‘Honestly mate, why the Padres, of all the teams?’

Some people were born to be Padres fans. They just didn’t have any choice. Their parents handed it down to them like a family heirloom. They were taken to ball games before they were old enough to understand why or have enough physical strength to prevent it happening.

Others grew up in the area and went to school with kids who liked the club. You just want to fit in, right? You want to keep up with the cool kids, stay up past your bedtime and watch the game finish so you can talk about it at school the next day. You don’t want to get left out!

You get occasional fans who went to a game while on a work trip or vacation and caught the bug (cough, Tom, cough). Once you have it, there’s no antidote, Dr Jones, you’re gone. And still more people just like the Padres because their initials are SD and look col on a hat or they like being different and turn their backs on the all-consuming big-market monsters from the east.

I grew up 5,500 miles away from San Diego, in a time-zone eight hours ahead of America’s Finest City, which I don’t think I knew existed until I was in my teens.

So what the hell am I doing writing on this fantastic new San Diego Padres site? If you want a long and over-written answer to that simple question, then keep reading…

When I headed to University in 1999 I was a perma-drunk 18-year-old English football fan.

I didn’t know anyone in my new city, but the girl in the next room to me was pleasant enough and after a couple of days told me she knew a guy from their home town who was also starting anew and said he and I would have a lot in common, the same sense of humour, similar interests, we even looked the same.

I met Mike a couple days later and we did indeed hit it off. Like me, he was a Tottenham Hotspur fan, but enjoyed watching and playing all kinds of other sports. He was born in the States to a US dad and a UK mum but came to the UK as a child. It wasn’t long before he asked me if I liked baseball.

“Baseball?” I said. “That’s just an even duller version of cricket isn’t it? Same basic idea but fewer runs?”

“No chance. It’s fantastic. I know you’ll like it,” he replied. “There’s so much to it, it’s like, a really simple idea, but the game’s really complex at the same time. Plus you can sit in the sunshine, drink beer, eat hot dogs and shout at people…”

*

Nowadays US sports are more popular here in the UK than they have ever been. We have our own ESPN Channel on satellite, complete with all the usual talk-shows, we get SportsCenter but instead of a late-night thing, it’s shown on a loop from 6am to 8am.

With other channels also involved we get 3-4 live NBA games per week, couple more for the NFL and NHL and a load of random shit that nobody could possibly care about like Nascar.

Basically, it’s easier to follow US Sports than it has ever been. Particular if (like most here) the team you follow is based in one of NY, Boston, Chicago or LA. The media bias towards the big markets also crosses the Atlantic, don’t worry!

Now all this was different in those halcyon days of 1999. In those days you’d be lucky to see one game a week from a major sport, and it would only ever be in the absolute middle of the night on an obscure terrestrial channel which catered for slightly ‘niche’ things.

Basically four nights a week it was soft-core porn after midnight, one night you’d find a Detroit Redwings game, another might be a World Series of Poker event and the other, well, if you were lucky, you might just get a baseball game.

*

Tuesday, September 21st, 1999. Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres played the second of a three game set in San Diego.

Turns out Mike is a Reds fan, it’s in his family or something.

Mike settles down to watch in his Reds shirt and cap, and just for banter, because I’m like that, I decide to root for his team to lose. Well, that decision soon turned into me supporting the Padres…

I don’t recall much about that game now, apart from it was a freaking life-changing rollercoaster of emotion. Baseball almanac confirms we led, then fell behind and eventually won 6-2.

I was hooked. Baseball was like crack to me.

From then on, I basically did everything the wrong way round. I’d learned the words to ‘Take me out to the ball game…’ and figured out what OPS meant before I’d ever seen an actual physical baseball, been outside Europe or even spoken to anyone with an American accent.

*

For the longest time after that day my ‘support’ for the Padres was based upon checking results, reports and box scores on this newfangled flash in the pan facility called the internet the following day. Time to time Mike’s uncle would airmail him a copy of The Sporting News and he’d eventually hand it on to me. I handled it like a first-edition of the Bible.

As the years went by I added the consumption of the occasional online radio commentary at sociable hours, but the opportunity to catch a live game on TV was hindered by the fact that with one televised game a week, the odds of it being the Padres were pretty small.

Whenever I did check the TV listings magazine and see the words San Diego down there in the 3am slot my heart soared and I rushed to programme the VCR – remember those?

However with the exception of a couple of games a season on TV, to me the Padres players were just a collection of words and still pictures on a page.

*

Anyway, fast forward to 2008. There’s been some highs and lows over the previous nine years. Many of you were there for them and, well, I’d shared in those experiences from afar too. But it wasn’t real yet. On the rare occasion I encountered a fellow baseball enthusiast in my daily life, I could hold a great conversation about my team, their team (Yankee fans here, invariably) and argue why the fences at Petco should not be moved in (home runs should be earned, not given away like T-shirts!), but whenever they said: “Is your park as great as everyone says?” I had no answer for them.

I was a single guy. I had a steady job. I had some vacation time to take, so I booked a flight 5,500 miles from London to San Diego. I asked around my friends to see if anyone fancied a sunshine break in an apparently cool place… no takers, however, so I travelled alone.

I booked myself a hotel downtown from Friday, June 26, to Sunday, June 29, to watch us take on the hated Mariners, our natural rivals fro the north, in a highly-anticipated Inter-League series.

The day I arrived in town I was jet-lagged to F- and I basically wandered around getting my bearings, sorted my tickets for the three games (one expensive seat by the home dugout, one medium priced low by third base and one cheap and high above home plate for the Sunday day game), and fell into a couple bars in the Gaslamp.

I watched us get swept (5-2, 4-2 and 9-2) to fall to 32-52. Nobody had better call me a fair-weather bandwagon jumper just because we’ve signed Manny Machado!

