SAN FRANCISCO — The Homestead High School marching band had just left the field, one-half hour before the scheduled start of Tuesday night's World Series game, when Candlestick Park began to move.
From the vantage point of the upper deck, where most of the media covering the game were seated, it wasn't an unfamiliar sensation. Get 40,000 fans stomping their approval for the home team, and whole sections of a stadium have been known to sway.
But never for this long.
And never this hard.
For a few seconds, there had been a slow rumble. Then came the jolt, a sharp slap to the side of the ballpark, which seemed to take hold of the structure and refuse to let go.
Beyond the center-field fence, Candlestick's mammoth Jumbotron scoreboard went blank. Small electronic message boards across the stadium became scrambled, illuminated only in a hieroglyphic gibberish.
All but a few banks of lights shut down, and the stadium's digital clock was frozen at 5:05.
There the numbers would burn for several more minutes, serving as an eerie reminder of when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that shook the Bay Area first hit Tuesday night.
Potentially, there are probably worst places to be in an earthquake than the third game of the World Series. But none immediately comes to mind. Candlestick Park was sold out to its 62,000-seat capacity, with thousands stacked above thousands--three levels of spectators suspended only by concrete and steel.
A mass panic seemed to be the likely aftershock.
Remarkably, the majority of the Candlestick crowd reacted to the jolt as they would to a game's final out. Most of them stood up, surveyed the scene, then began heading for the nearest exit.
"Thank God this happened in San Francisco," said Marty DeMerritt, a San Francisco Giants pitching coach. "Someplace else and there would have been panic. These people know. They've been living here all their lives. This is one of the deals that come with the territory."
Reaction was stronger on the field and in the main and auxiliary press boxes, where there were greatly fewer native Californians. Players scrambled out of their dugouts to take refuge on the open field--that much they knew about behavior during an earthquake--and reporters in the main, enclosed press box crammed themselves under any available door frame.
"I thought the press box was going to come off its mooring and fall onto the field," said one reporter.
In the auxiliary press box, located in the upper deck behind home plate, there was no place to hide. Perched vulnerably at the top of the stadium, feeling as if they were riding in the first car of a roller coaster, most reporters grabbed hold of the makeshift tables in front of them and exchanged blanched, nervous glances.
There was nothing else to do but wait the ride out.
When the shaking finally stopped, East Coast reporters began asking West Coast reporters what had happened.
Many of them had just experienced their first earthquake. "I just made a career decision," quipped one. "I'm staying in New York."
The game wasn't canceled until 5:35 p.m.--its original starting time--and in the interim, the rumble was replaced by an audible buzz. With the electricity out and most phone lines dead, groups of fans and reporters huddled around transistor radios and portable battery-powered televisions to check local news stations.
Rumors spread nearly as quickly as the tremor.
The Bay Bridge had collapsed, someone said.
Some buildings in downtown San Francisco were leveled, another claimed.
There were reports of damage around the stadium--cracks so big you could stick your foot in them, was the word. Later, stadium officials substantiated some of these reports, acknowledging that the stadium had indeed suffered structural damage.
Fans milled around, asking the same question: "Will they still play the game?" For half an hour, no one knew for sure, but with the outfield lights gone, it soon became obvious that no night game was going to be played here.
Eventually, the public address announcement came, and fans in the lower levels were instructed to leave by way of the field. Spectators in the upper levels were told to head to the nearest exit.
The evacuation of Candlestick Park was smooth and orderly, at least until the fans reached their cars. With all of the area's bridges closed, along with some adjacent freeway arteries, a new form of gridlock was about to be encountered.
More than two hours after the game was called, the parking lot was still jammed.
With the sun setting and electricity out, player interviews were conducted in almost surreal surroundings. The tunnel leading to both the Oakland and San Francisco clubhouses darkened quickly, with reporters blindly scribbling notes in the pitch black when they couldn't find a subject already staring into the lights of a television crew.
"When something like this happens," said Oakland slugger Jose Canseco, "you realize just how small a part of life baseball is."
Added Giant catcher Terry Kennedy: "And people were worried about us being down, 0-2, in the Series. Check your priorities,."
For more than 60,000, Tuesday's main priority was leaving a World Series game safely and soundly. Something as simple as that, once executed, became the best and biggest news to emerge from the World Series yet.