SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA- My life goal is to get to every team’s Major League Baseball Stadium, so it makes perfect sense that the very first stop (other than my hotel) on my trip to San Diego was the home of the Padres: Petco Park. I shoved my suitcase into my room, closed the door, and hastily hailed an Uber to make my 3pm tour.
I am from New Jersey, the New York metro area: Yankees, Mets, Jets, Giants, Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets. You name it, we have it. We have so many options, so much money invested in our teams, and so many championships, that touring Petco Park offered me an entirely different way of thinking, from a local’s perspective.
As you walk under the shade of the tall palm trees, the first piece of information the tour guide tells you is: the Padres are one of only seven teams to never win a World Series. I couldn’t help but take note of the names on the first stop of the tour, a cutout in the wall called: “Padres Honors”. The tour guide proudly pointed out that fans may not think of some award winners as Padres players, but they won some of the most prestigious awards as a member of the team: Gaylord Perry (’78 National League Cy Young), Greg Maddux (’07/’08 Gold Golve) Adrian Gonzalez (’08/’09 Gold Glove), Chase Headley (’12 Gold Glove). Their museum proudly displays a Louisville Slugger signed by Ted Williams, a San Diego native. Williams spent all 19 seasons of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Another thought struck me: they have a wall of 17 plaques named “Padres in Cooperstown”. Sure, those players played for the Padres at some point, but only three of them entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame as one: Dave Winfield (2001), Tony Gwynn (2007), and newly-minted Trevor Hoffman (July 2018).
Not until I arrived here did I realize the pulse of a small-market baseball team. Fans of the Padres, the only baseball team in town, take pride in and embrace their players’ success even after they’ve used their team as a stepping stone to go onto to bigger and better things. The fans totally okay with that.
I voiced my stream of thought to my Uber driver Raul on the way back to my hotel. I couldn’t help but think that the deck is inherently stacked against these small-market teams. He said: “We are in a small market. We know that when you cultivate a young team, a good team, you have to win and win right now. We know there is only a two-year window.” I drew a comparison to the Royals, another small market team whose World Series win in 2015 lead to major payroll implications on selecting which players to retain and how many they can afford to keep. To him, I continued my thoughts, telling him that this is the opposite of what happens with bigger market teams. When those teams win a World Series, suddenly, everyone wants to play for them; some players even try to restructure their contracts to stay with the club! Look at the New York Yankees: they were one win away from the World Series last season. What did they do this off-season? They acquired the reigning National League Most Valuable Player and last season’s home run champion Giancarlo Stanton. The Padres simply can’t make a move like that.
Raul nodded in agreement and added, with a glance in his rearview mirror: “You’re a big baseball fan, aren’t you?”