It was all a very new experience for me. I’d been brought up on a diet of Premier League (PL) football games, with noisy crowds, segregation of home and away fans and everyone being there to watch the game and shout at the officials and opposition players.

Now this was a new relaxed world of sitting around with friends, yes, following the game, but chatting, joking, laughing, drinking (certainly can’t do that while watching a PL game anymore!). The variety of songs was, well, not that varied really, Let’s Go Padres being prevalent with the occasional raise in volume for Kooooouz and a definite buzz when Trevor came out (so glad I got to see him in the flesh, even if it was in a loss and he gave up a two-out HR).

Despite the results, I loved it. Only thing I wished was that I was with someone and that I wasn’t such a reserved Brit and could just start talking to strangers.

I kinda got chatting to this Texan girl sat next to me on the Saturday night who seemed enchanted by me, my accent, my story, but her meathead BF and his burly friend on the other side of her were less enamoured with me and none of them came back after the fifth inning.

In the end, and it’s embarrassing to recall now, I ended up using an American accent to carry out basic communications. I didn’t hear any other non-US voices in my three days and whenever I ordered a beer or food or tried to answer a question from someone about something that had just happened in the game, I just got strange looks and the conversation sort of died. People don’t get that I’m British and an actual Padres fan, I think… it’s too much to comprehend.

*

Monday morning I started my journey home, but I had decided to make a quick stop in Denver. Two reasons, first, I had met a guy from Denver who had studied overseas with a good friend of mine and had humoured me with lots of Padres talk via email for the previous year, and second was that the Padres were starting a series at the Rockies.

So I met up with this guy and his friends (neutral fans, though kinda leaning towards wanting the Padres to win in sympathy for me I think!). Man it was good to have some company, and we proceeded to just get cheap seats from a scalper, sat just below the mile line, drank about 17 frozen pina coladas each (Coors? No. Just… No!) and watched the Padres unleash their fury on the Rox by coming from 8-3 down after 5 to win…. wait for it… 15-8.

We scored five HRs and tacked on seven in the ninth, Fuentes gave up five runs on five hits in 0.1 innings pitched.

It was just the best day, and the highlight came afterward as the (already sparse) crowd were leaving. I was wearing my SD gear again and had not seen another Padres fan all night. Then as we’re walking round the concourse a guy in a SD cap spies me, we’re walking towards each other, we grin and just smack a perfect high five. Like… you know the ones with the perfect contact, loud sound but lack of sting. It was nonchalant but textbook. Still the best I’ve had to this day.

Anyway, I flew home after that. I was only in Denver for about 14 hours. We lost the last two games there.

*

So since 2008 I settled down, got married, but before our two kids showed up we planned a Pacific Coast Highway road trip in 2011 like a lot of Brits do in the summer.

What most don’t do is factor in four games at Petco before the start. We lost 3-2 and 10-6 to the Rockies and my then girlfriend was seriously thinking I was some kind of mentallist for putting myself through this.

However the happy day (apart from Mike Adams being traded) came on Sunday, July 31, as we beat the Rockies 8-3, the sun was out and my GF finally ‘understood’ baseball. Sadly we lost 6-2 to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers the final night, but at least I could say I’d seen us win a home game.

Our trip continued through LA (without stopping, though I flicked the Vs at Chavez Latrine from the car) and up to San Fran where we went to see the Giants LOSE HILARIOUSLY to the Pittsburgh Pirates who had LOST THEIR PREVIOUS TEN GAMES.

Great day. I wore my SD hat and got heckled but Ryan Ludwick went 2-3 with 2RBIs in a 5-0 win. Nice to see him finally produce.

*

God love her, my other half agreed to come back for a flying visit to coincide with Opening Day in 2012, but we had to leave town the morning the Padres finally won, so that 0-3 record took me to 1-9 at Petco. The crazy woman even let me come back on honeymoon in 2014 when we managed to catch another win against the Brewers, in amongst some more dismay. So 2-12 at home but I am still 1-0 on the road, so as much as I love the 619, I’m planning on another road game next time!

I got her a cap and jersey and she wore them into Hodad’s one game. The nice server recognised our accents and seemed disappointed, saying she thought it was great that we’d been to the gift-shop and got stuff but she wished she could serve some Padres fans and not just Dodgers fans that day. My missus got all indignant and started telling her about my obsession and how even she could name Cameron Maybe and Jesus Coozman. Cute.

cringy conclusion alert

I am still not sure exactly how and why I ended up loving baseball, and the Padres, as much as I do.

Maybe if Mike and I had sat down to watch the Red-Padres game the night before (which Cinci won 12-1) then I wouldn’t be writing this now. Or if the Reds had been on TV a week later maybe I’d be writing this on a Cardinals fan site instead… but who knows? I’m glad it has worked out the way it has.

Kids and the 3.05am starts make it tough but I try to catch a couple of game a week live, even if it’s just GameDay, and I’m already day-dreaming about the next trip over. Sitting in the sun, with a Hodad’s in my belly and a Stone IPA in my hand watching my team, with all their numerous and frustrating faults, doing their best to scrape a win against some hated foe with significantly more money and uglier fans than we do!

My life has changed for the better because of San Diego, and the Padres. I get up at 6am each day and check the score first thing, sometimes I can even catch the end of an extra-inning game while I drink my morning coffee from a Padres cup. When I’m stressed at work it’s the happy place I go to in my head for a few seconds. My kids go to bed with Padres comforters.

Life just wouldn’t be the same without our San Diego Padres.

Sorry for writing so much. If you’ve got this far, then thanks for reading! Let’s go Padres! Keep the Faith! Good times are coming…..

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