SportsPulse: 16 groups will play on this yr’s remarkable MLB postseason. Mackenzie Salmon explains how the layout, the bubbles and the entirety in between will paintings this October.
SAN DIEGO — The downtown streets are eerily quiet round Petco Park, however in the ones high-rise condos within the sky, the parking a lot around the side road, the bars and eating places within the Gaslamp Quarter, the San Diego Padres’ enthusiasts are being heard.
They’re restricted to simply cardboard cutouts and faux crowd noise within the ballpark, however outdoor, they’ve were given Padre fever, celebrating their first playoff look in 14 years, with desires of successful the primary Global Sequence championship in franchise historical past.
They stand and cheer at the condominium balconies surrounding the ballpark, simply as though they had been inside of, with bullhorns, megaphones, drums, and waving the Padres’ flag, refusing to let this magical yr cross with out rejoicing.
“I’ve were given an in depth good friend who is going to each and every house sport, who hangs over the balcony cheering,’’ Padres government chairman Ron Fowler tells USA TODAY Sports activities, “and I’m involved concerning the man. I fear that he’s going to fall off that balcony.’’
Fowler, who has lived in San Diego since 1974, simply 5 years after the franchise used to be born, begins giggling from his Del Mar, California, administrative center.
“On this loopy yr, or even crazier international,’’ Fowler mentioned, “successful is so necessary right here. It’s put smiles on a large number of faces in San Diego. I think superb for what we’ve completed and for the psyche of San Diego.
“We now have introduced just a little sunshine to an differently unsightly yr, and supplied some sure aid to folks.’’
The Padres, the one skilled sports activities staff on the town with the San Diego Chargers fleeing to Los Angeles, will step at the nationwide level for the primary time since 2006 Wednesday afternoon (five p.m. ET, ESPN2). They’ll be taking part in Sport 1 of the wild-card sequence towards the St. Louis Cardinals, reminding the arena there’s greater than taco stands and wonderful seashores on this the city.
Fernando Tatis Jr. celebrates with Manny Machado after hitting a two-run house run. (Picture: Kiel Maddox, USA TODAY Sports activities)
“I believe the entire town has been looking forward to this second,’’ mentioned Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the past due Corridor of Famer, the best participant in Padre historical past. “It’s simply been so amusing round right here. Even without a enthusiasts within the stands, the fan base goes loopy. The balconies are crammed up across the stadium, the oldsters yelling from the condo structures, it’s been wild.”
It is a franchise that has reached the playoffs handiest 5 instances within the earlier 51 years. That they had the second-most losses in baseball since their ultimate successful season in 2010. The ultimate time they received a playoff sequence Kevin Brown used to be their ace and Ken Caminiti used to be their slugger, relationship again to 1998.
Why, they’ve had extra uniform adjustments (18) than successful seasons (12) in franchise historical past, returning to brown and gold, the place Fowler proclaimed: “That is going to be the uniform we win a championship in.’’
Neatly, who is aware of, there may well be one thing magical about the ones uniforms. The Padres no longer handiest completed with the second-best document within the Nationwide League, 37-23, however turned into probably the most thrilling staff in baseball, dubbed SLAM DIEGO after hitting grand slams in 4 consecutive video games, and in 5 of six, by way of 5 other avid gamers.
MLB POSTSEASON:Expanded playoff create quandary for managers
OCTOBER BASEBALL:16-team matchups set
“I think that’s why everyone’s so excited here,’’ says Charley Osbon, a waitress at Bub’s At The Ballpark restaurant, just three blocks from Petco. “There’s so much energy downtown. I know it’s not the same as being inside the stadium, but people line up here just to watch the game on TV and cheer together.”
There weren’t enough margaritas in town to wash away the Padres’ frustration and futility over the years. Just a year ago at this time, Fowler was mad as hell last year and couldn’t take it anymore. He profusely apologized to the fan base for the team’s “embarrassing’’ performance at the season’s conclusion, finishing last again with a 70-92 record, and vowing that things better change in a hurry.
“Heads will roll,’’ Fowler said, “beginning with mine.’’
Well, manager Andy Green was fired first and replaced by Texas Rangers assistant GM Jayce Tingler. Fowler called out his three high-paid veterans Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, for their underperforming seasons.
“I’m a fan first, I speak my mind,’’ Fowler said, “and I also speak in a way fans understand.”
The Padres finished the year losing 20 of their final 26 games, and Fowler’s reaction reminded folks in these parts of former Padres owner Ray Kroc grabbing the stadium mic during their 1974 home opener and screamed: “This is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen.’’
Well, just as the fans at Jack Murphy Stadium cheered Kroc that day after the announcement, the Padres’ fans loved Fowler’s candor, too.
“People here do appreciate his honesty,’’ Gwynn says. “Usually, an owner only speaks when something is big on the horizon. It’s not the case here. He speaks from a fan’s perspective. Ron goes on the radio and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
“They appreciate it. They know where their owner stands on a lot of issues.’’
Well, Fowler’s decree may not go down in history with Knute Rockne’s pep talks, but something sure changed. Machado played his way into MVP contention with 16 homers, 44 runs, 47 RBI and a .950 OPS. Hosmer had his finest season since signing his eight-year, $144 million contract, with nine homers, 36 RBI and stellar defense. Myers, who they tried to trade all winter, had a bounce-back season with 15 homers and 40 RBI.
And, of course, there was Fernando Tatis Jr., the most exciting player in baseball, with 17 homers, 50 runs and 45 RBI. He may soon become a wealthy player, too, with the Padres trying to sign him to a long-term extension.
“We want to lock Tatis up,’’ Fowler said, “but there are so many questions what’s going on. We have a lot of money committed next year ($91.5 million).”
The Padres believe this is just the start of a championship-caliber run, and GM A.J. Preller’s moves at the trade deadline let everyone know the future is now, even while retaining one of the best farm systems in baseball. They sent 16 players packing while acquiring an ace (Mike Clevinger), a closer (Trevor Rosenthal), catchers (Austin Nola and Jason Castro) and a left-handed power hitter (Mitch Moreland).
“I think everybody sort of knew what our needs were, and A.J. pulled it off,’’ Fowler said. “It was check. Check. Check. And check. Oh, my God, it was unbelievable, and these guys fit in right away. It’s like they’ve been here all year.’’
The Padres have folks believing again. There may be no fans in the stands, but the players can hear them shouting from the rooftops, see them lined outside their parking garage, and even in the stadium parking lots where there are three big large video screens for fans to tailgate in their cars like a drive-in movie theater.
Fowler, who has respiratory problems and hasn’t seen a game in person all season, may even join in the fun. He has a doctor’s appointment Wednesday to determine whether it’s safe for him to be at Petco Park during this pandemic.
“I miss the fans, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m having the time of my life,’’ Fowler said. “I’m still feeling the energy in the city. We’re finally playing some good baseball and have this city excited.
“Ooh, it’s been a long time coming.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale