Candlestick stadium chief stays focused on finale

Mike Gay has made the half-hour commute from his city home in

San Francisco to Candlestick Park almost daily for 35 years.

Candlestick’s long-time stadium chief is working hard to ensure

a special send off Monday night while making sure not to get too

sentimental as the aging stadium’s time comes to a ceremonious

close when the 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons.

Nostalgia? Not yet.

Gay has been too busy during The Stick’s farewell season to

reflect on his decades-long front-row seat for some of the most

unforgettable moments in sports. Before Monday night’s game, Hall

of Famer Steve Young threw passes to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as

the crowd roared. Hall of Fame baseball players Willie Mays and

Willie McCovey waved to cheering fans.

”It hasn’t really sunk in, not just for me, my crew,” Gay said

while reminiscing as he led a tour through Candlestick last week.

”I’ll know Monday night. I’ve probably tried to block it out, I

guess, but you hear it every day.”

Gay, a stationary engineer who previously worked at a hospital,

knows full well how fortunate he has been to have one heck of a

behind-the-scenes view of history.

From the daily stresses to the major ones, like racing to react

in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 World Series earthquake, and

a Monday Night Football power outage two Decembers ago, Gay has

seen it all.

Every game weekend, Gay leads a four-hour Friday night

walkthrough to check everything from parking lots, the setup of the

suites to how bathrooms are functioning.

When asked what he will miss most now, Gay said

matter-of-factly, ”That’s a good question.”

”I’ll probably miss the preparation of getting ready for a

football game,” he added.

It was difficult to see the Giants leave for their waterfront

AT&T Park in 2000, though Gay didn’t miss the tireless 24-hour

conversions from baseball to football.

”I missed the team,” he said.

He still recalls the major earthquake that hit before Game 3 of

the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series, when ”our only concern was

trying to get everybody out of the stadium” without any way to

communicate to all the fans and employees inside Candlestick given

the brand-new sound system wasn’t yet tied into the generators.

”It held up, it served its purpose,” former 49ers owner Eddie

DeBartolo Jr. said of the facility.

Gay learned in a hurry to dress for the unpredictable weather,

such as those infamous Candlestick swirling winds off the bay that

could make for bitter cold days even in the middle of summer. He

wears long sleeves to work every day, no matter the season.

”I have one jacket here, you kind of get used to it,” he said.

”We do have some nice weather. When this place heats up, it gets

warm, but when it gets cold it’s like a refrigerator.”

This year, Gay has had to be on the lookout for missing chairs

or seat backs as fans try to make out of The Stick with a final

souvenir.

This is the first year Gay’s crew didn’t order seat parts

looking ahead. He will likely leave with a memento of his own.

When it comes to attending the implosion, date still to be

determined, he’s not sure he needs to see that. Especially

considering the countless hours he has committed to keeping

Candlestick functioning.

”I might want to be here, then again I might not,” Gay said.

”I’ve seen other stadiums get imploded. Here I’ve been trying to

maintain it and keep it looking good and these guys are talking

about, `We can bring this thing down in 100 seconds.’ Whoa.”

Gay has his share of Candlestick fun facts, too.

It was one of the country’s first multipurpose stadiums, a

rarity now – although the Oakland Athletics and Raiders share the

rundown Oakland Coliseum across San Francisco Bay.

”We had the world’s largest escalators at one time,” Gay said.

”When they were installed in 1969-70, we were about the only

stadium that had escalators at the time. These light towers (some

240 feet high) here are the largest in the nation, because they

don’t make them anymore. It’s kind of unique. It’s very costly to

maintain those light towers. Those are the things that stick

out.”

At age 61, Gay is not retiring, but he’s not headed to new $1.2

billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, either. Employed by San

Francisco Recreation and Parks, Gay and some of his crew might soon

begin working at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Gay takes the criticism of Candlestick in stride – and he has

appreciated hearing all of the special stories this year.

”I’ve heard so much of it,” he said. ”It’s getting good

comments rather than negative comments. That’s good for the

place.”

He will dearly miss it despite the constant challenges.

”Oh, yeah,” Gay said. ”It’s like my second home.”

Everybody knows it is time to move forward.

”Candlestick’s time’s come,” DeBartolo said. ”I do see Bill

Walsh field, I don’t know what their plans are but that field down

there should be named that. At least I would name it that.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org