I moved to San Francisco a couple of years ago and set out in this beautiful place to discover my favorite sight, since it is a city known for its many tourist ones. The view of Alcatraz can cause a catch in my throat from time to time on a clear, crisp day, when, walking my dogs beneath the looming, rather tumescent Coit Tower, I stop to contemplate the island prison’s pristine solitude. The Chinese lanterns lining an eerily empty Grant Avenue can make me grin on a late-night bike ride. And God, the hills. Russian. Nob. And the one I call home— Telegraph. Yes, I love the iconic heart-tugging glamour of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Bay Bridge, more flirtatious than its gaudy painted sister across the water, can rival it at night with its blinking lights, which seem to be batting themselves right at me, beckoning beneath a moon that’s never bored by all this beauty that lies beneath it.
And yet it was a different kind of batting that finally caught my eye. It’s time to confess it. My favorite sight in all of San Francisco is Hunter Pence standing astride the batter’s box at AT&T Park. The six-foot-three-inch-tall, wild-haired right-fielder has stolen my sports-fan heart. In a city once known for its iconoclastic poets and politicians and purveyors of hippie wisdom, it is Pence, more than any frat-boy-techie-libertarian knocking back some fancy new artisanal libation in the rehabbed Mission district, who has, in turn, captured the legendary renegade spirit of this city. He may have started out as an Astro and a Phillie, but no uniform has fit him better than a Giants one. When Pence unfurls his lanky body from the dugout and lopes out to right field, he reminds me of a Ferlinghetti poem come to life: wide-open in its free-flowing focus, visual, kind of fun to figure out, and—when inspired to be—a bit profane while still grounded in tradition. In the last line of his “Baseball Canto,” Ferlinghetti refers to baseball as the territorio libre. Just as the ninety-six-year-old poet’s presence in San Francisco has made it a freer place, so has the thirty-two-year old baseball player’s. Viva Ferlinghetti! Viva the Giants! Viva Hunter Pence!