Friday, August 14, 2009

Califonia Day 2: San Francisco and Baseball

Prior to the beginning of our holiday, my friends who were already in California had booked tickets for the baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies for the evening of 31st July. It was therefore an easy decision to spend our first full day in San Francisco prior to the match in the evening. Our driver had taken the car to work, so we got to San Francisco using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which runs for part of the route along the centre of the highway. One frustration was that the ticket machine only gives change up to $4.95, but I later found out that there was a change machine behind the ticket machine. Doh!

We got off at Powell Street and decided to take the San Francisco Cable Car to Fishermans Wharf. The Cable Car is like an old-fashioned tram that can get up and down the roads on the steep hills that are part of San Francisco (the film Bullitt is set in the city). The queue was incredibly long and a couple of us left it to buy a day ticket from the local booth (which quaintly, uses a scratch-card style system to choose the date one is travelling on, similar to the West Midlands daytripper cards for buses and trains back in the 80's). The ticket also allowed travellers to use other Muni transport in San Francisco. Back in the queue, we were harrassed by beggars and buskers which did not make for a great first impression of the city. When we finally got onto the Cable Car, it was rather overcrowded. For the first (and possibly only) time in my life, I got off at Fishermans Wharf with an appreciation for Travel West Midlands.

We wandered around Fishermans Wharf where I caught my first glimpse of Alcatraz and Clam Chowder in a bread bowl (although the latter really is an East Coast dish). For some reason, we finally settled for pizza for the third time in three meals. We spent some time walking around San Francisco, including the Ghirardelli shop in the square and an interesting street on a hill with a rather winding road that I am sure people were driving down just for the sake of it.

We got back on the cable car (past a non-threatening busker that looked like Michael Moore with a showman bunny sidekick) and ended up walking through the San Francisco business district, where a bunch of cyclists suddenly seemed to be cycling through the city. We unsuccessfully tried to get on the bus N or P to get the the AT&T park where the Giants play, before realising it was actually an old-fashioned (or should I say new-fashioned) tram and getting on it halfway towards our destination, not before we had walked past the Bay Bridge, however, an impressive bridge in its own right taht holds its own against the more famous Golden Gate bridge.

We managed to get to the AT&T park in time and quickly worked out that an innings is over when three people are out. Baseball is a strange game, and my prior belief that it was rounders for girls was only tempered by the fact I have seen how much more competitive the girls at the school I work for play.

Baseball is an intriguing game, but surprisingly for a US sport I have to say that I don't think it is as exciting as the British version, cricket. Many people believe soccer will never be big in the US because the yanks will never see the excitement of a nil-nil draw (and to be honest, neither do I). However, Baseball scores are more similar to football than to cricket, which is much more high-scoring. I think culturally, baseball is too embedded in the American psyche to be under an real threat from cricket, in particular, Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League which I can see one day turning into a true world series with clubs participating from all over the world. The Test-loving purists will hate it, but I think it would be great to see cricket competing commercially with its sister American sport. With India's ascent to superpower status and with its burgeoning population, surely this is only a matter of time?

For the record, the Giants lost 5-1 in the only game they lost in this mini-series to the Phillies. The Giants have never won the World Series since the franchise moved to San Francisco. Will the Birmingham City of baseball be lucky enough to win it this year? On the current evidence it is unlikely - but then again, what would I know?

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