A week ago we hunkered down in a standing room crowd in the Public House, the bar holding up the bleachers just behind home plate at AT&T Park. The Giants were still battling it out with the Kansas City Royals and at that moment the Royals had just scored 4 runs at the top of the third inning. The crowd had grown somber and quiet, folks clenching glasses of beer as we watched the wall to wall screens.
It’s not like I’ve ever followed baseball. I shouldn’t have cared less, except for there was one person who cared a whole awful lot.
Howie Usher, our friend river guide, had suffered a stroke two years earlier. He was defined by the river – he’s probably been down the Colorado and in the Grand Canyon over a hundred times in the last thirty years. And he was defined by the San Francisco Giants. Despite having grown up in Southern California, he’s been a religious Giants fan for close to fifty years. He suffered through the 56 year drought when the Giants had gone without winning the championship. He reveled in 2010 when they at last won the World Series. And he sat at home post-stroke, his left side mostly frozen when they won again in 2012.
At that time, he told everyone that he was going to get back on the river, not just get back on, but actually row, taking trips down through those daunting rapids. It was not a likely prospect. That kind of work is mostly for younger men and requires both parts of your body to be working at full capacity.
But for two years he counted and arranged stacks of pennies for hours to build his fine motor skills. He swam to rebuild his mobility. His friends took him out on a boat on a lake so his muscles could relearn how to row again. Mazie returned his lucky penny to him because it seemed that he needed it most. He took long hikes every Monday to rebuild his stamina.
At the end of this summer, a small envelope arrived postmarked from Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It came from Howie and the envelope contained his lucky penny. Earlier that summer he had rowed on two trips and once more had guided his boat through Lava.
A few days later, Howie emerged from the Canyon and on the long drive up from Diamond Creek to Seligman and on to Flag, he was able to hear fragments of the epic post-season game between the Giants and the Nationals. He listened inning after inning all the way home to Clarkdale and walked in the door just in time to see Brandon Belt score the winning run in the 18 inning game, the longest in post season history.
And on this night of Game 4 in San Francisco, Howie had a chance to watch his first World Series game in AT&T Park. He and his friend sat up high, just to the left of home plate, and cheered as the Giants crawled back from the third inning, scoring run by run by run until they upset the apple cart with an 11-4 lead.
In Game 5, Madison Bumgarner pitched a 5-0 shutout. A few nights later the Giants were trounced in Kansas City. And in the final moment of Game 7, Pablo Sandoval caught the foul ball at the bottom of the ninth and the Giants brought it home in a nail biter.
As Howie is always wont to remind: beware of calling the game too early. The World Series is nine innings in each of seven games. You can be way down and there’s always up. There will always be a lot more baseball yet to play.
And one more equivalency for the river guide. If it’s true that you’re always above Lava, then it’s converse must be equally true: you’re forever below it as well.