The Swinging Friar: Why I’m a Fan
What is the reward for pledging yourself to a team that plays more losing ball than good? Heartache maybe? Frustration? Anger?
All might be good descriptions of the emotions felt by many Padres fans, but I feel something else. Pride. To live and die with a team that is more apt to lose 90 games than win 90 takes patience and heart. To suffer through the years of play-off drought takes dedication. And to live and breath the success takes nothing but an acknowledgement that you were there all along.
After digging out from losing season after losing season, I got my first taste of Padres success in 1998. I watched that team come dangerously close to winning 100 games. I watched Andy Ashby throw a 75-pitch complete game. I watched Greg Vaughn slug 50 home runs. And through it all, I imagined the feeling was much more special than say a Yankees fan feels watching his team win, night in and night out. When you’ve been deprived of something so long, you savor it to the fullest when it is reached. After years without sunshine, a man wouldn’t complain about the heat on a beautiful summer day. After weeks without water, a dehydrated person doesn’t take the water and ask for lemon. And after years without winning, a Padres fan doesn’t take it for granted.
The Padres made it all the way to the World Series in 1998 only to be swept by the (damn) Yankees. I found myself bearing witness to my first fire sale as a Padres fan after that season, and I had to wait seven long years to taste the thirst quenching beauty of play-off baseball again.
I can remember being glued to the TV screen every game of the 2005 season, wondering if it was all going to fall apart, wondering if some team would step up, knock the Padres off their perch, and reclaim their place as rightful N.L. West Champions. But it didn’t happen. The Padres worked a tepid 82-80 record to a division crown, and I loved every second of it. I relished every win, every play, and every second. I bought my play-off tickets the minute they went on sale, and cheered down to the final out. The whole time, I soaked in the moments. Standing outside Petco Park before the very first play-off game ever played in that stadium was magical. The frenzy of the fans around me was palpable. The Padres were swept, but it didn’t matter. They had shown signs of success and rewarded my faith with a play-off berth.
The 2006 season saw the Padres post back-to-back division titles for the first time in team history, and I was back at the park for games one and two, both losses. I spent the entire season not sure I was watching the same club I had grown to know and love. This was a decent team that could clearly compete. As they reached the stretch run of the season, I felt my heart beating in my throat every second of every play. I felt the sweat at the tips of my fingertips, the anticipation building with every out. I felt the joys of the wins and the pains of the losses, and I loved every bit of it.
With two winning seasons under their belts, I came into the 2007 season expecting success. Not necessarily a division win, but I expected a competitive team. And that’s what I got. As the season drew on, it became obvious the Padres were not going to win the division, but the Wild Card looked to be within their sights. Yet, I watched as the Padres squandered a two game lead in the Wild Card standings with two to play. And then I watched the most amazing, heartbreaking game I’ve ever seen in my life.
Trailing 6-5 in the top of the 8th, the Padres managed a run to tie the game. It went into to extra innings and I remember watching the game in the bedroom of my rented house. My roommates were focused on other things like drinking beer and chasing girls. I was focused on every pitch, swing, hit, and run. In the top of the 13th, Scott Hairston blasted a no-doubter of a home run and I was off my feet leaping for joy before the ball even made it to the stands. Trevor Hoffman in the bullpen, a two-run lead, game over. The goosebumps on my arms felt like they were literally going to blast off my skin and dance around the room with me.
Then the bottom of the 13th happened. Trevor came in, got one out, gave up three hits and one walk, and allowed the Rockies to score 3 and win the game. Like it was yesterday, I can still feel the pain of that game in my gut. I fell to my knees when the winning run scored. I lowered my head, and I felt like I was going to throw up. It took hours for me to fall asleep that night and the depression carried over to the next day. The pain I felt lasted long into the play-offs that year as I watched the Rockies march their way to a World Series berth.
But I can’t help but feel that passion and heartache and joy and pain came only because I had endured. I had endured the losses, endured the fire sales, endured the “small-market” tag, and endured the payroll constraints. My dedication and continued belief in a team that loses more than it wins allows me to appreciate the good things that much more.
So I think about this nearly unbearable season and the impending trade of Heath Bell, and I remember it was just last year that the Padres again flashed brilliance and rewarded my faith with their first 90-win season since 1998. I can struggle through this year’s season with the belief and understanding that success will come again. I don’t know when that will be, but I know it will come.