Few teams have managed expectations better than the Padres.
The Padres have managed them so well they have practically ceased to exist….. expectations, I mean.
And that’s okay with us, we friar faithful. We don’t demand excellence. We wallow in a sort of shallow mediocrity that is as much endurance test as stimulant.
Which brings me to 1984 and the greatest sports weekend of my life. I was graduated from the University of Missouri in May, having earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science. I landed my first paid job in journalism in June at the Amarillo Globe-News in Amarillo, Texas, and watched the unimaginably good Padres from afar. I frequently called – at 50 cents a pop – an AT&T overnight score line to find out if the Pads won on the West Coast. (This was pre-internet, kids, and we coped as best we could.)
The Padres finished 92-70 that year and won the National League West for the first time, finishing 12 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves. The Padres were going to the playoffs. National TV coverage on ABC – Don Drysdale, Earl Weaver and Reggie Jackson — all paying attention to the lowly Padres. Could it be??!?!?
Well. Sort of. You see, the Padres were not the story of the National League Championship Series… at least we were not supposed to be. The Chicago Cubs were the story. The darling, adorable, hard-luck Cubbies were everyone’s favorite – and I mean everyone’s favorite.
WGN, one of the first cable super-stations, began national cable coverage of the Cubs in 1981. That put the Cubbies in millions of homes nationwide. The Padres weren’t on in five homes in Clairemont. The Pads had no TV deal, local or otherwise. The Cubs also hadn’t won a playoff game since 1945 and the baseball world was dying for a World Series between two big city, historic and fabled franchises – the Detroit Tigers and the Cubs.
All that stood in the way were the Kansas City Royals and the Pads (expansion teams both born in 1969). The Tigers swept the Royals and the Cubs, through 13-0 and 4-2 victories at Wrigley Field, were one tantalizing victory away from the destiny everyone outside of San Diego (and one house in Amarillo) desired.
I flew home to San Diego from Amarillo on Oct. 4 and was met at Lindberg Field by my sainted mother, who immediately handed me a Cubs Buster T-shirt (pictured) as we headed to The Murph for game 3.
A quick word about The Murph. It is the only stadium in America ever named after a sports writer. It would be a stretch to say Jack Murphy taught me to read, but not a stretch to say he taught me to enjoy reading. For an aspiring journalist, The Murph was double heaven – the Padres home, named after a newspaperman. I had tickets to all three games because of my mother’s status as a mini-season ticket holder since 1978.
For Game 3 we were in deep center field, unfamiliar digs because “our” seats were in Plaza section 28. The game started at 5:30 p.m. and it was hard to see through the glare. During player introductions, shortstop Garry Templeton waved his hat urgently at the sold-out crowd as if to say “We can win this.” We cheered our heads off. Maybe he was right. Could he be right? In the 5th inning, Templeton, as if to prove the point, drilled a double to give the Pads a 3-1 lead and we went on to win 7-1.
We had to wait for a day off for Game 4 on Saturday night. I was back in the Plaza level seats, my seat closest to the aisle. I hung on that aisle seat and ran up and down the stairs hugging and cheering through a nail-biting game that saw the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 9th.
Ripples of cheers filled The Murph. By this time, no one could be quiet. Every pitch carried its own electric current. Every twitch of every player made us more energized, nervy and alive.
Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, drilled a single to center off Cub closer Lee Smith, among the most dominant relievers in the game. Up came Steve Garvey, who was hitless in eight career at-bats against Smith and who had hit only eight home runs all season. Garvey already had three hits and 3 RBI in the game. He was on fire. He stood tall in the batter’s box, unflinching, slightly coiled.
First pitch. High outside. Pickoff attempt. Second pitch. Fastball on the outside edge that Garvey pasted over the right-center field fence for a pandemonium-inducing walk-off two-run homer. When Garvey hit the ball I got out of my seat and started running down the stairs toward the Field Level, as if to chase the ball out of the stadium. When I knew it was gone, I ran back up hugging and hand-slapping everyone in sight. I jumped up and down like a madman. I couldn’t believe the noise, excitement, sense of wonder and volcanic thrill. A lifetime of Padres futility vanished before my eyes inside a hurricane of long-suppressed jubilation. The godawful Padres were one game away from the World Series.
On Sunday, Game 5 began at 1 p.m. and I was again in center field. It was even harder to see in the sunlit glare but the big plays were visible, as was the increasing sense of dejection among the Cubbies. It began when Leon Durham let Tim Flannery’s ground ball squirt through his legs (an almost exact replica of Bill Buckner’s 1986 World Series gaffe), allowing the Padres to tie the game 3-3 in the 7th inning. Gwynn then blistered a groundball toward future Hall of Famer Ryan Sandberg at 2nd base. The ball took a magical hop over his shoulder and two runs scored. Garvey roped a single up the middle on the next pitch and the Padres led 6-3, a lead they would never relinquish. The Padres became the only National League team to win a 5-game championship series after losing the first two games. In all three games, I never bought a morsel of food. I was too full of excitement.
For much of my childhood, the Padres, were my life. I was now a young adult with a paying job. It was a turnstile year. College was over. Real life was just beginning. I was walking into a new reality. And the Padres, amazingly, gave me the greatest lift of my life, one I still recall as if it was yesterday.
Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major Garrett? Heck, maybe even a White House question? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com we’ll forward them.
Major Garrett was born and raised in Clairemont, is Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, host of “The Takeout” podcast and author of the upcoming book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”