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West Coast Bias

San Diego

I have been a sports fan my entire life. The first picture of me in sports gear, comes from the 1984 World Series. I was not even two years old at the time and I was yelling, “Hang the Tiger by his tail.” It was a beautiful thing because those old school Padres colors made this baby that much more attractive to the public.

Sports have been my life since I can remember. My grandpa loved sports and introduced the passion to me as well. It was a good life, I had not even three years old and my hometown team was in the Series. As far as I knew the heroics of Steve Garvey and the talent of a young… and slender Tony Gwynn would guide the Pads for my whole life. The dreadful sweep that the Tigers laid down showed me the real truth about San Diego sports: they were destined to be awful.

I read about sports, I listened to them on the radio and my TV was always on ESPN. Every day when I got ready for school I made my mom change the channel from the news to Sportscenter so I could hear about the only news that mattered to me. In that time I came to hear the sad, sorrowful tale of sports across the country. Every town had a team with a curse. The Red Sox just could not seem to shake that terrible, “Curse of the Bambino,” the Cubs were suffering through their issues with a billy goat, Cleveland had somehow blown every title shot to ever come their way and poor Philly, let’s not even get started with them.

I never understood all the tears and whining, because all of these cities had actually won at one time or another. They actually had a title. That was a feat that San Diego, my city, could never claim. I refuse to count AFL titles for the Chargers because of the size of the league. It was championships in the big show or none at all. Being on the other side, I will never believe that the suffering of a perennial playoff team who never closes it out, is so much worse than the suffering of fans who go entire generations without seeing a playoff game. It was yet another rude introduction to the reality of the world. The West Coast – small market teams that never pull it together – don’t matter.

I try to pretend that I am not a Padre fan. People ask me what MLB team I cheer for and I say, “I just like baseball.” I always get that same strange stare as they all expect me to pledge allegiance to my hometown team. I don’t like to admit it, but somewhere deep down I am a Padre fan. My grandpa instilled sports in my heart and somehow, he snuck in the Padres.

I didn’t want to do this to them, I did not want to call them out for what they are, but they did this to themselves. They flood the media with their decline. I do not even know where to begin with all the pain, but I will take a shot.

The slender Tony gave me so much hope

The slender Tony gave me so much hope

People do not seem to understand there has been talent in San Diego. There were plenty of studs in the 70’s with Dave Winfield, Nate Colbert and Randy Jones, but those are not the guys of my childhood. The Padres took a trend from their expansion pals the Expos. They built talent and then let it go. Both Alomar brothers were Padres and we had the Crime Dog, good ol’ Fred McGriff as well. We had the freaking 1977 Rookie of the Year, in Benito Santiago. Ozzie Smith was a Padre and so was Goose Gossage with his amazing facial hair. I had faith in the early 90’s, when the squad was looking good, then money became an issue and it was all gone.

I have seen the talent come and go, and after a while, a part of me just stopped believing. I did not even want to watch the Padres return to the series in 1998 because I knew it would be a waste of time. Those guys, Finley, Cammy, Kevin Brown, even Greg Vaughn; they were as good as gone and everyone in the SD was just too scared to admit it. They thought that one of these times it had to work out. I apologize that Padres ownership did not flood the market with Steinbrenner money, but the pain still cut through the city.

To know the real pain of San Diego, you need to think of those small things that no one outside the city has ever heard of, or has forgotten entirely. One of the roughest came on a dark December day in 2002. ESPN ran a side headline that read, “Nevin vetoes trade for Griffey.”  Wait, no no no, it could not be, the Padres had actually secured a trade for Griffey? Phil Nevin and his stupid no trade clause ruined that? How is that possible? It made a part of me hurt. A chance at one of the greatest players ever was ruined by a former catcher who had an inconsistent bat and streaky power numbers in the juicing era. My lord. The no-trade clause finally made its first appearance for the Padres.

It did not end there. No one can ever speak of Padres baseball without mentioning, “the trade.” How can one ever talk shop about the Pads and not talk about trading Oliver Perez and Jason Bay for the elite athlete that is Brian Giles? I respect that he is a hometown boy and I know the Padres need someone to market, but why did it have to be Giles? Turn on the All-Star game tonight and you will see Jason Bay there. You can check his stats and see the ridiculous years he put up in Pittsburgh, or you can examine the integral part he has played in the Red Sox lineup the past two half-seasons.

Where do you go to find Giles? You can find him on the disabled list. You can find headlines about him domestically abusing women. You can find him becoming the latest abuser of the illustrious no-trade clause. You can definitely find him cashing his $9-million of Padres pay. The same team that is trying to cut below $40-million of total payroll is still paying that great ballplayer sad, tired fool, nearly a quarter of their total dough. Try to swallow that pill and tell me it is OK.

If you made it through that, the Padres were not yet done punching. I still make the mistake of going to Padres games and occasionally I even get caught up in cheering. Thankfully both of my tickets this year have been free due to the good graces of those around me. I went to the game on July 5th. It was everything a San Diego fan would expect. The weather was gorgeous, the Dodgers were in town, and there was more Dodger blue than the sand, blue and tan of the Padres. All that aside, I was happy to be there. That all changed with the announcement of the starting lineup.

Tony Gwynn (Jr.) was in center. I went to high school with that guy and I used to tutor him. That was strange in and of itself. Scott Hairston was out in left. I could respect that, he has poked a few clutch home runs and at the time was the only Padre hitting over .300. Then I heard a dark piece of news, Edgar Gonzalez was starting in right. The position the elder Gwynn played for the greater part of my youth was now held down by a second-rate second baseman. I just did not understand. It all came clear the next day when Hairston was traded for garbage. That was it, the white flag had been waved and it was really all over. Now I get to revel in the joy of the coin-flip between Will Venable and Kyle, “I’m Shooting” Blanks for the start in right field.

Wahoo!

Is this behemoth really the future of Padres baseball?

Is this behemoth really the future of Padres baseball?

That had to be as bad as it could get. The sad truth was, it was not even close.

Remember how I spoke of those dark moments that no one outside the city had ever heard of? People know about Hairston and the fire sales, some even recall “The Trade,” but it is the story of Matt Bush that goes untold.

If you are not familiar with the finest hometown boy ever picked first, check out his exploits from last week. Seriously, watch the video, it speaks of the struggle. It is important to understand the background of Matt Bush. He was born and bred local, a product of Mission Bay High School. He was the number one pick. Yes, you read that right, first overall. He was drafted in a time when shortstop, Khalil Greene, was the media darling of San Diego, and Bush, well he played shortstop. The pick did not make a lot of sense given his position and made even less sense with who was behind him. You can speak of busts and studs, but still know that this draft was loaded.

The next pick was Justin Verlander, who has regained his form this year. Jered Weaver fell all the way to number twelve. It was loaded with potential pitching talent with the arms of Homer Bailey, Jeremy Sowers, Philip Humber, and Phil Hughes to compliment Verlander and Weaver, who tout the most successful pro careers to date. Most of those guys failed to pan out, but at least they did not play short. Even if they wanted a shortstop, Stephen Drew went fifteen! Even Billy Butler is in the bigs for the Royals. Bush hasn’t even played ONE GAME in the show. Although, to his defense, he does have multiple arrests related to his drinking problems. That’s always a plus.

I am still not over this rant…

Hunter Pence, Yovani Gallardo and Dustin Pedroia went in the second round. Pedroia is an AL MVP, not a handcuffed crying mess. Kurt Suzuki could be catching for the Padres with a simple second round pick. In all fairness though, the Nick Hundley experience is working out well for them. The Padres have not thrown out a baserunner since 1998, according to official MLB Stats.

By official stats, I mean the dark void that comes from watching James Loney steal a base on your team. If I continue to lament over that bad draft I will drone on for days. If you are ever in need of entertainment, just browse that website to lose a piece of yourself.

Honestly, I do not know what to do as a fan of sports in San Diego. We can barely even support two franchises. The Padres tried to move to Virginia before we built them Petco and the Chargers insist a move is coming. Phoenix can support four teams and San Diego tries with all their might to lose their two.

The most well-liked teams are the Soccers – an indoor soccer team – and the Gulls, a seemingly defunct minor league hockey club.

My strongest sports memories come from the games I attended while going to the University of San Diego (USD.) Yet, even USD is absorbed by the dark cloud that surrounds San Diego. Our baseball team was consistently ranked in the top 25, as was the soccer squad. The baseball team never lived up to potential or found their way to Wichita. The soccer team left me with one of my most depressing sports memories in history.

The 2003-2004 season was my senior year, my swan-song and it brought me and my fellow Toreros some hope as we pushed into the tourney looking for a championship. After an intense battle with Creighton, the game went to penalty kicks and I watched a friend of mine, one Kellen Hiroto, step up to take the PK. Kellen was a great guy, you won’t ever meet one who is more sincere or caring. He was a stalwart of consistency and talent. There was no one I would rather see up there ready to take the kick. I was ready to congratulate him the next day in class and prepare for the next step toward the championship.

Then, it happened.

His PK flew by the keeper and was headed in… until it struck the goalpost and bounced wide. The crowd fell as silent as a funeral and the only noise that emanated was the loud cheers of the Creighton players, some two-thousand miles from home. Kellen fell to his knees and provided a portrait bound for Sports Illustrated. Never in my life have I seen a more emotionally taxing moment than the one I witnessed that day.

That moment defines San Diego sports to me. The years of pain were perfectly captured in that instant. Every time a San Diego fan is close to seeing happiness, they find themselves doused in a bath of heart-wrenching sadness. There is nothing to look to for hope. Ownership never signs new talent in an effort to pick up the mood of fans. Ticket prices continue to skyrocket and nothing has been done to change that. ESPN is welcome to speak of the pain of their east coast darlings, but the world needs to know the story of tragedy and woe, a tale of Juliet and a sports fan locked in San Diego.

