the Welches were making do with candles, flashlights, a cooler and a Bunsen burner to boil water to warm bottles for their 10-week-old son, Dillon.
Those inconveniences were minor concerns. The real source of distress for the Welches was six blocks to the west, up toward the Golden Gate Bridge, where their home of the future had been severely damaged. Just four days before the World Series began, the Welches had closed on a 2,500-square-foot, second-story condominium at Jefferson and Divisadero, in the middle of the Marina section that would be hardest hit by the quake.
"It'll be three to five months before our new place will be rebuilt," said Welch late last week, "but we know we're lucky. The woman who lives downstairs in our new building had her whole life invested in her place and lost everything. We had earthquake insurance, and we've got a condo in Southern California to go back to for the winter. I feel really lucky, especially when I flash back to what I was thinking as we pulled out of Candlestick."
When the earthquake struck, Welch was in the trainer's room of the visitors' clubhouse at Candlestick Park, getting liniment rubbed on his shoulder. He was five minutes from walking to the bullpen mound to begin warming up for his assignment as Oakland's starting pitcher in Game 3. "I didn't really feel the quake at first," he says. "I thought they were rolling barrels on the ramps above the clubhouse."
After the shaking stopped, he went onto the field and began looking for Mary Ellen, who was in the stands. "At that point I still thought I was going to pitch," said Bob. "Actually, I was thinking about [Oct. 1] 1987, my last start for the Dodgers, when there was a 5.9 quake in L.A. that rolled me out of bed, and I went out and pitched a one-hitter against the Giants that night. Then I saw how scared Mary Ellen was, and I realized things were a lot worse than I'd thought."
As soon as the game was officially canceled, the Welches jumped into a car driven by Mary Ellen's brother. Chester Kulesza, and headed for the Beach Street house, where Dillon was being cared for by friends, Robin and Gary Ferrari. "We were just out of the Candlestick parking lot when we heard on the radio that the whole Marina area was in flames," said Bob. "They kept saying, 'Beach and Fillmore, Beach and Fillmore, Beach and Fillmore.' God, that's the block next to ours. It was a ride of terror. Pure hell."
When traffic got snarled at Laguna and Lombard, still several blocks from the Welches' home, Mary Ellen couldn't wait any longer. She bolted out the door and began running. Bob jumped out after her and the two ran the rest of the way home. "The car beat us, and Robin was already sitting inside the car with Dillon, completely safe," said Bob. The Welches could see flames in the direction of their new condo. Sirens screeched everywhere. People milled in the streets. "We didn't get much sleep, but we stayed the night," Bob said.
The next morning, Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Welches walked to their new house, which is in an area built on landfill. Bob saw the cracks in the building's foundation and turned and gave Mary Ellen a thumbs-down sign. She broke down, crying. Fifteen hours of fear and strain finally turned into tears. "We were two weeks from moving into this place she loved," said Bob, "and we thought it was lost entirely."