The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
As we progress with our little experiment, we're glad to hear that so many of you are enjoying the ride. Up next is Brian Polk, a frequent commenter on the great Padres blog Gaslamp Ball. You can also follow him on Twitter.
1. Tony Gwynn, Tony Gwynn, Tony Gwynn: We haven't had many superstars in Padres history, but the ones we do have stick around, and Tony Gwynn is the Alpha and Omega of them all. "Mr. Padre" retired in 2001, but, as coach for San Diego State baseball and a regular Padres color commentator, he is still a major presence (the whole city held its breath as he underwent cancer surgery earlier this year). As a fan it is your responsibility to spread his gospel. Before we were celebrating his Hall of Fame induction, we were watching him play with unmatched dependability and brilliance. He has eight NL batting titles, five Gold Gloves, 15 All-Star appearances and played on both World Series squads 14 years apart. Hallelujah.
Gwynn ranks 18th all time in career batting average and is the only guy on that list who debuted after 1940 until you get to Stan Musial at No. 30. He was a pure hitter and one of the first to routinely study video, like a singles-hitting angel come down to walk among us and teach our children about hard work and good habits. His bromance with Ted Williams (a San Diego native) is legendary, ever since Williams endorsed him as our only hope to ever again see a player bat .400. And if the '94 strike hadn't ended Gwynn's best season early — he was batting .394 at the time— he might well have done it too.
Let me put it this way, I do not cry a lot. This is when I cry: at funerals, watching Pixar movies, once when Calvin & Hobbes ran its last strip ever, and when Tony Gwynn retired. (By the way, in his last injury-shortened season, he still hit .324/.384/.461. The guy was a beast.)
In short, Tony Gwynn: He makes us feel feelings.
2. It's Great At Home: I know what you're about to say, PETCO Park is a stupid name for a baseball stadium. Great observation, my friend, no doubt that call from the Pulitzer committee nominating you for Best Internet Comment is on its way. Live the dream.
But those of us who are over the name know that PETCO Park is a great place to watch a ballgame. When the stadium was first built, we kept hearing there was "no bad seat in the house." I was skeptical, but after watching at least one game from every level, I'm convinced its true. You wonder whether the architects somehow dangerously angled the stadium to give you a close and clear view even from the nosebleeds; it's the only explanation. The Western Metal Building, left over from San Diego's days as a littler port town, is incorporated into the structure as the left-field foul line. Somewhere else this might come off as faux-historic, but PETCO feels remarkably San Diegan: There's a "beach" as well as a grassy lawn behind center field; you will see airplanes coming in for a landing right over downtown (a fact of life in San Diego that any good local speaks of with fondness); the famous Ocean Beach burger joint Hodad's is adding a location there this year; and whenever you go the weather will probably be between 78 and 72 degrees. Actually, it will definitely be between 78 and 72 degrees.
And you can't deny the way the stadium has revitalized downtown. The area used to be a place no San Diegan dared to tread, while today it's done a complete 180, with streets lined with shops, restaurant, bars (all showing the game, of course). I also recommend taking the trolley and walking down the promenade toward the stadium. Just make sure you eventually get on L Street and take a left on, what else, Tony Gwynn Drive. (see above)
3. It's Great On the Road: PETCO Park, of course, is not only beautiful, it's also the worst place to hit in baseball. Like AT&T Park, this probably has something to do with the heavy sea air, the park's dimensions and some kind of villainous curse. Outside observers will claim this skews pitching statistics and makes the Padres look like a great pitching team every year when they're not.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As a good Padres fan, you know the Friars have had solid pitching since Trevor Hoffman (best closer entrance ever, no contest) began to anchor the bullpen, since Sterling Hitchcock won the 1998 NLCS MVP (our No. 3 starter no less), and since the 2010 bullpen with its collective 2.40 ERA dubbed itself the "Penitentiary." You know the Padres could give relief pitching away, and when they do, they find more to take its place.
Most importantly, the Padres do it on the road, showing the same prowess they show in their cavernous stadium and winning 45 away games in 2010 (second only to the Rays' 47 that year). In 2011, despite an entire season at the bottom of the division, the team still posted a 3.86 road ERA and won 36 road games. So speak not to me of PETCO Park making our guys look good; we will come to your house, and we will shut you down.
4. The NL West is pretty much perfect: Have you ever noticed how the NL West used to have four teams all with interlocking logos on their caps? SF, LA, SD and CR. It was noble, it was unique, it was a fashion statement. Of course, the Arizona Diamondbacks had to come along and screw that all up, but it doesn't change the basic fact that the NL West just fits. The teams are up at the same time and down at the same time. One year its a crazy strong division beating up on each other and decimating the rest of the NL, the next year all the teams lose a little ground and suddenly the division title is totally up for grabs.
Every team has screwed over every other team at some point in history, especially now that Colorado and Arizona have had success. (Matt Holliday never touched home plate, by the way.) Sure, the NL West is full of transplants, but its identity is strong. You'll find fans of all five teams live in all five cities, and many more who are willing to travel to the other parks and get rowdy. We all hate each other. It's great.
5. Our farm system is pretty much perfect: Did I mention our farm system was ranked No. 1 by Baseball Prospectus and ESPN? No farm system has as much depth as the Padres do right now in the minor leagues (with the Blue Jays a close second). And the timer on almost all of them is set to go off within the next three years. Yes, that means waiting, but I can wait with the hype surrounding Casey Kelly, Rymer Liriano, Jaff Decker and Cory Spangenberg getting better and better all the time. This year, we'll probably see Kelly and first base wunderkind Yonder Alonso get their first taste of the big leagues. Hey, rebuilding is worth watching when it's projected to be this good.
6. We have long memories: It doesn't matter how many new teams he goes to, we will always proudly shower Matt Holliday with boos (see Webster's New World Dictionary: entry for "unforgivable"). Despite our reputation as laid back, you really can't fault Padres fans for lack of passion: We remember when we've been crossed.
I fondly recall when Doug Mirabelli, the poor Red Sox backup catcher, who openly complained about being traded to the Padres and was shipped back to Boston, was back at PETCO for an interleague series. What followed the announcement of his name was a full minute of John-Rocker-worthy vitriol that would make any Philly boo-bird proud. And if Doug Mirabelli becomes the freaking commissioner of baseball in 25 years, I promise you he will the get exact same reaction. (Oh, and we made out like bandits in that trade by the way.)
7. The Brown and Gold: Not everyone agrees, but a lot of Padres fans would certainly like to see brown make a comeback as part of the Padres' uniform. Our pleas have created campaigns, a flood of retro Padres merchandise, and a popular promotion known as Throwback Thursdays. It's difficult to distinguish the good brown from the bad brown sometimes, but most people agree we were on to something funky and great that jived with both the team name and the city itself. Somehow around 1990 we let blue sneak in, and now we just look like the Brewers. We're told the navy blue is a "nod to tradition," that is, the original PCL Padres. Well, great. When I wear my navy blue slacks to work tomorrow I'll be sure to tell everyone who doesn't ask that I'm honoring the PCL Padres.
The noble crusade to bring back the colors that made us unique is an important vocation for all Padres fans. In the meantime, wear your gold and brown retro gear for all to see, and declare it proudly: You are a Padres fan.
8. El Equipo oficial de los militares: In San Diego, jets fly overhead in tight formation because they're practicing, not because it's the Super Bowl. San Diego is still a huge military town, with the largest naval fleet in the world stationed here as well as Camp Pendleton, the West Coast's major Marine Corps base. Since PETCO opened, I'm not sure I've been to a game without a good hundred or so Marines somewhere in the stands. The Pads' camouflage uniforms are certainly ugly, but they're far from a cynical gimmick. The organization is great at outreach, expanding our fan base among our troops, not to mention south of the border, where they call us "the Fathers" in English. I love it.
9. When we do win... When the only championship your hometown has ever had (besides an AFL championship back before the Super Bowl began) is the 2009 Little League World Series, things can seem pretty bleak. And you're right, they are. With the final prize in sight, the Padres are 0-2, the Chargers are 0-1. This city has never had the ticker-tape parade it deserves. But you know what? When we do win, it will be fantastic. A championship in our lifetimes would be the city's first championship ever. It would be a colossal, earth-shattering explosion of joy. I will probably park my car on the street and disappear for three days.
10. This Album: Back in the '80s, as San Diego was completely bursting from the city's first taste of first-place success, KFMB's Mac Hudson and Joe Bauer spent the season inviting local songwriters (such as Glen Erath, whose voice San Diegans will recognize from many, many local commercial jingles) to create musical tributes to the Padres' season. As a kid, I listened to "Sounds of Success" on cassette tape constantly.
Highlights include tributes to Goose Gossage ("Doin' the Goose") and "Padres Win Again," performed by none other than Padres pitcher Eric Show!
The album also includes a few of Hudson and Bauer's best radio bits, in which a fake Steve Garvey calls into the show, poking fun at his (at the time) squeaky-clean image. ("I just spent the whole morning helping old ladies make correct change for bus drivers all throughout the metropolitan area!" he shouts into the phone. "I'm at a bus station right now petting the Greyhounds!") Sounding like an unhinged Boy Scout, he explains he's on a hitting streak because his bat "has come alive." "It talks to me, Mac and Joe… Friday night I put the bat on my shoulder I'm about to swing and it says to me, 'let's get girls!'" If you had asked me when I was 10 years old what the greatest comedy album of all time was, I would have played you that bit.
I feel a little guilty ending on such a personal note, but I think it's an important one. Basically, I was not exactly sentient in 1984, and I always regretted not being able to remember our first run at the title. This album was my access point into Padres history; it taught me to live and breathe a pennant race I couldn't remember, so I could better fall in love with my hometown team. I mourned along with the last few songs on the album, farewells to the season after the Series did not go our way. "We are still the champions/ In the heart of this town," they sing. "We're building for the future every day." These reminders were just as relevant for me in the '90s and now as they were in '84. Being a Padres fan can be difficult at times, but every generation shares the same stories, the same memories, and the same beautiful city. Young or old, we stay true to the Friars and Keep the Faith.
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What are you favorite things about being a fan of the San Diego Padres?
Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians