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Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Updated: October 24, 12:25 PM ET
California adventure

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Miles, 508; Hours driving, 9; Diet Pepsi, 2 units; Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich at Jack in the Box (which serves breakfast all day -- I wish other fastfood places would adopt this policy, their breakfast sandwiches are so much better than their burgers); One taxi spotted outside San Luis Obispo with a surfboard strapped to the top ... 

Ahoy, matey!
Page 2's Jim Caple has a reserved spot in the press box at Pac Bell Park, but he'd much rather watch Game 3 from McCovey Cove. If you're going to have a boat out in the Cove on Tuesday night, and you'd be willing to let Cap'n Jimmy come aboard, please e-mail him at cuffscaple@hotmail.com. You'll definitely get a mention in Wednesday's column.

Forgive me for having written about this several years ago, but this is my favorite baseball story and it's particularly appropriate for today as the World Series resumes with Game 3 in San Francisco.

I grew up in a small town in southwest Washington and rooted for the Giants, who were the nearest team (the Mariners didn't exist at the time). I spent summer nights tuning in the radio, straining through the static and competing stations to hear the music of the great Lon Simmons broadcasting games via KFBK in Sacramento. Jason Schmidt, who won Game 1 for the Giants over the weekend, grew up a couple miles from me, and though he is a decade younger than I am, says that he too used to listen to the Giants broadcasts, lying in bed and listening to the games through the static.

The Giants were my favorite team, and every summer I begged my parents to take us to San Francisco for the family vacation to see them play. And every summer my mother said no, always repeating the same excuse: "No. We can't go to San Francisco. There might be an earthquake.''

World Series 1989
The Loma Prieta earthquake put the 1989 World Series on hold.

I would try to apply reason and logic, arguing that the odds against San Francisco having an earthquake the exact same day we were there to see the Giants play were too astronomical for even my father, an electrical engineer, to calculate. There hadn't been a major earthquake in San Francisco in 70 years, I would say, and there's no way there will be one just because we're there.

No, my mother would reply, we're not going. There might be an earthquake.

Fast forward several years. I'm a first-year baseball beat writer covering the Minnesota Twins and about to cover the World Series for the first time. I secure tickets to a game for my father, my brother and my brother-in-law. I'm in the press box, and they're sitting in the upper deck a couple sections over. It's the first World Series for all of us and the game is about to start and we're all very excited.

And then the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake hits San Francisco. And we're all certain we're going to die.

And my mother, God bless her, is watching from home (because there was no way she would go to San Francisco), staring at the TV, hearing Al Michaels say, "We're having an earth-" and watching the screen suddenly go blank. And as she quickly determines that the male side of the family has just been buried under Candlestick Park, she has only one thought:

"I told them there was going to be an earthquake.''

I was reminded of that story Monday night while passing Candlestick Park at the end of my long drive from Anaheim to San Francisco. I always am reminded of the story whenever I drive up into San Francisco, and it always makes me smile. Even at the end of a nine-hour, 500-mile drive that began Monday morning in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Riverside Freeway, just miles from the city where Barry Bonds was born.

Sure, I could have flown to San Francisco in a little over an hour, but why would I have wanted to? The drive up the California coast is one of the most scenic in the world. The entire coast highway from San Diego to Washington is spectacular, but the grandest stretch of all is the 60 or so miles from San Simeon (next to Hearst Castle) to Carmel along Big Sur. Granted, that's like saying Bonds is a pretty good hitter. The Big Sur drive is well-documented (you see it in virtually every car commercial) and there is little I can add to all that has been written before. I'll just say that if you truly want to appreciate this country and appreciate nature's beauty, you will make that drive someday, preferably in a Mustang convertible (my vehicle, alas, was a Daewoo, though it got pretty good mileage).

That particular stretch of the coast highway goes on longer than Tim McCarver belaboring a point and has more spectacular curves than Barry Zito, so I was rather tired when I finally cruised into Carmel just before sunset. But I still was eager for another drive. So I turned down the road to Pebble Beach, parked outside the lodge, walked into the pro shop, identified myself, explained that I was driving up to the World Series and said that I had always wanted to see the course. The people there were as friendly as could be.

"Here's the course layout,'' I was told. "Grab a cart.''

And so I settled into another seat and began a slow drive even more spectacular than the one I had just finished. I don't pretend to have been on a lot of golf courses, but if there is one more beautiful than Pebble Beach, I want to see it. Sure, Augusta may be great, but it doesn't have the Pacific Ocean crashing beyond the azaleas. How many other courses are there where you have to break for deer ambling across the fairway? Or where the air is filled with the sweet scent of cedar burning in the fireplaces of seaside cottages? Just the view of the famous 17th green, with the sun setting on the Pacific and the ocean crashing on the rocks, is almost worth the $350 fee -- that's right, $350 -- for a round here.

Pebble Beach
The breathtaking vistas of Pebble Beach are a must when in California.

"Before they start the round, what I try to tell people playing here for the first time,'' Dino Erardi said, "is that you probably won't shoot as low as you expect but that you'll have the experience of a lifetime with the beauty of this course that's carved out of the ocean.''

Erardi, 41, is a caddy at Pebble Beach, and he also runs a golf school. He loves golf, and his life once revolved so much around that little white dimpled ball that he dropped out of high school to pursue a pro career. He spent three years trying to make it as a professional but never could. "I spent a lot more than I made,'' he said. "That about sums up my career.''

Eventually, he abandoned the golf career, returned to school, earned a degree in history and began a career in real estate. This year, he and his wife, Tracy, moved to the Monterey Peninsula to raise their children in a better environment. Tracy works as a nurse and Dino got a job caddying to supplement his real estate work (his oldest son also caddies, at nearby Spyglass). On an average day, he takes home $150, including tips. "It works out to be about $30 an hour,'' he said.

That's not bad, especially for doing something you love. But the work provides far more than an income for Erardi. It's also a necessary release.

You see, his eight-year-old son, Sonny, has leukemia. Today, Dino and Tracy will take him to Stanford University, about a two-hour drive away, for his chemo therapy. "He has about a 50-50 chance,'' Erardi said. "In the '80s, it would have been a death sentence, but they've made a lot of advances since then. If he can make it through the next couple years, he has a 90 per cent chance of living a normal life.''

Caddying is what keeps him sane. Walking along the fairways, reading the greens, looking at the ocean beauty, forgetting how unfair life can be.

"It's how I put it all aside,'' Erardi said. "It's a form of meditation for me. It takes my mind off all the stress and the pain of the Stanford visits for my child. And it's not just Sonny. It's all the kids I see in the hospital there, and how young and sick they all are. I become shell-shocked.

"Golf puts it out of my mind. That's why I took the job. I could make more money doing something else, but this is what I enjoy.''

Erardi said Monday was a good day at the course. He made about $300 with tips. He could have made more if he had gone out on an earlier round, but he chose to read Sonny a book in the morning instead. It was "Treasure Island'' by Robert Louis Stevenson, who once described the Monterey peninsula as the world's "most spectacular meeting of sea and land.'' All the holes at Spyglass are named after parts of the book.

I shook hands with Erardi, wished him well for the next day, left Pebble Beach and turned away from the coast. The sky was darkening as I drove east along Highway 68. An enormous harvest moon rose over Salinas, as orange as any of the Halloween pumpkins in the stands along the road.

Salinas is the hometown of the great writer, John Steinbeck, and California is celebrating the centennial of his birth this year with a program encouraging as many people as possible to read his epic, "The Grapes of Wrath.'' That is his most powerful and famous work, but I think I prefer "East of Eden,'' which Steinbeck wrote in 1951. I mention this only because Steinbeck kept a daily journal while he wrote "East of Eden,'' and in his Oct. 4 entry, he notes how he went to the Giants-Dodgers playoff game the day before, describing it as the best game "I or anyone ever saw.''

Salinas also is where Anaheim reliever Ben Weber spent the summer of 1996, playing for the independent minor league team, the Salinas Peppers. That summer was perhaps the lowest moment of his career -- the Blue Jays released him earlier in the year -- and he marked the season's final game by donning the team's green pepper mascot costume and running around the bases.

Ben Weber
Ben Weber certainly would not like to be a Pepper, too.

"I thought it was the last game I would ever pitch,'' Weber said. "I was going to get a real job and throw baseball away. I was going to go to chiropractic school. Then an offer from Taiwan came along, and I just got lucky. If it hadn't been for Taiwan signing me, I would have quit.''

He pitched two years in Taiwan, then returned to the U.S. and eventually wound up with the Angels.

"The people in Taiwan,'' he said, "are probably saying the same thing the people in all independent leagues are saying. 'I can't believe it. If he can do it, I can do it.' ''

As I drove through Salinas, I thought about what Weber said. And as I headed north on 101 and eventually drove past Stanford, I thought about how Erardi soon would be making the same drive from Carmel with his son. And as I drove past Candlestick, I thought about my mother. And once again, I was reminded of the lesson I learned while driving across I-90 this summer. Sports connect us more than asphalt. They provide us with entertainment, comfort and, most importantly, hope.

Hope that the Angels may win their first World Series with a reliever who nearly gave up the game after dressing up as a giant green pepper. Hope that the Giants may win their first World Series in San Francisco with the son of a former player batting cleanup. Hope that another son may overcome cancer so that one day he can join his brother and father on the most beautiful golf course in the world.

Just as I drove into San Francisco, someone began shooting fireworks over Pac-Bell Park, lighting up the night.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.