Cards hero Descalso returns home to Bay Area
Second baseman, who grew up an A's fan, is coming off a breakout Game 5
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hot off his best game as a Major League player, Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso couldn't imagine his good fortune.Standing in front of the visitors' dugout on Saturday at AT&T Park, Descalso marveled at the fact that his club is about to open the National League Championship Series against the Giants only 25 miles north of where he was born and grew up on the strip of land known here as simply "The Peninsula." With his mother, Mary Lou, and his father, George, still living in the family home in nearby San Carlos, Calif., Descalso said he was readying his ticket list, which will at least include his folks and five siblings. Game 1 is slated for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
"It's not going to be a whole lot," Descalso said about the demand for tickets from his family and friends. "I'm trying to keep it in check before it gets out of hand."Descalso may not yet be a household name, but he certainly put himself on the map during Friday night's incredible 9-7, come-from-behind win in which the Cards stole their NL Division Series in five games from the Nationals. The defending World Series champs fell behind 6-0 in the third inning at Nationals Park and just kept pecking away. Descalso homered to open the eighth inning, making it 6-5. And in the ninth against closer Drew Storen, with two outs and the bases loaded and the Nats leading, 7-5, Descalso singled sharply off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond to tie the game. Pete Kozma singled to put the Cardinals ahead only moments later. "That's the best I've ever played on a stage like that," Descalso said. "That's why you play the game. You dream as a little kid of being up in a spot like that with the game, a series, on the line with a chance to come through for your ballclub. In the ninth when I was up there, I was ready. I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and make sure I didn't swing late on it. I was able to find a hole just past Desmond." It wasn't that long ago that Descalso, only 25, was just another fan rooting for the local baseball teams. Born in Redwood City just south of San Francisco International Airport, Descalso was well situated to root for the Giants, who played at Candlestick Park until moving in 2000 to this cozy little venue on the shores of what is known as the China Basin, but renamed McCovey Cove. Descalso's allegiance, though, was to the A's in Oakland on the other side of the bay. His parents had season tickets at the Coliseum, and Descalso said his earliest baseball memory was sitting in those seats, rooting for the A's and Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Dave Stewart. His mother grew up in the East Bay town of Walnut Creek, which explains the preference to the A's. Descalso claims he wasn't a casual A's fan, but a vociferous one. He could be seen during down times, during his own first-round series, keeping track of Oakland's five-game loss to the Tigers in their American League Division Series. And when the A's defeated Texas only 11 days ago to win the AL West, Descalso was ecstatic. He was 2 years old when the A's swept the Giants in the 1989, earthquake-torn World Series and has been told so many stories about those times that he can envision being there for those games. "I was an A's fan all the way up through college," said Descalso, who went to UC Davis in the Sacramento area some 90 miles from here. "It was hard to keep following them once I got into pro ball, but I kept my eye on them, watching what was going on there this season. That was a fun team to watch. Yeah, I grew up at the Coliseum rooting on those teams [of the late 1980s]. Those were great teams." Descalso has his own story as a Major Leaguer, of course. He was a bench player last year on a Cardinals team that staged its own miracle, coming from behind to defeat the Rangers in a seven-game World Series. He was 3-for-9 last year in 13 postseason games, mostly as a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. Skip Schumaker, when healthy, was by and large the starting second baseman. This year, Descalso has been given his opportunity and has made the most of it, batting .316 (6-for-19) with two homers and six RBIs in the just concluded series against the Nationals. "I had a lot of playing time at second base throughout the whole year, but it was up and down for me," Descalso said about a season in which he hit .227. "I had to make a lot of adjustments in July and August. The last month or so, I've been having a lot better at-bats. I've been squaring the ball up better and been able to find some holes and drive the ball better like I did in this last series against the Nationals." Now the NLCS lies in front of him. He's the hometown boy. He spends his offseason living in the Marina District of San Francisco because "it's a great city and where else would you want to be when you're in your 20s?" And he's playing the team he loved to hate as a kid when he was a San Carlos Little Leaguer. He didn't literally pinch himself, but he would've had an excuse if he did. "You can dream it," he said. "But it's never really a reality until it happens."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.