Who am I? Why am I here?
Some of you may know who I am and therefore legitimately wonder why I am here. Many more of you have no idea who I am and that, necessarily, makes the second question far less important.
Adm. James Stockdale (an authentic American hero) asked that question as he introduced himself as Ross Perot’s vice-presidential nominee in 1992. It is appropriate for me as well – considering I really don’t belong on these pages.
Who am I? I am a native San Diegan who grew up in the rough border lands separating Clairemont and Kearny Mesa. For the purposes of this column, that’s who I am. Forget my title, my D-list celebrity status or whatever you have come to think about me as a journalist.
I am here because I grew up where you live now. My dreams were born at Charles A. Lindbergh Elementary School, Mildred L. Hale Junior High School and James Madison Senior High School. I spent careless and joyful Friday nights at what was Family Fun Center and has been for some many decades Boomers. I walked my dog “Ruffy” without a leash through Tecolote Canyon and later played golf on sun-splashed Friday afternoons at what was the Sam Snead Golf Course (75 cents for nine holes). I played tennis at Mesa College and played Kearny Mesa Little League and Pony League and Clairemont Mesa Colt League baseball. I bought my first ice cream cone at Baskin Robin’s 31 Flavors in the brand-new shopping center at Balboa and Genesee. I bought my first doughnut at Winchell’s next door. I saw the following movies at the original Clairemont Theatre: Billy Jack, Live and Let Die, The Last of Sheila, Frogs, Soylent Green, The Food of the Gods and the Spy Who Loved Me (of these only The Last of Sheila holds up – check it out…a very clever whodunit).
Almost all of these places have disappeared or the names have changed. But they were there once. And so was I.
I grew up on Mt. Albertine Avenue and when the house I grew up in was built, Balboa Avenue was still dirt. That was 1962. My house was the end of the line on Albertine Avenue. Behind us was a canyon – same one that runs along Genesee now and where Mt. Ainsworth, Mt. Abraham and Boyd Avenue all eventually terminate. That canyon was filled in 1967 and my endless backyard suddenly had a fence, neighbors, sidewalks, gutters and a place to ride my bike and play street football. I’m no country kid. Gaining more houses, friends and asphalt was an upgrade.
Two years later the Padres joined the National League. I was seven and only beginning to understand what sports and the sports page was all about. I also learned the radio was for more than KCBQ and rock ‘n’ roll. I could listen to the Padres. And I did. As often as I could. I became a Junior Padre and was one every year I was eligible – those plastic brown souvenir jackets were mighty hot in the summer. I went to every Picture Day and Helmet Day. I went to a few Bat Nights but back then the bats were much closer to regulation size and the chase for a foul ball could become quickly weaponized. I once wrote Jerry Coleman a fan letter. Remarkably, he wrote me back. Of all the pieces of memorabilia in my life, through four presidential administrations, five presidential campaigns and thousands of political rallies, that which I wish to this day I had kept under lock and key was that letter from The Colonel.
The Padres lost 110 games in 1969 but I didn’t care. I have never really cared about games the Padres lose. I care mostly that they exist. You can’t be a Padre fan and be obsessed with winning. Hell, you can’t even be vaguely interested in winning. You have to let that go and enjoy baseball, San Diego and the process of living with endless hope, grinding disappointment and being a laughing stock among your friends, of being an oddity at road games – “You’re a Padre Fan?!?! That’s so funny. I didn’t know they exist!” When I arrived at the University of Missouri for my freshman year in 1980, my friends inspected me as if I were a scientific oddity – a walking, talking, reasoning Padres fan. Well, I thought I was reasoning.
I mentioned Adm. Stockdale because that was the first presidential campaign I covered. I remember so much about it because it was so new to me. President George H. W. Bush had just won the Gulf War and was presiding over the end of the Cold War (the “End of History” some historian who sounded smart then but doesn’t now called it). Bush looked unbeatable. Bill Clinton was roaring through New Hampshire, dogged by allegations of sexual affairs, dope smoking and draft dodging (damn exciting stuff for a reporter who was still trying to learn the mechanics of delegate allocation). Then Ross Perot showed up and for a fleeting month or two led Bush and Clinton in the polls (which is the time I covered his campaign). By the time of Stockdale’s debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle (for which Stockdale had less than a week to prepare), Perot was an amusing distraction – kind of like the Padres.
The Padres are like that for most San Diegans – an amusing distraction. There is a hearty core of true believers, though. The number may have grown in size since the NFL team that used to exist in San Diego relocated to magnificent Carson. For me, the Padres are a passion. I love them like my long-lost youth. They are the nostalgic marrow of my being. I cannot separate my childhood from the Padres and wouldn’t try – even for Eric Hosmer’s salary.
On these pages I will write about myself, my old neighborhood and the Padres. I might also write about other topics. But it will mostly be about me, Clairemont and the Padres. A good deal of it will be about what I remember – not exactly what now is. After all, I haven’t lived in San Diego as a resident since 1980. But I am frequent visitor and fervent booster. I love my hometown. I love the Padres. And damnit. I love Clairemont. And Kearny Mesa – I hope that’s okay too.
Major Garrett 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.”