Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
In San Francisco, the Giants are about much more than baseball.
In addition to being one of the most storied teams in the National League (home to Mays, McCovey, Marichal – plus Bonds & Bonds), the franchise also prides itself in taking a tangible voice in its city, helping to conjure attention for issues of grave social importance which intersect the lives of both its fan-base and its players.
Cancer-awareness; organ transplantation; AIDS; violence against women: The themes for these “community events” offer no easy answers and are often cloaked in misconception, fear and stigma. Yet, the Giants are not deterred. To the contrary, the organization is driven by a mission to enlighten its fans and its landscape, educating tens of thousands about problems which each of us must cope with on a daily basis – like it or not.
“The Giants feel the baseball field offers a real opportunity for us to raise awareness” [to the above-referenced topics], says Shana Daum, Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations for the team. “We feel its part of our obligation as an organization and part of what makes us truly unique. But sometimes the journey can really be hard.
“Once, a few days after a Strike Out Cancer event, I received an email from a father who had attended the game with his child. This parent told me that his son had been so frightened by the material we covered that he was now afraid he was going to die of cancer. This man was angry, because, as he said, he had come to the game with his boy to get away from life for awhile…”
Understandably, some see the baseball field as a place to recover youth and flee your troubles. And this, for the most part, is true. However, it can also be a venue where a multi-layered sub-community is formed as people from scattered backgrounds come together to search out answers to our most pressing problems; Daum continues:
“So I wrote this man back and told him that I completely understood his point-of-view. But I also told him that I was a mother, too, and perhaps it was a parent’s role to teach their children about the realities of the life early on, even if it’s hard to do. And the man wrote me back and said that maybe that what I’d said was true, that perhaps he was trying to protect his son too much…”
Think about it: Who among you has not been touched by the dark specter of cancer? And who among us has not been touched by a violent outburst in some form or another? Such things are often bitterly remembered; still, the memories are absolutely necessary if we are to spare future generations some of the pain we have endured. As Daum infers, we owe it to our kids to paint them a practical picture of the world they are growing into.
Recently, during the last week of the 2006 baseball season, before a sold-out crowd ready to boo-down the Dodgers, the Giants (in conjunction with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Blue Shield of California and the Family Violence Prevention Fund) sponsored the 9th annual Strike Out Violence Day.
When the event launched in 1998, it marked the first time a law enforcement agency and a pro-sports team had assembled to look at the phenomenon of violence and its impact on the populous.
As Strike Out Violence Day evolved, its focus has become more defined, with the educational campaigns Coaching Boys Into Men and Founding Fathers created by Family Violence Prevention Fund premised on teaching young boys that succumbing to violence against women is a dead-end road with pain-sick consequences.
“The Coaching Boys Into Men and Founding Fathers campaigns are premised on having adult men speak to young boys about treating women with respect,” says Rachel Smith Fals of the Family Prevention Fund. “From our standpoint, the Giants and Strike Out Violence Day provide a wonderful medley of events that help us circulate our public education message. The baseball park offers a venue that allows us to get men attuned to the issue [of violence] and then to look at ways they can be part of a real solution.”
Still, what’s best about the way that Strike Out Violence Day unfolds is in the fact that the goal is to teach – not preach. Instead of hammering at the audience with a never-ending litany about the ugly side of mankind, the sponsors instead use real people telling their stories (for example, at the 2005 event, Sharon Rocha, whose pregnant daughter Laci Peterson is thought to have been violently murdered by her own husband, threw out the first pitch) – eloquently giving a very real face to the tattered remnants one angry hand can leave behind.
The Giants’ community-awareness days are important for myriad reasons, but probably none is greater than the fact they force us to the table and into an immediate dialogue with ourselves.
In essence, the first step to conquering any fear, the first step to figuring out a true solution, comes in the dissection of the question. And that’s basically what the Giants are doing when they sponsor an event for something like AIDS or violence awareness – the team is placing the issue center-stage at AT&T Park and summoning our attention, our empathy, our resources, our perceptions. Simply, lasting roads are many times revealed in the taste of multiple perspectives.
Here, the Giants are boldly making the effort to merge baseball with reality in order to provide an environment free of judgment, beyond the suffocation of the typical school building or doctor’s office – the ballyard a place where people can feel comfortable while confronting some of life’s greatest challenges. Ultimately, it’s about identifying the problem and peering into the mirrors of the self. Ultimately, it’s about building enough bravery to see how and where you might fit into the blankness of the page.
The faces of the women in the stands at AT&T Park watching Giant’s first-baseman Mark Sweeney read a prayer-like pledge steeped in the idea of a universal healing told an indelible story: Violence has stricken the people of this country in many ways, in ways impossible for the words of human tongues to articulate.
In turn, an event like Strike Out Violence transcends the baseball diamond – its message a clear-driven mantra with a long and intimate echo: It is time to teach your kids the right way.