It’s raining here in San Diego this morning, a rather unusual occurrence for this time of year. Not a hard rain, mind you, just a forlorn drizzle and a bit of fog to boot–a perfect morning to match my feelings: sadness and despair. It’s the morning-after, the first day of a fall without baseball for San Diego fans.
The San Diego Padres lost yesterday to the San Francisco Giants to end our season on a down note, one of the few all year long. It came down to the last game for us, the finale of what has been a remarkable year for baseball in our city.
There was hope right up to the last pitch that somehow we could pull it out, somehow these boys of summer would make that defensive play to save the day, someone would get that clutch hit to win it all. That we would prevail in the late innings as we had all year. It was not to be.
Seven months ago, before the season even began, we were pegged to finish last or near-last by all the baseball experts. The Vegas gambling establishment picked us to win seventy-one games or less and the East Coast ‘˜homers’ at ESPN and other such pontificators followed suit. According to them, we needn’t bother showing up to play; it was futile for us to have even hope that we could win baseball games and especially not a championship.
But we fooled them, every last one of them at that! We became “The little team that could!” We took the baseball world by surprise as we did win and we did play competitively at baseball in all venues, no matter where they were or who we were playing. The young Padre players took on all comers–and took the game to them no matter how formidable the opposition.
As a long time fan of my local team, it was fun to watch them play. Their youthful exuberance was evident each and every time they took the field; they were never intimidated nor hesitant when playing the ‘˜big boys’ of baseball; they truly believed they could win every game they played. It was their ‘one game at a time–day to day’ approach that proved the key to their success.
The lowly rated San Diego Padres proved they could win despite having the next-to-last lowest payroll in baseball–$45 million compared with the Yankees at over $200 million. The Padres achieved a miracle of sorts. Looked down upon by most of the pundits, they opened the eyes of those who think you can’t win today without spending gazillions of dollars on overpaid, pampered egomaniacs. They proved that team chemistry is the key to winning and they had that in abundance.
Clubhouse chemistry is, at times, questioned as a true necessity by some modern day baseball buffs. Some say it is not as vital as many tout. I disagree. Chemistry was a prime factor in the Padres clubhouse; it was an ‘˜all for one and one for all’ effort. They bolstered each other’s confidence and challenged each other to play better every game. They had fun at the game of baseball and it was obvious.
According to Dave Roberts, himself a player of renown–a feisty and hard-scrabble base stealer and big play maker in his day and the Padres current base stealing coach–the Padres had the “best chemistry I’ve ever seen on any team.” (Quote from an article by Tom Krasovic.)
This season has been one of pure joy in watching them overcome all odds and win consistently with a brand of baseball that featured great pitching from their five starters and a bullpen of reliable relievers, a pesky defensive attitude of making big plays when needed, combined with their uncanny ability to come up with crucial hits when a game was on the line–especially so in late innings–and a team committed to stealing bases like thieves in the night. It all led to their first place standing for most of the season and the projection of a playoff spot come October.
And all over San Diego, there was a buzz in the air. “Is it a dream? Are the Pad’s really going to the playoffs?” we all asked ourselves and others as the season pressed on and the team continued to win and shock the baseball world. But it was not to be. It came right down to the last game before reality set in.
Although the last three games in San Francisco were exciting and closely played by both teams–the Padres won the first two–the Giants pitched the better game on Sunday and thereby won the National League West Division Championship and the right to proceed to the playoffs. The Padres flew home in disappointment.
And so, today is a letdown for us fans–and I’m sure the players as well. Yes, it’s a dreary day in San Diego, both on account of the rain as well as our downtrodden spirits. It’s as if we had a death in our family, and while that might be overly dramatic, we have certainly and surely suffered a loss of considerable consequence, a loss that will linger the entire winter–linger until once again our Padres take the field and we hear that enchanting cry “Play Ball!”
Somewhere they’re still playing that old familiar game,
In some distant eastern town, the World Series brings them fame.
Somewhere the crowds have gathered, excited and enthralled,
And somewhere there’s that thrilling sound of bat striking ball.
But now–in October–there’s no joy here this fall,
No joy in San Diego, no celebrating each call.
Now PETCO Park is quiet, no crowds are there at all.
No cheering on the Padres, no rousing cry “Play ball!”
No, there’s no joy in San Diego, tho’ we thought so till September.
No joy at all, at least none we can remember.