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WORLD SERIES : CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Tidal wave

Imagine 1,000 Gilligans, adrift, boozed and dazed. That's the scene at McCovey Cove next to the Giants' AT&T Park during the World Series

October 29, 2010|Chris Erskine

MCCOVEY COVE, SAN FRANCISCO — Things are a little crazy out here on the water to begin with, and then the water polo team shows up, dragging along a floating goal.

Hey, McHale, I think I found your navy.

McCovey Cove is insane this World Series, full of kids-at-Christmas smiles and all manner of flotsam and personal watercraft. Mostly kayaks, but surfers too. Swim teams, water polo players, dogs, beer bongs, reefer. Lots of reefer. At one point, I think the idiots on one raft exhausted their stash and had resorted to smoking the rope.

Apparently, Prop. 19 has already passed here.

Cops on jet skis patrol the cove -- sort of -- in the way New Orleans cops patrol Mardi Gras. If someone isn't bleeding or there's not a bone sticking out of the skin, then they're pretty willing to just let it slide.

But it was all in good fun Wednesday night, near as I could tell from my rental kayak. As the only apparent sober person in the entire fleet, I was paying pretty close attention, while doing my best not to drown.

I'll tell you this, I couldn't take enough pictures. Of particular note were the two guys in pink wigs and black beards. One of the guys in a pink wig stood up bravely for the anthem, defying every law of dinghy physics. He had his hand over his heart -- or maybe he was just grabbing himself. In any case, the man in the pink wig displayed a form of patriotism you don't see just anywhere.

Now, I'll confess to despising these journalists who swoop in and, after a couple hours of serious study, pretend to understand a town. But I do it anyway. And with apparent success. Especially here.

So imagine 1,000 Gilligans, adrift. That's McCovey Cove during a World Series game, a flotilla of fun-loving fools.

This has to qualify as one of the oddest, most playful scenes in all of sports. In the same vein, you've got the infield at Churchill Downs, or the outfield at Wrigley Field. Add this boozy little water park -- a go-to venue for a town on a Giant beer buzz.

It is also the most egalitarian scene in a sports world increasingly devoted to the well-to-do. Here, the little boats get the front row-seats, and the bigger vessels are required to anchor further back. Leave it to the communists, eh?

And some of these clowns don't even need boats. At one point, Dave Ogden swims up with a half-dozen buddies and explains: "It's our swim club's night here in the bay. We just couldn't pass it up."

That makes sense, I suppose, for a World Series always brings out a let's-kiss-all-the-sailors mentality.

By the way, did I mention the water was 57 degrees at game time? That's not a swim, Dave. That's a full-body margarita.

Then Charlotte Bobeck-McLachlan comes bobbing along, with her husband, James, and friends Kim Boester and Ninalei Morrison. They are on surfboards, except for the Hawaiian (Ninalei), who opted for a kayak.

"We just came in from the rocks over there," Bobeck-McLachlan says, pointing to a breakwater. "It's so California. And it's free!"

Free as in freezing? Breakwater as in brrrrrr ... ?

Just how cold is it? Actually, it's not the bone-chilling cold I was expecting ($75 kayak rental, parking included; citykayak.com). Some nights, it can be quite brisk though, attests fellow kayaker Bob Simons, who was out here during Game 5 of the Phillies series in a light drizzle. That night, the tide changed so that everyone was floating, en masse, toward the Bay Bridge.

They'd scoot back into position, to the coveted "splash zone," then slowly drift back out again.

"That was occasionally unpleasant," he confesses. "Want a beer?"

So as you can maybe tell, McCovey Cove is a novel way to experience a World Series, and when I say experience, I don't mean you actually ever see the game. You mostly just absorb it through the bottom of your little fiberglass boat, hear it on the dozens of radios surrounding you.

"Seeing" the game isn't really the goal out here. It's more about what you youngsters like to call "the vibe." A sense of elan. The whole freaky-deaky scene.

For instance, at one point the polo players are throwing balls up to the fans lining the wharf, who in turn throw the balls up to fans inside AT&T Park.

About the second inning, there are reports that water polo balls are finding their way onto the field, which really thrills the polo players. Score!

Talk about your 15 minutes of fame. In this case, try 15 seconds.

But it's all good, dude. It's all very good.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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