Unrelenting optimism is an essential survival trait for a San Diego Padres baseball fan. The team has never won a World Series. Our Boys of Summer have only made it to the championship series twice. The Padres have managed just 16 winning seasons since their first at-bats in 1969. Overall win-loss record: 3,952-4,568.
Last year, things took a turn for the phenomenal. The Padres made the playoffs. Then they booted our nemesis to the north, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the second round of the postseason. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?
I was in downtown San Diego when the Padres eliminated the LaLa Landers. The intersection of Seventh Avenue and J Street, between sports bars Bub’s and The Blind Burro, became Celebration Central. Giddy fans erupted out of Petco Park and bounced there. Pent-up Friar Faithful frustration was actively converted into magmatic energy.
That euphoria was palpable, and it’s carried over. As the 2023 baseball season begins with Opening Day on March 30, optimism is actually rooted in reality. I’ll say it with feeling: This could be our year.
Nobody grasps the concept of enthusiastic expectation better than Mark Grant. The former Padres pitcher is the team’s longtime TV color commentator. Colorful, indeed, especially in his on-air vocabulary. For Grant, a baseball is a “rock,” or an “onion.” Bases are “pillows.” Home plate is “the dish.” A bat is a “shillelagh.” Last year, several Padres players had long hair, i.e., “lettuce,” “nest,” or “moss.” Now-traded slugger Luke Voit often exposed a robust patch of “chest moss.”
Grant speaks the languages of both baseball and human psychology. “There’s a different kind of optimism in Padres fans this year,” Grant says. “Last year gave us a taste of what this team can do. Thank goodness for the stacked roster we’ve got.” He credits Padres owner Peter Seidler for ponying up stallion-sized salaries for players like newcomer Xander Bogaerts, returnee Juan Soto, and fan favorite Manny Machado. Seidler also okayed longer- term contracts for star pitchers Yu Darvish and hometown hero Joe Musgrove.
“Our fans are starved for this,” Grant declares. “I want a World Series for all the season ticket holders since 1969 who’ve seen some lean years of baseball. Nothing is guaranteed. But I can see the Padres selling out every single home game this year.” Last year, the Padres were fifth in the league in attendance and have seen a 25 percent jump in ticket sales since 2019.
Don’t take Grant’s prognostications lightly. During a 2021 regular season broadcast, he predicted the Padres would come back from an 8-0 deficit. This was a game in which the Washington Nationals’ star pitcher was crushing it and the Padres had a rookie on the mound. On air, Grant promised to walk from Alpine to Petco Park (about 30 miles) if a comeback occurred.
The Padres won, 9-8. It took Grant two days to make the trek.
“Baseball is optimism,” he says. “It’s all a part of the love and the lure of our national pastime.”
Optimism has tended to wane after Opening Day. It’ll be a long-sought and well-deserved pleasure to keep playoff hopes alive and well all summer. I won’t miss the bygone days of watching games and pulling my moss out.
This is the premiere of “Dispatch from the Sun.” Columnist Ron Donoho is a veteran contributor and the editor of downtown-centric thesandiegosun.com.