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Barber: 2020 bodes big change for Giants, Warriors, Raiders

Have you seen those political bumper stickers endorsing “Giant Meteor 2020,” the ones that add “Just End It Already” in smaller type? Apt commentary on these addling times.

But “Giant Meteor 2020” might also be a reference to one of our baseball squads. And there could be separate stickers for other local sports teams. Pinning a new calendar to the wall is supposed to signal renewal and reinvention, but perhaps we have we taken the concept too far. It feels a bit like the entire Bay Area is awaiting a meteor in 2020.

Life as we know it is likely to continue (with new, improved memes!) but sports as we know them are about to explode.

It will hit us first in mid-February, when the Giants report to spring training in Arizona. Baseball is all about the “sounds of the game,” and many of those sounds will announce themselves in Scottsdale - the crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, the clatter of the cash register as baseball writers pay their bar tabs.

One prominent sound will be missing, though: Bruce Bochy’s voice.

For the first time in 14 years, this voice will not provide the soundtrack to Giants spring training, or the Giants’ regular season or, should they ever have one again, the Giants’ postseason.

Of all the things Bay Area sports fans and media members will miss about Bochy, his voice has to be near the top. And let’s be perfectly clear here, I’m not talking about the substance of whatever Bochy might be saying. Most of the time, in fact, the manager said very little of consequence. His pre- and postgame sessions were mostly long strings of “well, we’ve gotta do better” and “he’ll be fine.” If Bochy had been managing the New York Giants in 1937, he might have described the Hindenburg disaster as “a hiccup.”

It wasn’t the meaning of Bochy’s words that we’ll miss (though he could be funny as hell when the recorders clicked off). It’s the lilt and timber of his voice. It’s the rich, soothing baritone that made 1,088 wins sound exactly like 1,071 losses during 13 seasons and three World Series titles in San Francisco. Bochy’s voice could get a baby to sleep and a wolverine to eat from his hand.

Gabe Kapler, despite the baggage he brings to his role as Bochy’s successor, may well be the kind of forward thinker to lead the Giants to a new era of success. The harder task will be building a connection with the people who follow the team closely, because so many of us will still be hearing echoes of Bochy’s voice.

The new reality will hit again on March 28, and once more a week and a half after that, in early April.

The first date is Major League Baseball’s opening day. The Giants will be at Dodger Stadium, and while we don’t know who will be on the mound for the home team that day, we know who won’t be for the visitors: Madison Bumgarner, SF’s opening-day starting pitcher for five of the past six years (the exception being 2018, when he took a line drive off the hand in the final game of spring training).

Early April, meanwhile, represents the Giants’ first homestand of 2020, and that’s when it truly will sink in that Bumgarner isn’t a Giant anymore. He’ll almost certainly pitch for the Diamondbacks when they come to Oracle Park for a four-game series.

I would argue that Tim Lincecum was the most popular Giants player when they broke through and brought a title to San Francisco in 2010, and that Buster Posey was the “face of the franchise” during the length of the World Series run. But it was Bumgarner who truly represented those championship teams.

He symbolized the 2010/2012/2014 Giants in two major ways. One, Bumgarner was good in the regular season but great in the postseason. He found another gear, like they all did.

Two, his “stuff” never fully explained his performance. I don’t mean to denigrate the talent of those Giants teams. But if you look at the names on paper, it’s hard to believe they won the World Series in any of those three seasons. Bumgarner was like that, too. Even at his most dominant, he rarely threw harder than 93 mph. His pitches had lively, but not hallucinatory, movement. Somehow, though, the big left-hander became nearly unhittable in October.

And now he’s gone, wearing the uniform of a division rival. It’s the clearest signal yet that the Giants have entered a new era of roster building, one that has little room for the intangible.

June will be a little disorienting around here, too. That’s when America will tune into the NBA Finals.

Remember the NBA Finals? They had become a Warriors TV series that we binge-watched for two weeks every summer. (Spoiler alert: Dubs fans didn’t care for the endings to Seasons 2 and 5.) The Warriors were such a staple of the Finals that we had learned to ignore almost everything that happened between late October and the end of May. All of it was mere setup for the real action.

The NBA Finals will happen in 2020, contrary to local lore. But it will be the Lakers, or the Clippers, or some other foreign party representing the West. There will be no Stephen Curry 3-pointers or Kevin Durant daggers or Draymond Green flexes. The Warriors’ season will have ended on tax day, just like in times of old.

The aforementioned Giants’ changes are irreversible. As for the Warriors, no one knows. Curry and Klay Thompson both should be back by the start of the 2020-21 season, but that doesn’t mean the Warriors will slide right back into the NBA Finals. The world of basketball is being re-created in their absence. There’s no guarantee they will reclaim their territory.

August 2020 will bring the most fundamental disruption of all. Athletes, including the great ones, come and go. Coaches and managers and general managers, too. Even stadiums and arenas. But the franchises themselves are supposed to assume an air of permanence. Fandom is meant to be passed from generation to generation.

But when the NFL preseason kicks off in mid-August, the Bay Area’s stock of football teams will have been reduced by 50%. The Oakland Raiders will (again) be a historical footnote.

This will be the first time the Bay has gained or lost a professional sports team since 1996, when the San Jose Earthquakes played their inaugural season. If you don’t count Major League Soccer, then you have to go back to, of all things, the Raiders’ return to Oakland in 1995. That’s a long time for the sports firmament to hold steady. It will be jarring when it shifts again this year.

I’ve written a lot about what the Raiders’ departure will mean for Oakland fans, and how they deserve better. I won’t revisit it all here. Suffice to say that, though we all knew this day might be coming for quite a while, it’s going to be weird to see the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Raiders will hold onto a lot of their support in the Bay Area. We’ll still see plenty of caps and shirts bearing the shield and crossed swords. But (for better or worse) Raiders games won’t always appear on local network television, and news outlets such as this one will cease to cover them in depth. And while the Raiders will maintain their rivalries with the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers, another feud will be lost: Raiders vs. 49ers. Oakland vs. San Francisco by way of Santa Clara. Over time, Raider Nation and Niner Gang will cease to care about one another, which is a little sad.

This should be a time for looking ahead, and to be honest, there’s a lot to be excited about in the future of Bay Area sports. Nick Bosa and the budding 49ers defense. Steph Curry, unbridled from his coexistence with Kevin Durant. Jesus Luzardo. Joey Bart.

But the change of years is a time for looking back, too, and it’s hard not to be shaken by what we’re losing at the dawn of 2020.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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