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Since the year 2000, nearly three times as many MLB players have come from the Los Angeles metro area than any other city in the world.
But for the Colorado Rockies, San Francisco is the town where most of the American-born players identify with the most.
Robert Stephenson, Dom Nuñez and Garrett Hampson all considered the San Francisco Giants their local team growing up in Martinez (CA), Elk Grove (CA) and Reno (NV), respectively.
Stephenson was the nearest, only 35 miles outside of downtown San Fran, yet the two locations seem worlds apart to the 29-year-old right-hander.
“It’s weird because I lived maybe 45 minutes away and it’s a totally different climate there. It’s just like San Francisco is in its own little bubble,” he shared. “And for whatever reason, it’s always cold. I don’t know why. It honestly seems like it’s warmer in the winter than it is in the summer there.”
Despite going to several games per season, Nuñez considered the Sacramento River Cats as his team because of the proximity between Elk Grove and the Golden State capital.
“The Sacramento team was always good,” the third-year catcher recalled. “When they were an A’s affiliate, they were really good. That was where I spent most of my time.”
Did that mean the 27-year-old grew up a fan of the Oakland Athletics? Not exactly.
Legendary son of Sacramento, Larry Bowa, and his nephew, Nick Johnson, were friends of the family. Naturally, since Johnson was a third-round draft pick out of high school by the New York Yankees, Nuñez gravitated toward the original team that wore pinstripes.
Rest assured, his fandom is no longer with the Bronx Bombers after witnessing the overly passioned fans first-hand, saying, “It’s definitely not a West Coast vibe, that’s for sure.”
Hampson was furthest from the Bay Area, in another state on the opposite side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“It’s just a drive over the hill,” he casually remarked of the four-hour drive. “Sometimes we would just do like a Saturday day game and drive back that night or Sunday. We’d make it work. That was our vacation. We didn’t go to Disneyland or anything like that. We went to Giants games.”
The memories were vast for all three players, centering on watching San Francisco’s premier slugger Barry Bonds on his march through the record books during the early 2000s.
“Barry Bonds was one of my favorites growing up as a young kid,” Hampson shared.
“I just remember we wouldn’t go into McCovey Cove with Barry up at the plate because we didn’t have a kayak since we were driving from Reno, but we would always stand near the water. I remember one of his home runs went right over my head.”
“I saw him hit 714,” Stephenson said of the home run that tied Bonds with Babe Ruth. “That was in Oakland. Watched him growing up a lot, obviously. Had to watch him.”
There were also the teams in the post-Bonds era that won three World Series in five years, as well as the players who contributed to that golden period.
Three-time All-Star Matt Cain was a favorite of Stephenson, while Brandon Crawford was the guy for Hampson.
“I grew up admiring Crawford and what he does while in high school. It’s pretty cool to be able to be on the same field as him,” the utility player humbly offered.
Through all those years, the one star that still shines for the Giants’ franchise is their home stadium: Oracle Park.
Opened in 2000 following the demise of the multi-purpose facility known as Candlestick Park, the ballpark in the China Basin has had several name changes over the years, but the building remains the same iconic symbol for baseball in San Francisco.
“Probably the best stadium I’ve ever watched a game,” Nuñez said of the place originally knew as Pac Bell Park.
He continued to say, “Not a huge fan of playing there, to be honest with you. Kind of weird. The wind. It just feels like (the stadium) is on top of you. Everything feels slanted up a little bit. You don’t really notice it until you’re actually playing there. It’s funny.”
Baseball is a kid’s game and those lucky enough to play it can stay immortal. Some can even possess that perspective in the middle of the 162-game marathon known as the MLB season.
“I always soak it in a little bit when I’m in San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite ballparks,” Hampson confessed. “It’s pretty special for me and my family. Listening to those broadcasters that we listened to every single night, being able to hear them say my name is pretty cool. It still is.”
For three boys growing up in the greater Bay Area and wishing that perhaps they could fill the shoes of the baseball legends who came before, Oracle Park is that special place where dreams really can come true.