A Kayaker’s Guide to Oracle Park
Fans jockey for position in McCovey Cove during the 2007 Home Run Derby. (Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times/ZUMA Press via Alamy)
Dave Edlund set his kayak into a chilly San Francisco Bay on Oct. 5, 2001. A retired tech exec who had spent more than two decades in Silicon Valley, he was headed for McCovey Cove, the newly christened basin just beyond the right field wall of what is now known as Oracle Park, just east of Third Street and the Lefty O’Doul Bridge.
It was a Friday, and the San Francisco Giants were facing the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the classic NorCal-SoCal border war, Sean Estes vs. Chan Ho Park.
Edlund is a lifelong Giants fan, raised in the Say Hey days of Mays, McCovey and Marichal, of Gaylord Perry, Tito Fuentes and the Baby Bull, Orlando Cepeda. He came of age during the ’62 Series, when a Game 7 liner off the bat of Willie Lee McCovey nearly eluded the outstretched glove of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, a gut punch of a grab that kept San Francisco from baseball’s ultimate prize. The pain was felt by Giants devotees as far away as Coogan’s Bluff, including Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who revisited the moment in his weekly comic strip. Charlie Brown famously looks to the heavens and asks, WHY COULDN’T MCCOVEY HAVE HIT THE BALL JUST THREE FEET HIGHER?
As Edlund’s paddle cut the water that fall afternoon, as he aimed for the gleaming new, 41,000-seat ballpark in South Beach, then just a year into its existence, he had no idea that he would come to repeat this route hundreds of times over the next two decades.
By 2005, Edlund was a regular kayak commuter, part of a ragtag scrum of seafarers, a treasure-seeking armada that populated McCovey Cove en masse on game days in search of bay-bound home run balls, especially those courtesy of the Ruth- and Aaron-chasing Barry Bonds. The way Edlund figures it, he’s paddled to more than 500 games and rescued 39 homers, or as the waterlogged long balls are officially known in official Giants parlance, Splash Hits. (That figure doesn’t count BP balls, most of which he’s given away to kids.) Not a bad batting average, considering there’s not another kayaker/paddle-boarder/boater even in double digits.
“I’m kind of the unofficial story of the cove itself,” says Edlund, who in 2016 was named FanSided Fan of the Year and is now widely known as “McCovey Cove Dave.” (He boasts some 13,000 Instagram followers and even has his own bobblehead.)
If the conditions are right — say a preponderance of left-handed batters in the lineup, a righty vs. righty pitching matchup, favorable winds, etc. — you’ll find the retiree in the water during home games, close enough to catch the siren’s-call waft of garlic fries, following along, batter by batter, on KNBR-AM. He’s the guy in the headphones and orange shirt, D-A-V-E spelled out across both his back and chest.
What keeps him coming back for more?
“I love what I do because I enjoy the history of baseball,” he explains.
Earlier this month, Edmund pulled in a round-tripper from Max Muncy, one that sailed 426 feet into the bay and left SF hurler Madison Bumgarner in a huff. The incident would lead to the production of a Muncy-endorsed T-shirt that read: GET IT OUT OF THE OCEAN. (No one bothered to tell the Dodgers slugger that, technically, it’s a bay, not an ocean.) It remains one of only two Splash Hits on the year.
During a recent weekday matchup against the NL West foe Colorado Rockies, we found Edlund right where he should be, in a body of water named in honor of his favorite player. (McCovey passed away last October at the age of 80.) He was accompanied by a novice kayaker, Noah Roberts, who one day might just become a regular himself.
“I wanted to kayak today because it’s always been on my bucket list,” says Roberts, a season ticket holder. “There’s no other ballpark that has something like McCovey Cove.”
Now in his 60s, the pepper-haired Edlund has witnessed some of the greatest moments in the history of the franchise, sometimes on TV, but more often than not from across the bow of a kayak. Bonds became Major League Baseball’s home run king in 2006, retiring the following year with an all-time mark of 762. There were back-to-back Cy Young seasons from fireballer Tim Lincecum in ‘08 and ‘09. Matt Cain tossed a perfect game in 2012, the same year catcher Buster Posey was named MVP. The Giants, who had come so close to victory in Edlund’s childhood, would reel off three World Series titles during a dynastic five-year stretch between 2010 and 2014, giving birth to a new generation of heroes: MadBum, Panda, The Freak, etc.
You can bet Edlund will be around for the next, too, paddle in hand, the bay breeze on his face.
Alison Arora and Aly Yorio contributed to this story.