Could this have been any better? Out of everyone on this team, Travis Ishikawa. Literally Travis Ishikawa, the man who showed up at the 2010 ring ceremony in jeans because he didn’t make the team the next year, the man who came back to San Francisco in April after getting cut by his previous team, the man who was almost a running gag as the Giants stumbled into the playoffs, the man who was playing in left field because… why again?
Travis Ishikawa has always been one of my favorite players since he came up about a decade ago. It’s no secret that there aren’t many Asian Americans in baseball (you can count them all on one hand), and even as a not-so-race-conscious kid in 2006 I felt a connection with this guy who looked even just a smidgeon more like me than anyone else on the field. This was when I still played baseball, mind you, and back then, the number of Asians (not even Asian Americans) in MLB was even smaller; there was Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, and Byung Hyun Kim. It wasn’t an issue for me then (who needs idols when Barry Bonds plays for your hometown team?), but I knew even then that there wasn’t anyone I could emulate with a face like mine. And to be honest, Ishikawa didn’t change that for most of his first go-around with the Giants. He struggled when given opportunities to start and ended up as a bench player. Hell, in 2010, his signature moment was taking a walk in the NLDS that led to a come-from-behind win. No dramatic heroics, no consistent success over those 6 years in SF. He didn’t give me much of a reason to be sad over the Giants letting him go after the 2011 season, and yet I was distraught all the same.
As I had begun my journey in gaining awareness of my identity, I needed figures to look up to in my world (which largely revolves around sports), even moreso than I did as a kid with big league aspirations. Jeremy Lin spent his rookie season with Golden State in 2011, and while Linsanity would be just a year away in New York, the only other local figure I had was Ishikawa. It was always in the back of my mind, this sense that I couldn’t comprehend for the longest time, and when it finally hit me as to why Ishikawa meant more to me than his stats, it was too late. When the Giants got rid of him, it hurt for reasons a rational fan could never understand. I followed him in box scores the next year in Milwaukee, but he gradually faded away into an obscurity only the immediacy of sports can bring.
And then, just like that, Travis Ishikawa popped up in a miscellaneous media tidbit as having re-signed with the Giants midway into the 2014 season as a minor leaguer. He wasn’t supposed to ever step foot in the majors; the move was purely one for organizational depth, as the Giants had two capable first basemen and nowhere to put yet another one. It wasn’t until both of those players got hurt that the emergency glass was broken and Ishikawa pulled out of it. It was by pure luck that I attended his first game back in the major leagues in July, but I bet you there was no happier a fan inside AT&T Park than me to see him pinch-hit (the Giants lost and were in the middle of an extremely bad losing streak, so it wasn’t hard to be happier than most people). He was a novelty, a throwback, but most importantly to me, he was the player I needed on my team in that moment.
And now, this, a game-winning home run that sends the Giants back to the World Series. This moment has already been immortalized on screen, in print, and most deeply in my heart. It’s the most random, inconceivable, amazing thing, and unless the world is playing a huge joke on me, it really happened. Travis Ishikawa, I know you didn’t do this for me, but you did this for me. I’m so proud of you.