Not long ago at the White House Chuck Todd of NBC made an appearance. Chuck and I have covered presidential campaigns and competed as White House Correspondents. Like me, Chuck has the heart of a print reporter, but found space and success on TV. We are friends and competitors.
We passed each other in the White House press room hallway and Chuck turned on his heel. “How does it feel to root for a team that’s relevant?”
Chuck knows I am a Padre fan. So does everyone in else in Washington who tracks my Twitter feed. Those in the White House press corps who follow baseball, a fair number, know it too. My lot has been charitable pity – an odd combination in a city that knows very little of charity or pity.
I looked back at Chuck: “The Padres have always been relevant to me. Now they are relevant to you.”
Chuck Todd is a Dodger fan. Boom. When a Dodger sophisticate in D.C. asks for the first time in years about the Padres, the winds have shifted. Chuck is not the only sign. Other reporters and photographers have pulled me aside on Air Force One or waiting before newsy White House events. “Hey, how about Manny?” “Major. Is that farm team as good as I have been reading about?” “Your Padres matter now, huh?”
My beloved Friar Faithful, I have not been so approached in nearly 20 years – not since Steve Finley patrolled centerfield, Ken Caminiti held down third base and Greg Vaughan led the Mission Valley homerun parade.
East Coasters take sports very seriously, much more seriously than Californians. As such, East Coasters dispense their attention selectively and, due to time differences, tend to disdain all West Coast athletic prowess. There is also a neighborhood nostalgia behind the frenzied preference for franchises in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Most people I encounter here grew up in those cities, and came to follow one of these local teams and therefore despise the others. They rarely work up a froth for or interest in “other” teams – by which I mean everyone else in every other league.
The Padres count now.
How should we prepare?
I am in no position to suggest any collective response. I am one fan. I am an experienced but solitary voice. It would be arrogant of me to offer advice to San Diegans who have had to suffer up close with the Padres. Suffering from a distance is easier. Why? Because half of my emotion is comprised of nostalgia for my hometown, of savoring cherished youthful memories. From a distance, a string of Padres defeats (there have been so many) is leavened with a glowing ache for Torrey Pines, Seaport Village and Tecolote Canyon. If I had all that every day, Padres misery might prove corrosive. For those of you who have endured at close range, you have my undying admiration.
Still, we must prepare for relevance.
Petco will be more crowded. Newcomers will arrive. They will make parking harder and concession lines longer. Bathroom breaks will have to become strategic – homers into Western Metal, doubles laced to the alley and “Hang-a-Star” gems are going to be more prevalent. Plan beer consumption accordingly. As for the newcomers, we should welcome them.
Out here in the East, there is a sense of deep history, but also a bit of exclusion – “Hey, where have you been? What gives you the right to cheer like me? I didn’t see you when (fill in the blank) sucked? You got no right.” Padres fans, by their very nature, are more mellow and tolerant. How else could we have lasted this long? Welcome the newly enthralled. Remember, their tickets will help pay for a shut-down closer and an inning-eating ace.
I don’t know what to say about parking. It’s already a hassle and I never make it to more than four games a year as it is. A winning team means we will miss the Murph more than we know. The Murph had parking, a place to savor winning before and after it happened. Anyone who can remember tailgating in 1984, 1996 and 1998 knows what I am talking about (confession: I wasn’t there any of those years, but my mother and friends were). Even if you didn’t tailgate, you shared the same approximate vast, circular parking space and funneled into and out of the same few exits. That created a horn-honking celebratory joy all its own. Dispersing to tiny parking lots, the trolley station and dozens of disparate parking garages atomizes joy and lessens elation. We will have to cope — perhaps with pre-game and post-game gatherings in the Park at the Park.
We should also think about winning as a ladder, one with slippery rungs. As the Doors sang in 1971, “I’ve been down so Goddamn long/ That it looks like up to me.”
We’ve been there. We are the “I’ in that lyric (the song, by the way, is a tribute to blues legend Furry Lewis and his 1928 song “I Will Turn Your Money Green” and a 1966 novel by Richard Farina) Climbing the ladder of victories will be at first intoxicating all by itself. Winning more than losing will satisfy. Then will come the danger. Are we supposed to win all the time? Where will our expectations go from there?
This may sound premature, but I suggest not.
You’ve seen the Sports Illustrated cover.
That doesn’t happen without expectations – deigned to be genuine by the East Coast baseball cognoscenti – that winning is coming for years and years hence.
Will we soon set aside our joy at being atop the NL West in August for acidic scorn if we merely win the West but don’t make it to the World Series? Will we get bored by seasons of playoffs with no World Championship? Braves fans did during the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz years. To a degree, Yankees and Red Sox fans have and Cubs fans are flirting with it. The last two cases are particularly instructive. The Cubs and Red Sox were cursed, loveable losers. Now they are winners stuffed with success…. and potentially toxic expectations. Be warned. Baseball does not treat passion equitably. Great teams can wither when it counts the most. Ask the 2006 Detroit Tigers, the 2003 Yankees, the 1997 Cleveland Indians, the 1988 Oakland A’s, the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals, and the 1969 Baltimore Orioles… to name just a few.
Padres fans know only fleeting bouts of success. What if it comes and stays? When it comes and stays? How do we react? How do we prepare? As Bill Clinton would say, this is a world-class problem.
I say, we prepare with….. gusto.
And plan our beer consumption accordingly.
Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com
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 book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”