When Candlestick burned bright

The demolition of Candlestick Park in San Francisco is scheduled for the near future. I’ve been there just once, a very memorable and glorious evening sitting next to my dad when the Los Angeles Dodgers sent famed southpaw Sandy Koufax to the hill against Gaylord Perry of the hometown Giants. Koufax was already a pitching legend and Perry as tough a hurler as anyone in the big leagues. The teams were tremendous rivals. I think the year was 1964.

Candlestick was famous for rapidly cooling off once the sun went down. I remember we brought jackets to the game and we needed to put them on and button them up about the time the stadium lights were turned on. I also remember hogging the binoculars to closely watch the players warm up before the game.

That night at Candlestick was an incredible experience. I was young, but like many young baseball enthusiasts I knew the names of everyone on both rosters. I remember watching Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, play catch and do some clowning around near home plate prior to the game. He was all smiles. Unfortunately, Mays wasn’t in the lineup that night. I don’t remember why. It didn’t matter. I got to see the great Willie Mays!

The Giants were loaded with tremendous ballplayers like Willie “Stretch” McCovey, one of the most imposing players I’ve ever seen at the plate, and the hard-hitting Orlando Cepeda. The Alou boys were there, too. My memory is that it was Felipe and Matty, but Baseball Digest says it was Matty and Jesus who were on the Giants roster that year.

The Dodgers won a lot of games in that era. They should have. Their pitching staff was anchored by perhaps the best lefty-righty combination in baseball history – Koufax and Don Drysdale. They had Johnny Roseboro behind the plate, Maury Wills and Ron Fairly in the infield, Tommy and Willie Davis in the outfield and Walter Alston in the dugout.

Koufax was brilliant that night. I still can see that classic delivery and outrageous curveball. I also remember McCovey hitting one of Koufax’s pitches about 500 feet into the night. The gyrating, spitballing Perry outdueled Koufax in a classic baseball game in one of the most historic settings imaginable.

The following night the rivalry switched to Chavez Ravine, the home ballpark of the Dodgers. Don Drysdale was scheduled to pitch against high-kicking Juan Marichal, but Drysdale was a late scratch. Lefty Claude Osteen got the start and, I believe, the win.

For me it was two absolutely glorious days of baseball in two of the most historic stadiums the game has ever seen. Soon Candlestick will be no more, but I’ll never forget my visit there or the images of several of my boyhood heroes that roamed that wonderful field.

The Giants last played at Candlestick in 1999. The area will soon be turned into a housing and retail development, but I’ll forever have the memories of an incredible nine innings one evening at Candlestick.