I will never stop watching sports and I doubt I will ever leave San Diego. Eventually, I will come to terms with this curse, but I do not think I will ever accept it. My only solace is that no matter how bad San Diego sports are, at least I don’t live in Cleveland.

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  1. wstuchell
    July 14, 2009 at 10:52 PM

    As a fellow fan of the Padres, I can feel your pain. I must say that watching the Padres after that magical rental season of 1998 was some of the most depressing baseball I’ve ever watched in my life. I watched Tony Gwynn smack his 3,000th hit in Montreal in front of 5,000 fans and thought to myself, “I played football in front of more people then that.” The years of splendor we enjoyed with Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko on the corners. Brian Lawrence would toe the rubber on opening day. We watched the glory that was Sean Burroughs and his remarkable little league history.

    Perhaps at some point during our sad and pathetic attempts at fielding competitive teams we will get it right. Either that or we will just finally get lucky, and have a good team in a bad year. Wait, what am I thinking, this is the Padres, we’ll still blow it in the playoffs.

  2. dwdowning619
    July 16, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    As another native San Diegan, I feel the pain and have almost learned to embrace it. A city our size (1.2M in the actual city with 4M+ in the county), we should have no trouble endorsing more than two elite sports teams. By elite, I mean highest level of competition, not talent per se. The thing is, the Gulls and Sockers were (are) awesome. Those are the most fun times I ever had. My senior year of high school, a buddy of mine and I went to EVERY Gulls home game and even did a Bakersfield/Fresno road trip to watch Chad Wagner and Mark Stitt pound the Falcons. When they won the Taylor Cup and I was actually there to see it was one of the most amazing sports experiences of my life (and I’ve had some doozies in my day).

    As an organization, the Pads and Chargers both actually do a very nice job of being involved in the community and having above average character players (for the most part). The game day experience for these teams has never let me down save one late September 1998 Padres-Cubs game at Qualcomm when Sammy Sosa hit a grand slam for his 63rd home run to give the Cubs the lead. The Padres were in a pennant race people! I digress …

    I always say this about San Diego sports … People don’t go or watch because we have other things to do. On a December Sunday in Green Bay … you are staying home to watch the Packers and doing nothing else all-day. End of story. On a December Sunday in San Diego, you have a few more options. Are the fans better or worse? Are the teams better or worse? It all depends.

    People call San Diego fans “bandwagon”. While that’s basically true, I don’t fault them. Answer me this … if a movie was coming out with Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, you might go see it (ergo: you spent money on it). Swap that cast for Carrot Top, Paulie Shore and Bret Michaels and, well, I’d still see it, but my point is I want to spend my money and efforts on a “winning” product. As a Padre fan, I’ve been to 20 or so games the last two seasons … and I’ve only paid for maybe 5 of them. Had they been winning, I’ve had gone more and paid more.

    Time to wrap it up … do I care about winning? Sure do. It is the most important thing? Nope. Will I cry when the Chargers win a Super Bowl? Damn right.

    PS – I miss the Gulls

  3. Nick Nevares
    July 16, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    All childhood memories stand above those that come in our later lives. I recall a wonderful time in 5th grade when Safety Patrol bought us tickets to go to a Gulls game. Between shining moments of playing the Simpsons arcade game with three of my fellow classmates, I adored the Gulls. Where else did I have a chance to see hockey in SD and also yell, “Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne….you suck.” I figured that was a great chance to mature and learn top notch criticism.

    The Sockers are now comprised of two of my friends and I laugh a bit seeing guys I know run out there on the field but it makes it just as entertaining.

    You did hit on the key issue above all else. San Diego fails epically, because there is just too much other stuff to do. If the Padres suck, I will go to the beach, hit up a buddy’s pool, BBQ somewhere, go to the Zoo or hike a mountain. There are just too many other things to do. Its why San Diego sports kids don’t care in college either. I went to a Iowa game in Iowa City. It blew my mind. Their homecoming game had ninety thousand people there. That would never happen in San Diego, because we would find something else to do.

    I am torn. I was raised San Diego but love the sports. It leaves me somewhere in the crux trying to find which direction I will be pulled. In the mean time, I bleed Niner Gold and will never cheer a Charger game. The Pads…well they are alright in my book. Everth Cabrera is the future!

  4. wstuchell
    July 16, 2009 at 9:13 PM

    True, if only we can find more then one piece of the puzzle at a time. Remember for a while there Sean Burroughs and Ben Davis were the future also.

  5. Nick Nevares
    July 17, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    Ben Davis had an arm. I recall a great time when Padre catchers threw out runners. What a faint memory that has become. Sean still sends a cold shiver up my spine. I want to make a voodoo doll of that man and his unreal lack of power. Why didn’t he just do steroids like most former Padres to see action at the hot corner. Sheff and Cammy knew the right way.

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