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Salami War at the World Series

 

paddling into McCovey Cove, Game 5 of the 2002 World Series

If you didn’t see the World Series, when games 3, 4 and 5 arrived in San Francisco, Taco Bell floated a huge inflated target in McCovey Cove, and they promised everyone in the country a free taco if one of the batters hit the target with a home run. 

From the moment the Fox TV camera first turned its lens on the Taco Bell floating target, I wanted nothing more than to pop it. I didn’t mind it being there, a blatant marketing stunt. It was just that the camera showed it and nothing but it. The camera ignored all of the other hooligans populating the cove, and the camera ignored the huge baseball mitt over left field, and the giant coke bottle in left center. Taco Bell was bogarting the action. They were hogging the camera.

On Thursday, my friend Ethan Watters persuaded me to join the circus in the cove. He’s an expert river raft guide, and he owned a canoe. “A chance to be a part of history,” he said, and I couldn’t argue. He showed me his life vest; built into its shoulder strap was a small emergency knife. I was in.

The Cove was crammed with a hundred kayakers, a few dozen surfers on their boards, a few dozen life rafts with dinky plastic paddles, a water polo game (yes, they’d set up a water polo net), and a few outrageous get-ups. It was like Halloween. Some guys in prison stripes pretended to have escaped from Alcatraz; another group had built a floating putting green and were dressed as golf caddies. We all had the same thing in mind: cozy up to the Taco Bell target and get on television. We drank a lot and listened to the game on our radios and got very, very hungry.

In the second inning, some large things started flying through the air and landing among us. What the hell? They were being launched from a yacht anchored a row back. They were … water balloons ? … we couldn’t tell. They made big splashes, they were covered in plastic, they were aimed primarily at the Taco Bell target … I saw one raining down at me, reached out with my baseball mitt and snagged it. It jerked my arms, heavier than I anticipated. It was …

… a one-pound bag of sliced Gallo Salami.

The yacht moved into view. Gallo Salami was doing some guerilla marketing of its own. Using a water-balloon slingshot, they fired a hundred bags of salami at the Taco Bell float, hoping to land their product in the middle. Within seconds, we had the salami bags ripped open. Some people were eating the salami, but in a few more seconds it became clear that hard salami slices make excellent Frisbees, and soon there were several thousand salami slices flying every which way, slapping us in the face, landing on our legs, so many slices you almost couldn’t open your eyes, we’d throw them back, and then they’d be thrown back again, like gnats these slices, occasionally stuffing one into the mouth to stave off hunger, washing it down with Jack Daniel’s, taking a few in the face, down the neck. Then we started flinging the wet salami slices onto the Taco Bell target, and soon it was layered with a thousand slices, the biggest salami taco the world’s ever seen.

It helped the Giants were winning. Benito Santiago and Jeff Kent, (who bat before and after Barry Bonds), finally came through in the clutch. If you’ve seen the games at Pac Bell Park on television, you’ve seen a home run go over the right field wall, and watched as the kayakers dive into the water trying to recover the ball. What you don’t see, and what I didn’t know happened, is that we’re sitting there in our watercraft, listening on the radio, and we hear the announcer, “There’s the pitch … (crack) … fly ball to right field, it’s deep!” And the crowd jumps to its feet, and everyone screams, so that we can no longer hear our radios, and a baseball comes flying over the wall into the water, and there’s a mad swim-scramble for the home run ball, then the crowd quiets, and we can hear our radios again, the announcer saying, “And the throw into second is late, as J.T. Snow has another standup double.” What? Double? But it was a home run, right? And about then whoever won the swim for the home run ball would surface proudly, beaming, and we’d all laugh, because we realized it was a fake. Some mischievous fan sitting in the right field stands was throwing a ball over his shoulder every time there was a hit to right. There were a half dozen fake home runs that night.

Luckily, there were also some real home runs, and the Giants built a big lead.

In the 6th inning, we squeezed in close to the Taco Bell target. I’d like to take credit for it, but the truth is, a couple drunk surfers right next to us beat us to it. All of a sudden they paddled away furiously, bumping into the other kayaks, running over some swimmers, and I heard a whishing sound and could see the gash below the water line. Ethan’s knife, for the record, never left his shoulder strap. I hoped they were showing this on TV. The circus erupted in glee as the target listed, then sagged, and I helped a few revelers jump aboard and use it as a trampoline to drive the air out. The target was guarded by only one lone kayaker. He was cool. The cops circled in jet skis, but didn’t dare insert themselves into the melee. The target went down in less than an inning. We sank it to the bottom, and we harvested the target itself, which was a large tarp that had been strapped over a truck-tire innertube. It ended up as a cape on a surfer’s back.   

In the 8th inning, after yet another home run celebration, I tipped over the canoe. I had been standing up, cheering like a fool. Our radios, camera, cell phones, and extra clothes all went overboard. The water was about 56 degrees. It took us a good minute or two to flip the canoe back and fish all our valuables out of the water. Among various word choices to describe the water, I think “bracing” would be more accurate than “refreshing.” There’s an old myth that salt water doesn’t feel as cold as fresh water. It’s a myth. We paddled the mile home to stay warm. I don’t remember much else that night.