A magical sound would erupt whenever Barry Bonds connected with a pitch — sharp and smooth, enough to transcend San Francisco for more than a decade. Bonds fans will tell you, the ritual was simple: Stop, watch and celebrate.
On May 1, 2000, in the sixth inning, the recipe debuted a new ingredient: Salt water.
Bonds crushed a pitch from New York Mets left-hander Rich Rodriguez high and deep into the San Francisco night. At Candlestick Park, the ball might have settled into a terraced wall of orange plastic, or, been defeated by the overbearing wind and snared by the right fielder.
At their brand-new, $357 million waterfront ballpark, Bonds’ shot stood zero chance of staying dry. Television cameras tracked the blast as it rose into orbit then plopped into McCovey Cove, the slice of San Francisco Bay honoring Hall of Famer and Giants legend Willie McCovey.
And it was off to the races for two boats stationed in the water. They rammed into each other, desperately trying to scoop up the very first “Splash Hit” at what was then Pacific Bell Park. Since then, 96 more Giants homers have plummeted into the Bay on a fly; Thirty-five of them, demolished by Bonds.
More important than the homers is the community that has emerged and thrives in McCovey Cove. As a native, it has always captured my attention. So, after 12 years as a fan, I decided to cross an item off my baseball bucket list.
No more delays. No more excuses. I don’t know what it was, I just knew it couldn’t wait. It was happening. I’m finally going to kayak McCovey Cove.
My support system had mixed reactions.
Friends playfully backed the idea – with statistics about shark attacks. Very funny.
Family, on the other hand, seemed skeptical. My mom texted:
“Are you sure? You’ve never done it before.”
She was right. Never had I had been near, yet alone in, a kayak, other than walking by one at Dick’s and reminding myself to rent one someday. Definitely not trying to be defensive, I responded:
“How hard can it be?”
Northern California was baking in the midst of a heat wave. Temperatures in San Francisco were forecast in the low-70s as the Giants tried for a sweep against Philadelphia.
I studied the weather closely the night before, checking my phone every few hours to see if expected temperatures would suddenly dip under 70. Nothing colder, or I couldn’t physically bear the chilled breeze I’ve become accustomed to. “That was my cutoff,” I thought.
I booked my kayak at City Kayak, just up the Embarcadero from Oracle Park. After a bathroom break – oh, the disaster that would have been – and a five-minute orientation during which the staff called me “rookie,” I was ready to go.
The ballgame started at 1:05 p.m. I rolled into the group of summer-loving kayakers and boaters shortly after first pitch, rocking a green mobile of my own with blue patches front and back. Paddling felt natural. I was comfortable. A point arrived where I felt like the Olympics could be in my future.
I was never afraid of tipping. It’s water. I can swim. The Gen Z in me, though, suffered overwhelming fear of losing my phone, picturing the worst: No backup, passwords gone, and an expensive stop at a Verizon store. It didn’t help when the woman in front of me let her phone slip out of her pocket and quickly down to the bottom of the Bay. Her hands flew up and grabbed her head in shock. My $1 investment in a dry bag was suddenly reassuring.
Kayaks, I have learned, are deceiving creatures. They look smaller and tighter than they are. I had plenty of room. I had worried about leg cramps, the type that wake you up screaming in the night. Roll out and stretch beforehand.
The McCovey Cove community felt like everyone had known each other for years. In reality, a handful of regulars hold court; one, a local celebrity among Giants fans: McCovey Cove Dave.
Dave Edlund has roamed the shores of McCovey Cove since 2001, and is clearly captain of the pond. He’s recognizable by his custom shirts and has been seen nationwide chasing home run balls that land in the water. He’s recovered nearly 50 baseballs out there. Dave’s presence is welcoming; he’ll paddle up to everyone and anyone to say hello, especially if it’s a new face.
He’s analytical, too. He almost didn’t attend this game, fearing the two left-handed starting pitchers would limit the number of left-handed bats in both lineups. Phillies star Bryce Harper helped changed his mind. When Harper was announced, Dave would race near the spot where Harper’s homers have ended up before. Dave has spray charts for every player and they’ve helped boost his take over the years.
At one point, Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber crushed a foul ball that splashed into the Cove. I was more towards right-center when two shirtless guys dove out of their inflatables to go after the ball. It was an electric competition, and the pair ended up on the Giants broadcast and all over social media.
That frenzied dash for a mere foul ball sums up the atmosphere. It was fun and games with a touch of competition mixed in. It was a total blast, and something I’ll undoubtedly do in the future with more family and friends.
Also, it was difficult to be unromantic about baseball in a setting of that caliber. A beautiful day in the City by the Bay, getting the chance to engage one of baseball’s most beautiful parks from an unfamiliar angle.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take it all in.
Steven Rissotto has covered the San Francisco Giants for SFBay since 2021. He is the host of RizzoCast, a baseball interview show featuring players, coaches, media and fans. He attends San Francisco State University and will major in Journalism and minor in education.