SAN FRANCISCO — The banner hanging from the left-center field bleachers at Candlestick Park Sunday read: "OOO-REEE-BAAAY." The crowd of 59,363 later picked up the chant: "OOO-REEE-BAAAY . . . OOO-REEE-BAAAY."
Jose Uribe has obviously come a long way from the time when he was Jose Gonzalez and didn't want to be just one more Jose Gonzalez playing professional baseball. He was another in the line of young prospects from the Dominican Republic then and wanted an identity of his own.
Jose Gonzalez became Jose Uribe, adopting one of his family names.
"I wanted to have my own name," he said Sunday, standing by his locker in the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse. "I know it would be difficult for Americans to pronounce, but so far they're doing a good job."
Not only are Americans chanting it and pronouncing it, they are singing Uribe's praises, comparing the Giants' shortstop to that legend of American baseball, Ozzie Smith, the Wizard of Oz.
"Don't get me wrong," San Francisco Manager Roger Craig said. "Ozzie is one of the greatest ever, but this kid is just as good."
The National League playoff has put Uribe and Smith, the St. Louis Cardinal shortstop, on the same stage.
Sunday, it was "OOO-REEE-BAAAY's" show. He ripped a bases- loaded single in the fourth inning, lifting the Giants from a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead that eventually became a 6-3 victory and 3-2 advantage in the best of seven series.
He was also the middle man on a spectacular double play in the third inning, cutting off a Cardinal threat that produced only one run despite three consecutive singles opening the inning.
There was one out and the one run was in when Uribe took a throw from second baseman Robby Thompson, hurtled the fleet Vince Coleman, who seemed to slide far out of the base line in an attempt to cut him down, and delivered an accurate relay to first, doubling Tom Herr and ending the inning.
Said Craig later: "That was as good as you'd want to see and as important as they come."
The Giants produced a major-league leading 183 double plays during the season and have now turned a record 10 in five playoff games.
"OOO-REEE-BAAAY" was asked about the fans' chant.
"I like that action," he said in broken English. "The people recognize what I am doing."
And does he think he is doing it better than Ozzie?
"People say that and it makes me feel good," he said. "People say, 'forget Ozzie, you are better.' I have a lot of respect for Ozzie. He's been my favorite for many years. I don't think there's a better shortstop in the National League. I can be as good as he is, I think, but I'm only trying to be as good as I can. I'm not trying to be anyone else. I'm doing my job. That's all I care about."
All? Well, Uribe is no different than anyone else. He likes the recognition. He know what this national spotlight can mean to him.
"It's very good for me," he said. "Not too many moments like this come into your life. I have been working hard to be one of the best. People will see what I can do. Maybe the whole world will be watching."
They have definitely been watching in his hometown of San Cristobal.
In fact, his brother, Malciso, called before Sunday's game to remind him that he was being pitched inside and should step back from the plate some.
Giant batting instructor Jose Morales endorsed that thinking before Uribe went to bat in the fourth inning, also reminding him to get his hands through the swing. Uribe got an inside fastball and pulled it into the right-field corner. He is 4 for 20 in the playoffs after batting .291 during the regular season, when he was on the disabled list three times with a pulled hamstring. Over the last 45 games, he batted .336.
"Yes, that was my biggest hit," Uribe said of his bases-loaded double.
Brother Malciso was undoubtedly proud. He is Uribe's personal batting coach during the off-season. Last winter he would lob kernels of corn at Uribe, who said he would swing a fungo style bat at the sharply breaking corn in an attempt to improve his bat speed and eye.
At 27, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Uribe seems to be improving in all aspects. It was easier for him to change his name than get this far.
He was 17 when signed by the New York Yankees out of a Dominican tryout camp and inexplicably released before playing a single game in their system. He spent two years on his parents' farm, never losing his desire to play professionally so that he could "do something for my mother and father because they are so poor."
He eventually signed with St. Louis in 1981, found a friend in pitcher Rickey Horton, who instructed him in English and eased his cultural transition, and began his climb through the Cardinals system, knowing he would probably be traded.
"First, they had Garry Templeton, then Ozzie," he said, thinking of the shortstops ahead of him. "I never lost hope. I knew what I could do. I know I could play somewhere."