The Giants and Oracle Park feel different, but the home opener gives hope of normalcy

Kayaks in sun-drenched McCovey Cove. Clubhouse Manager Mike Murphy is in his sixth decade at the base for opening day rollout. A rousing cheer for Buster Posey.

Enough was known in the Giants’ home opening game on Friday – including a late hit by Brandon Crawford with loaded bases – to believe a corner had been turned. Could feel a light shining in the distance that we are all heading for.

“It feels so good just to be here,” said Prashant Mora as he walked down the Embarcadero to the ballpark on Friday morning. He had traveled from Monterey to take part in the game with his brother-in-law Vimal Patel, an opening day tradition that they have kept since 2013.

The feelings were good, but in a subdued way. There were only 7,390 fans in the stands, so the rough, mimosa-soaked crowd of past openings in the Giants 3-1 victory over the Rocky Mountains was missing.

The buttons the Giants handed out to fans said “welcome home,” but “home” felt a little different and looked a little different. The archways in the right field are covered – and during the opening ceremony the background of a large banner with the inscription “RESILIENT SF” was placed. The fans were dispersed and changed the intimacy of Oracle Park. Masks were worn. Evidence of negative coronavirus tests or vaccinations was required.

Fans search for their seats ahead of the San Francisco Giants’ game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday, April 9, 2021 at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

And it wasn’t just pandemic shelters that felt different. The house of the giants has changed and its inhabitants are largely unknown. The bullpens are brought into the outfield. When the launches’ biggest applause came, his target – Posey – was way out in the field, warming up starter Johnny Cueto.

The fans cheer for the uniform, but still don’t know all the people in the white houses – even with names on their backs. On a day that traditionally all team members were introduced, it was amazing how long it took to hear the massive coaching staff. From the newcomers, coach Alyssa Nakken received the loudest cheers. The fans had never been able to greet her personally.

Gabe Kapler hadn’t played a game in front of fans here since joining the Giants.

“This is a really exciting moment for a lot of people,” Kapler said before the game. “Captivated me.”

Giants manager Gabe Kapler (19) sits in the dugout during the induction before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. On Friday, April 9, 2021.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler (19) sits in the dugout during the induction before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. On Friday, April 9, 2021.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

For many fans in the stands, the last game they participated in was the massive farewell to Bruce Bochy on the last day of the 2019 season. This event became more than a farewell: it was a reunion for the World Series-era teams, a Festival of the past and a symbolic turn of the page. We had no idea then how massive and life changing the transition that followed was going to be.

Since that last game with fans in the stadium at 24 Willie Mays Plaza there has been:

• An odd sixty-game season that wasn’t actually baseball.

• A season without Posey signing out to keep his newborn adoptive twins safe.

• A season when baseball became secondary, an afterthought amid illness and death, and social and political turmoil.

Can a baseball season be a sign of normalcy? That was the hope on Friday.

When Posey scored the Giants’ first hit in the fifth inning, the baseball field came alive. When he was called in second place after reviewing a piece, the disapproval was loud.

“These will be the loudest 8,000 people you have ever heard,” Mora had predicted on his way to the park.

A fan cheers for the Giants during the launch before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. On Friday, April 9, 2021.

A fan cheers for the Giants during the launch before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. On Friday, April 9, 2021.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

He was right. By the time Crawford finished with the bases loaded on the seventh, the sound almost sounded pre-pandemic. Fans may have memories of the 2014 wild card game in Pittsburgh: Crawford didn’t hit it on Friday, but his double right field drove in two runs and gave the Giants a 2-0 lead.

“I’m looking forward to being back, excited for a full season,” said Splash Hit Steve Garrison ahead of the game to get in his kayak and hunt home runs (a futile wish on Friday it turned out).

The problems of the past year have not been solved – by no means. The pandemic is still ubiquitous. The fans will be parked for the game at Piers 30 and 32, where hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests were conducted over the past year. A UCSF surgeon sang the national anthem. Fragments of conversation in the stadium revolved around vaccinations. Giants’ third baseman Evan Longoria was not on the grid because he was feeling some of the effects of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

And, like before the pandemic, the world is a place of grief, trauma and injustice. The giants honored Xiao Zhen Xie, the 75-year-old San Franciscan who stood up to her attackers, and donated the $ 1 million raised for her to groups fighting hatred against the Asian-American and Pacific islander communities. The Giants were silent for the many who died last year, including Joe Morgan, Hank Aaron, and our beloved press box colleague Pedro Gomez.

Fans hold their hands over their hearts during the national anthem before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California on Friday, April 9, 2021.

Fans hold their hands over their hearts during the national anthem before the San Francisco Giants played against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California on Friday, April 9, 2021.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the day came when Bryan Stow, the Giants fan who was brutally assaulted at Dodger Stadium on opening day in 2011, stepped onto the hill with a hiker. Stow, who survived a traumatic brain injury and has spread an anti-bullying message for the past decade, threw the first pitch caught by Nakken.

Stow really is a picture of resilience.

Will the Giants be competitive this season as they find their way through a new landscape? Her wealth seemed almost irrelevant.

“If we play 500 ball, I’ll be happy,” said Patel.

Because the beauty is not in the result. What we’ve learned over the past year is the importance of baseball in the experience.

Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annkillion

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