Freezing with my father at Candlestick Park
By Susan Dyer Reynolds
December’s cover story is a gift to my late father. Even as his dementia worsened, my dad would fondly recall the days when he coached basketball at Sunnyvale High School and Gary Radnich was playing basketball for nearby Del Mar High and, in his senior year, for Branham. When the All-American Radnich accepted a scholarship at Brigham Young University and later transferred to the University of Las Vegas, Nev., my father still followed his career. “He’s a gunna,” my dad would say in his thick New England accent (a “gunner” is a player who shoots frequently).
Later, when we would listen to Radnich’s sports talk show on KNBR radio or watch his broadcasts on KRON-TV, my father would get a glint in his eye. “That Radnich,” he’d say. “He knows his stuff … but when he was playing basketball, he was a gunna.”
Some of my best recollections of my father revolve around the one thing that really connected us – sports. I have no doubt, being a tremendous athlete himself, that my dad was hoping for a boy. He was one away from making the Boston Red Sox as a short stop when there were only eight major league teams, and he, like Radnich, was an All-American high school basketball player. After graduating with a degree in physical education, he went on to coach not only high school basketball but also baseball and golf. From the time I could walk, he had a baseball mitt on my hand. The bad news was that he didn’t have a boy; the good news was that he had a girl who could outplay a lot of boys. I became an All-Star catcher nicknamed, ironically, “Gunner” because of my strong arm. Much to my father’s delight, I had a homerun-socking bat to match, making me one of the most feared players in my league.
When my father married my mother and decided to move West so he could attend San Jose State Teaching College, he made a promise to my grandfather that he would bring her home to visit every summer. My grandparents first lived in Little Italy, New York, where my Sicilian grandfather promptly began “driving a limo,” something my grandmother quickly figured out meant he was back in the mob. The mother in a Sicilian household quietly rules the roost, and it wasn’t long before she dragged my grandfather to live near her cousin in Federal Hill, the Little Italy of Providence, Rhode Island. Nearly 20 percent of Rhode Islanders are Italian American, the highest percentage of any state, so my grandfather fit right in and eventually grew to love it. He did not, however, love American sports, so my father and I spent much of those summers together at Fenway Park.
One of my fondest memories is the time we sat behind the Green Monster, Fenway’s famous left field wall, and watched the Sox get clobbered by the Oakland A’s. After the game he took me to lunch at Durgin-Park, and a muggy July storm rolled in just as we arrived. He held my hand and covered my head with his Red Sox hat as we crossed the street.
Every spring, before we left for the East Coast, my dad took me to Candlestick Park to watch the San Francisco Giants. My mom came a few times each season (like my grandfather, she didn’t love American sports, so she usually knitted through the game), but mostly it was our special time. We both had San Francisco Giants hats filled with coveted Croix de Candlestick pins, handed out to the diehard fans that braved extra-innings games in the unforgiving harsh conditions after 10 p.m.
But as I grew up and discovered boys, my father and I began drifting apart. I often went to Candlestick Park with Dave, my star high school running-back boyfriend who said he fell in love with me at a Giants game because I was able to explain the infield fly rule. When my family headed back East for the summer, I often chose to hang out with my cousins’ cute friends and flirt rather than go with my father to Fenway. I had hit that age where I pretended not to know him at the mall, and he knew the days of holding my hand as we crossed the street to Durgin-Park were over.
Before my senior year of high school, my grandfather died, and with him, the annual pilgrimages back East. During my senior year of college my mother died, and just six months later my longtime boyfriend died from an inherited heart condition. I was working at Apple, as I had through every college summer, but I knew it was time for a big change.
After I moved to San Francisco, my father and I went through a period where we barely spoke at all. I had a new boyfriend (I reeled him in with my infield fly rule knowledge at a Giants game, too) and my dad, now living in San Jose with his girlfriend, Kickie, often traveled to Candlestick to see the Giants on his own.
Then, one summer afternoon in 2000 while cleaning out some drawers, I found my old Giants hat covered with Croix de Candlestick pins, and all those great times came rushing back. I picked up the phone and invited my dad to come up for Father’s Day. “I have a surprise for you,” I said.
When he pulled up to my house in the Haight, I was standing outside wearing my old Giants hat, and I saw a huge grin come across his face. “I’m taking you to the Giants game at Pac Bell Park,” I blurted out. It would be my father’s first trip to the new stadium – and a new beginning for our relationship.
When Kickie could no longer care for him because of his worsening dementia, I moved my dad to San Francisco to live with me. The disease ravaged his sharp mind and weakened his strong body. The last time we went to a game was a week before he died, around Father’s Day 2008. As we walked toward what was now AT&T Park on a sunny afternoon, my dad clutched his old transistor radio and we listened to Gary Radnich on KNBR. “That Radnich,” he said. “He knows his stuff … but when he was playing basketball, he was a gunna.”
After the game I took him to dinner at the House of Prime Rib and a cold summer fog rolled in just as we arrived. I held his hand and covered his head with my Giants hat as we crossed the street.