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Giants flourishing in San Francisco after almost leaving for Florida 22 years ago

San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval reacts

San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval reacts after hitting a single in the sixth inning of Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals during the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park on Oct. 15, 2014 in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fans stuck their heads out of windows in moving cars, horns blaring, voices going hoarse. They spoke of the magic that exists here now, of the team that never stays down, of a franchise in the midst of a golden age.

The Giants had just won the pennant for the third time in five years, and the emotions still were fresh on Thursday night as fans filed out of the still-gleaming AT&T Park.

It was easy to forget that for years, they were witness to so much heartbreak, scarred by near-misses and June swoons and bone-chilling nights at Candlestick Park, their wreck of a ballpark. And if the on-field torment wasn't enough, there was the near-relocation of the team in 1992.

The Giants were halfway out the door for a new ballpark in St. Petersburg, Florida, before the league blocked the move and a local group led by Peter Magowan stepped in at the last minute to buy the team.

All of it is history now. The franchise has been transformed.

"It's almost like sort of 'pinch me' to realize that this team almost moved because we couldn't get a new ballpark built and there were no fans at Candlestick," Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said. "This team almost moved. To think we've got it turned around from that, it makes everybody feel really blessed. Really blessed."

Not only did the Giants stay, but they've reversed what had been a cursed existence.

Before winning the World Series in 2010, the Giants hadn't claimed the championship since 1954, when they still played in New York.

They won pennants in 1962, 1989 and 2002 but fell to the Yankees (seven games), A's (four games) and Angels (seven games). "That was a little tough for me," said Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, a Bay Area native who grew up rooting for the team.

One of their best teams ever -- the 103-win Giants of 1992 -- missed out on the playoffs in a race that went down to the final day. Baseball had yet to implement the wild card.

Then everything changed. They broke through by winning the World Series in 2010, won it again in 2012 and now will try to add yet another title by beating the Royals. The series between the two wild cards begins Tuesday night in Kansas City.

Stability has ruled the day. Since the ownership group took over in 1992, the Giants have had only three managing partners (Magowan, Bill Neukom and Baer), only two general managers (Bob Quinn and Brian Sabean) and three field managers (Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy).

"We sort of pride ourselves on stability," Baer said. "We think that sort of speaks organizationally when you're signing free agents, when you're talking to agents. All of that's important."

As division rivals such as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks have cycled through executives through the years, Sabean has remained entrenched. Hired in 1996, he's the longest-tenured GM in baseball.

"The culture's really been strong in terms of Brian and Bruce and their own staffs," Baer said. "There's a Giants way of doing things. We try to infuse that through the front office and minor leagues."

Few franchises have benefitted more from the construction of a new ballpark than the Giants. The opening of AT&T Park in 2000 changed the trajectory of the team's fortunes and provided a base to prosper financially.

"It starts with ownership," Sabean said. "They're committed. They give us more than enough money to operate . . . This ballpark has made a huge difference in what it's meant to the city, what it's meant to the organization."

Perhaps more than anything else, its opening signaled a new era, a natural transition from the pain of the past.

It was the inability to find a suitable replacement for Candlestick Park that had led to rumors of relocation that started in the 1970s. And it was the same issue that nearly pushed the Giants out the door in 1992. Long before he was the Giants' starting shortstop, Crawford attended what could have been the Giants' final game in San Francisco, the last home game in 1992.

"I knew kind of what was going on because my dad told me, 'Hey, this might be the last Giants game you ever see here,' '' said Crawford, who was only 5 at the time. "I was obviously a little emotional about that."

That emotion was captured in what now has become a famous image of a young Crawford, in his 1989 NL pennant T-shirt, his arms draped over a railing at Candlestick, his face contorted by the anguish of potentially losing his boyhood team.

He stood next to a sign that appealed to then-NL president Bill White.

"Mr. White: Do what's right!" the orange sign read. "Keep Giants in SF."

Crawford already was hoping to become the Giants' shortstop, a dream he realized in 2011 when he broke into the big leagues. By then, the Giants had established themselves as world champions in San Francisco, where they have thrived since those dark days.

"Just to be here is awesome," Crawford said during the NLCS. "I mean, it's literally a dream come true. And then to be fighting for another World Series would be just extra icing on the cake."

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