Loving the Padres is a journey, a metaphor and a mission.
We call ourselves Friar Faithful. Yes, it’s baseball, but there is also a quasi-religious overlay. You cannot separate the symbols from the substance. Our mascot is a Franciscan Friar. Our name recalls the missionary heritage of San Diego. Utterly unique in the Major Leagues or other professional sports.
Look at other MLB team names. You have birds (Orioles, Blue Jays, Cardinals); animals (Tigers, Diamondbacks, Rays); peoples (Yankees, Dodgers – as in trolley dodgers in Brooklyn, Phillies, Nationals, Braves, Indians, and Reds, as in Red Legs); professions (Mariners, Pirates, hey Johnny Depp has made a helluva career as a pirate) or objects (Rockies, Twins for Twin Cities, Red Sox and White Sox).
We are the Padres. The Fathers. Not just any kind of Fathers. Missionary fathers. Jesuits. Franciscans. Other than the Angels to the north, the Padres are the only team with a faintly religious aura. But Anaheim is not San Diego – no matter how much it wants to be. The first Christian religious service in Alta California was celebrated in San Diego. It was to celebrate the feast day of Catholic Saint Didacus, more commonly known as San Diego de Alcala (sorry Ron Burgundy). That’s heavy explorer, missionary and journey history. There is also the story of European exploitation. The Padres were among the first in the Majors to build a business relationship with and culturally acknowledge Native Americans in San Diego (principally the Kumeyayy) who long pre-dated European explorers from Spain.
Don’t worry. I’ll get to our miserable middle-relief in a minute.
The point is the Padres have a unique place in the heritage of our city, the symbolism of its name, the semi-religious connotations of our fandom (as opposed to garden variety sports fanaticism) and the archetypes of faith.
I was thinking about all of this as I wrestled with the season that is before us. The Padres are competitive. That is exhilarating. This youthful squad is probably ahead of schedule. As of June 23, it was 2.5 games out of the Wild Card and ahead of Diamondbacks, Nationals, Pirates and Giants. For Padres fans, this is thin air. We must breathe slowly to adjust. Heady stuff. The first Dodgers home series? The four-game history-making run-barrage against Colorado? We already have memories. Thrills. Come-from-behind elation (the real kind, rooted in genuine competitiveness and high stakes) unknown for a decade. So good.
And yet. It is maddening. Too many strikeouts. Too many stranded runners. Too many blown leads. Not enough stolen bases. Too many costly disappointments: Wil Myers, Ian Kinsler and Craig Stammen (SERIOUSLY, four homers in-a-row?). I wrote earlier this year about managing expectations (https://clairemonttimes.com/expectations-the-only-game-in-town/). Easier than it sounds, right?
Let me help. Listen to this song (link: https://clmttimes.news/theweight).
For some of you, the song is instantly recognizable. It’s called “The Weight” by one of my favorite rock bands known as, simply, “The Band.” The song debuted in 1968 (the year the National League awarded an expansion franchise to San Diego). It was featured in the iconic 1969 counter-culture film “Easy Rider,” and has been covered by Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Waylon Jennings, Joe Cocker, The Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, The Staples Singers, the Black Crowes, Weezer, Old Crow Medicine Show, the Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler and Aretha Franklin. Talk about the coolest musical clubhouse EVER.
“The Weight” is about a journey in search of shelter, friendship, commitment and sense of place. Universal. The lyrics were written largely by band leader Robbie Robertson, a Canadian, and inspired by the experiences of drummer Levon Helm in Memphis. The symbolic references are Biblical, though the Nazareth mentioned refers to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, the home of Martin Guitars. Robertson wrote the guitar flourishes for “The Weight” on a 1951 Martin D-28 model guitar.
I hear you.
What in the name of warning track dirt does this have to do with the Padres?? The song is about the weight of hopes, the weight of relationships, the weight of chance encounters full of need (shelter, favors sought), the weight of fatigue, disappointments and the spiritual imperative to press forward. Padres fans, does ANY of this sound familiar? You can find, I would argue, our collective angst – the allegory of our persistent Friar Faithfulness inside “The Weight.”
In the wait. We always wait.
Now, in the era of our competitiveness, we have to wait some more. We have to wait for our young starters to mature. We have to wait for five-inning “quality” starts to turn into six inning ones. Then we have to wait for seven inning “quality” starts to become the norm – not just ours but management’s (note the go-slow tender regard for Chris Paddack’s arm).
While we wait for our starters, we have to wait through mediocre middle-relief appearances. That means literally waiting for the call to the bullpen, but also waiting for and through the frequently dismal results. Bullpens are not designed to carry games for four innings – something that has become habitual. This is not a Kirby Yates problem. Yates is a guaranteed All-Star and the reason the Padres lead the NL (as of June 23) in team saves with 30. Management wants to keep pitch counts low for young Padres starters. That means it leans heavily on middle relievers. It is a “weight” they cannot take.
Padres fans must also wait for the offense to gel. There have been flashes of brilliant potential; win streaks propelled by late-inning homers and never-before-seen come-from-behind rallies (six runs in the 9th in Denver!!!). But there have also been whiff-fests with runners impotently stranded at 2nd and 3rd base. Limpy pop-outs to the infield. Rally stunting double-play grounders. We’ve seen it. “The Weight” of deflation is real. We wait for a lineup that doesn’t wait around for a dinger – a lineup that manufactures runs, routinely hits in the clutch and cinches singles together to keep the line moving and the rally ringing.
In the meantime, lean on The Band. The wait is “The Weight.” It is your weight. It is my weight. We can’t shake it. We can’t unload it. We’ve been a Padres fan this long for a reason. We are part of the journey, the mission, the agony and the hope. We are part of the allegory. We give it meaning, visibility and permanence. “The Weight” is not about you or me or anyone. But it is about us. Every hope. Every disappointment. Every thrill. Every ache. Every strange character who comes down the road. Every bit of surrealism that suffuses relentless enthusiasm for dreams unrealized – will we ever win a championship? Will someone ever throw a no-hitter? Will we ever settle (I mean REALLY settle) on a uniform?
The wait is “The Weight.”
Go ahead. Put the load right on me.
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.”