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Last Friday they sat in the stands with their families at an otherwise nearly deserted Candlestick Park. In the emptiness and in the silence, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper found the place alive, the memories tumbling out free-form and with urgency, like water over the lip of a waterfall during spring run-off.

One memory, however, dominated all others for those two ex-Giants players, now Giants broadcasters. One memory they had and hope never to have again: that October day in 1989 when the earth shook Northern California, taking 63 lives, creating fires, collapsing freeways, causing $6 billion in damage, severing a portion of the Bay Bridge roadway and scaring people like a friend I have. She will never, ever drive over a bridge again. A promise she has kept for these 24 years.

"I dropped to my knees," said Krukow, standing near home plate, "like I was fielding a ground ball."

Krukow looked up, wondering what was up, the same look of trepidation everyone had that day inside Candlestick, when hard ground turned to Jell-O. People were trying to get their sea legs and how nervous did that make them — since they weren't at sea.

"That's because a 600-pound gopher just ran past me at 40 miles an hour," Krukow said.

When Game 3 of the 1989 World Series was played 10 days later, the Series was never the same and neither was Krukow.

"It was the day that changed my life," the broadcaster said. "I saw life a whole different way. I saw how important life was, how fragile life is."

Sure, Krukow already knew of the concept — the fragility of life. Sure, people outside California knew earthquakes were dangerous. But the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake introduced America to a real-time filmed event, not a black-and-white picture in a history book.

So unusual was the experience, however, very few people inside Candlestick immediately knew of the devastation. This was before cell phones and texting and instant messaging. Initially it felt like a reason to party.

"Within minutes," said Giants vice president for ballpark operations Jorge Costa, who has been with the team for 25 years, "someone had drawn up a poster that read: 'Now Wait Until The Giants Take The Field!'"

In the Giants' front office, seconds after the 7.1 temblor, the joke moved among the staff with forest-fire quickness: Giants owner Bob Lurie had so wanted a new home for his team, had been so frustrated by failed city ballot measures, that he was upstairs stomping his foot hard, again and again, to shake the stadium.

If only the staff could have seen the look on Lurie's face, the one Jim Moorehead saw. Moorehead, now in his 25th year in media relations, was a Giants intern.

"I was coming down the stairs into the office as Bob was going up," Moorehead said. "I looked into his eyes and he was looking into mine. We just stared at each other. It seemed like forever."

The media workroom underneath the upper deck was nothing but thick, very gray concrete. Had the feeling of a bunker, of safety, of a place to hide. When Candlestick shook, the concrete walls moved sideways in a rhythmic, undulating motion. Like I was tilting my head and watching an ocean wave. An ocean wave of concrete. I never have felt so small and insignificant.

The 62,000 fans cheered, as if this was a special effect reserved for baseball's grandest stage. "Euphoric" is how Costa described it.

"Until people turned on their transistor radios," Costa said.

The entire Bay Bridge had collapsed and fallen into the water. The entire city of San Francisco was aflame. So were the rumors. "I thought thousands had died," Krukow said. Many players, like Oakland's Jose Canseco, never showered, exiting the park in their uniforms. It took Krukow two hours to go four miles down U.S. 101, to the Giants' hotel in Burlingame. The windows in his Marriott room were blown out, the furniture scattered and upended and everything on the walls now on the floor in pieces.

When the Series was resumed, it was, for the most part, anti-climactic. After Oakland swept, A's general manager Sandy Alderson wouldn't allow the customary champagne celebration in the locker room, out of respect for the 63 people who died. People just wanted it over.

"I'm very careful about saying that," Krukow said. "Because to do so would minimize the accomplishments of the A's. Oakland was the best baseball team I ever saw."

No one remembers much about what the Giants did in Games 3 and 4 (not very much). What people do remember was what the Giants did in the 10 days before the World Series resumed. During those 10 days Krukow made four trips in a Giants team bus to the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Krukow and his teammates would spend all day there with the suddenly homeless.

"Here were people who had lost everything or others who didn't know if they would ever go home again," Krukow said. "And all they wanted to do was talk ball with us. They wanted to think about something other than what was left of their home in the Marina. It was very humbling."

In those conversations at the Moscone, and conversations that were to follow, a very large and overarching theme emerged: Candlestick Park took a mighty blow and was still standing. Candlestick Park, as disrespected as any politician's promise, withstood nature's hammer.

Yes, Candlestick did crack; the walkway that ringed the outside of the stadium could be seen through a foot-wide gash in the upper deck in center field. And yes, some concrete did fall from its walls; some very quick-thinking entrepreneurs were selling it for $50 a chunk right after the earthquake.

That said, ask anyone who was there on Oct. 17, 1989, the following question.

"Before that day, other than being on a bridge, where would you least want to be if a 7.1 earthquake were to hit the Bay Area?"

Candlestick Park would be the answer. It was cold. It was nasty. It was a piece of unfeeling junk. Nothing about it lured a compliment. Nothing about it cried safe haven. You would never go there if it weren't for the 49ers or Giants.

Lurie had spent the better part of a decade trying to dump Candlestick like it was a rusting jalopy. No one could disagree. So much ridicule was heaped upon it that after a time the place somehow felt unholy, a blight, a pimple on beautiful San Francisco's face.

It was that place which protected and kept 62,000 people safe.

More than The Catch and Willie Mays and Barry Bonds in the outfield, more than the Beatles and the Stones and His Holiness, Oct. 17, 1989, was Candlestick Park's finest hour. It's not even close.

You can reach Staff Columnist

Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.