Today is Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Boodbye to 'The Stick'

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The 49ers gave the proper eulogies for Candlestick Park last week
    
Locals called it the ‘Stick. Visitors referred to it by any number of unflattering adjectives.
    
Where else could you freeze at a July baseball game? Or have Chamber of Commerce weather for a football game in late fall?
    
It opened in 1960 and was home to the San Francisco Giants and football 49ers, until the Giants moved into PacBell (now AT&T Park).
    
My small claim to fame with Candlestick was Game 3 of the 1989 World Series.
    
The first inning pitch was minutes away from the scheduled start time when the Bay area and beyond was confronted by a major earthquake.
    
I had already been in hurricanes, two tornadoes in Franklin and Nashville and was within view of the Overtown riots during a Super Bowl week in Miami.
    
This was not just any earthquake. It was major, costing lives and leaving millions of dollars in destruction after all the rocking and rolling was over.
    
I was covering the World Series for the now defunct Nashville Banner. It was the Bay Series, featuring the Oakland A’s against the Giants.
    
My wife was watching the pre-game warm-ups before the game, when the screen went black. The network lost its feed. The earthquake caught everyone off-guard. There was no information coming from the site. My wife thought the worse. I thought I was fortunate to have packed extra underwear.
    
I was seated in the upper deck, where they constructed an auxiliary press box. Louisville columnist Rick Bozich was seated next to me, when the stadium pitched back and forth.
    
The always surfer cool Californians in the crowd yelled things like, “Wow, man. This is cool.’’ They were in party mode. I was in panic mode.
    
There was no escape route. We had to ride it out. It was over in a matter of seconds – seconds that seemed to an earthquake rookie as minutes, maybe hours.
    
It took a while until the teams realized what had happened. Their families were ushered to the locker rooms. There was terror on their faces as they searched for their wives and children.
    
The news started leaking out that there was a lot of damage and destruction all over the area. Once the fans inside The Stick realized people had died, bridges had collapsed and roads crumbled, all of a sudden is wasn’t so cool after all.
    
The fans evacuated the stadium and started trying to find their way home. The stadium was pitch dark. We found one emergency light in a concession area and got out our computers and started writing what had happened. There was no way to connect with our papers. We were typing in darkness.
    
After we were through writing what we could, Bozich, USA Today columnist Mike Lopresti and myself climbed into Lopresti’s rental car and wound our way north, trying to find an open bridge across the Bay. Fires illuminated downtown. Broken water mains caused widespread flooding in the downtown streets. Traffic lights were out of commission. Pandemonium was everywhere.
    
Five anxious hours later, Bozich and I were at our media hotel, Oakland’s downtown Hyatt. They had lights, as the hotel was built on rollers, designed to withstand earthquakes.
    
There were no cell phones then. Hours later we were able to contact our families.
    
Three days later we were able to fly out of there. Middle Tennessee never looked better.
    
It was my first, and last, visit to The Stick. RIP.

Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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"My Bid" by Joe Biddle
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