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FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith's loyalty to his favorite baseball team was never in question, but until recently, few knew his allegiances came close to costing him a small fortune.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback is crazy for the Giants and proud of it, but unlike the average Joe baseball fan, Smith can't just throw on the orange and black gear whenever he pleases. There are strict time restraints, something he found out the hard -- or should we say, expensive -- way.
NFL players have to wait 90 minutes after a game before wearing any kind of logo of a team from a different league that is not affiliated with an NFL sponsor. If the rules are violated players are slapped both on the hand and the wallet, to the tune of something in the neighborhood of 15 grand.
Smith's decision to wear a Giants hat in a postgame press conference last season earned him both the hand slap and the fine, but in the end, it also netted him the honor of throwing out the first pitch before Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Giants and Reds on Saturday at AT&T Park.
Turns out, when Smith spilled the beans in a public forum that he was fined for wearing a Giants cap, Giants players decided to use that action as a tool of solidarity and support their Bay Area football counterpart.
Sergio Romo bought a few dozen Niners caps and distributed them to every locker in the Giants' clubhouse. Players wore the caps before and after games. Manager Bruce Bochy showed up to his daily session with the media wearing one, too.
"To see them all wearing Niners hats, to see Bruce Bochy come out in the press conference wearing the Niners hat was pretty cool," Smith said. "I loved it."
One thing led to another, and soon, the Giants reached out to Smith to gauge his interest in throwing out the first pitch to officially "kick off" the postseason in San Francisco.
"I don't have a say in who throws out the first pitch, but we certainly appreciate his support wearing a Giants hat," Bochy said. "That's why we wanted to reciprocate and wear a 49ers hat and have some fun with it, and have him throw out the first pitch."
This wasn't a situation where Smith simply showed up minutes before gametime, threw out the pitch and immediately took off when he was done. He was there early, hanging out in the indoor cages with Giants players, warming up and taking advice from anyone who had some to offer.
Smith, who also brought a football along -- "to be funny," he said -- threw at least 15 practice tosses in the cage. Giants players egged him on, with Pablo Sandoval yelling out, "That's it, right there. No more. Save it for the field."
The end result? A firm, hard throw that slightly bounced in front of the catcher. Still, for the most part, the entire saga had a happy ending.
Turns out, Smith never had to pay that fine. He got away with just the hand slap from the NFL, with a stern warning to not do it again -- or they'll double the fine.
Smith was surprised the story gained so much traction when he let it slip to the writers a few weeks ago. The incident took place last year, yet surprisingly, it fell under the media's radar.
"I kind of thought it was out there already," he said. "I didn't know it was a big deal. No one knew about it and I was kind of goofing around with it with some of the beat writers and it got out there that yeah, I got fined last year for wearing it. That's why I hadn't worn it this year in postgame press conferences."
Smith can laugh about the incident now -- especially since he ended up not having to write a fat check -- and in some ways, he's glad it happened, given how it unified two very popular Bay Area sports teams.
"It's been a ton of fun," he said. "Everything going on in the Bay Area right now, athletics-wise, it's a great thing. Just to kind of see the entire area come together supporting all the teams is great and it's great to see us supporting one another."