In this unique piece, we look at the 2019 San Diego Padres and the fact there is plenty to be excited about in the city of San Diego.
Sue me. Pretty much all of my overly optimistic fantasies of the last couple of years haven’t borne out, our Padres putrid as ever as they attempted to move from a dilapidated PT-cruiser of an organization to a cutting-edge luxury liner all decked out with the latest bells and virtual reality. If nothing else the Padres have proven that building Rome in a day is actually the bad idea it sounds like, and taking some time, thought and care is the right way to go.
The aftermath of the panic trading of 2015 (building Rome in a day) doomed 2016 and 2017, and the signing of Eric Hosmer did nothing to peel back the ugliness of 2018 in all its political, cultural and competitive ramifications. The time-space continuum guaranteed the Padre Revolution would take a few years, and any attempt at a great leap forward out of and beyond their own historically quantum ineptitude was always going to be a long shot, a long shot that in this case would have been spelled m-i-r-a-c-l- e. The Lord may work in mysterious ways, but it was no mystery why the Padres sucked: they’ve always sucked and hadn’t done enough to improve. They just weren’t any good, and although they had made noises, they were not ready.
I hoped for more the last few years and the boys delivered bupkus. Same ol’ same ol’. The Padres are always gonna Padre. You’re born a Padre fan, you suffer, then you die. Everyone knows the tune.
Not so fast, Buster (Posey, your time is over).
The other thing I promised was the Train, the Taco Train, was going to take over San Diego (along with the world), kick its sleepy little ass, and transform it from a mostly forgotten-about Navy biotech homeless tourist beach town, to a force to be reckoned with, in this life and the one coming, a championship mecca-of-a-city like a shining light on the hill as the terrible twin towers of greed and avarice consume the rest of the nation and leave us as a beacon with which to find some Hamiltonian resilience.
Back in 2015, it was obvious general manager AJ Preller shared in this vision of the Taco Train (whatever the hell that vision truly is), along with the new ownership group and the rest of the Padre brass. They saw the possibilities. They followed God’s signs. They followed every backwater field in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican, Panama, Mexico, and God knows where else. They followed the Mid-American Conference. They scratched, clawed, clamored, resisted, persisted, desisted and insisted. A lot still has to go right to make 2019 a fantasy year, but it’s already fantastical what has happened to our little Padres, the dream being the dream you’re dreaming as you dream.
Across the diamond: Machado Tatis Urias Hosmer? That sounds like Tinkers to Evers to Chance to me, the stuff of legend. Too good to be true. Better than imagined even by me back in the day the Taco Train was in the shop, getting new parts, going through different engine tests. That reality has power, speed, youth, experience, athleticism, agility and exuberant attitude written all over it (not to mention in it, through it, around it, over it, under it and in its alternative dimensions, too). Wow. Don’t knock on wood, knock on a thousand pieces of wood, a million, a billion. Build your foundation with it. That alone is worth the price of every admission.
Then look at that outfield. It’s hard not to imagine AT LEAST three of Myers, Renfroe, Reyes, Cordero, and Margot having breakout seasons, or at the very least, very productive meaty years number-wise. Hedges is going to hit 25 home runs if he’s going to hit 15 and shut up everyone who thought he backstepped a bit defensively last year.
Wait until May when Tatis finally is in the bigs. He’ll be over his April slump (he’s always had one in the minors) and the lineup will be fully fleshed out. The Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, and Diamondbacks aren’t going to like it. Not one bit. They’ve been enjoying Petco, the Gaslamp and our overall perfectness a little too much, to put it mildly, and they’re about to get another thing coming. The Taco Train in all its raging glory.
Which brings us to the pitching (is it going to be glorious?). It likely won’t be until 2020, 2021 or 2022, or whenever it is our staff comes to resemble that of the Atlanta Braves in the 90s. Who knows when we’ll have those five no. 1s we all dream about constituting our starting five backed by the seven best gunslinging relievers this side of Tombstone. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Doc Holliday could make our staff as a lefty out of the pen. Our staff is going to be that good.
But what about in 2019? I think of it the same way I think of the outfield. Let’s hope and pray Lucchesi can avoid any sophomore slump and instead build on a largely successful rookie campaign. Let’s hope and pray Lauer can give us a solid five or six innings most times out. And out of Mitchell, Erlin, Strahm, Paddack, Nix, Quantrill, Allen and God knows who else they got tucked away down there with pitching coach Darren Balsley, people, and specifically pitchers, are going to emerge. This year. Good young arms can throw good young innings and will this year for the Padres. Check it.
The pitchers, too young to be overwhelmed, not old enough to really understand what’s happening, will rise to the occasion. Inspired by the opportunity directly in front of them – the Taco Train coming in its full glory, San Diego about to throw down, from Escondido to Imperial Beach, from Pine Valley to Ocean Beach – they will want to carve a name for themselves in the, yes, glorious history that awaits. There’s too much pitching talent in camp for some of it, if not most of it, to emerge. Now.
It won’t be perfect. It’ll happen in fits and starts. History tells us nothing in Padre Land ever comes easy, nor do we get our fair share of luck. But we have a lot of goodwill built up with the Big Man upstairs and have kept the faith that some of that luck and God’s good nature is going to shine on us and that our time would come. So it has.
The Taco Train, having left the station a few years back in search of passengers, bellman, bedlam, engineers, mad men and women, big hitters and lefties out of the pen, toured the city from City Heights to South Park, from Lemon Grove to La Jolla to Lincoln Park, then out in the county from Oceanside, to Palomar, to Alpine, to Chula Vista, then beyond the borders to Mexico, MLB Network, Japan, and have returned, electric battery fully charged, engine room filled with the last vein of coal just in case. The Train, come trolley, or bus, or car, or plane, or boat, or surfboard, or skateboard, or wheelchair, or crutches, or feet, or hands; or by easel or camera or pen or canvas or brush or word or blemish or touch or meditation or silence; or by the skin of your skinny chin grin, the skin you got in the game and the skin you don’t; the Train has arrived in all its splendor, prophesized by Nostradamus, the Koran and the Good Book, here to provide a good time, a helping hand, maybe even peace with Iran, who knows what, all while living in the promise of the Promised Land.
Are you ready? I am. Been waiting since ’70, ready since ’86, living it since… well… since the last time, I got in a do-or-die argument with an ump, trying to recall when. Must have been ’77 with the Sex Pistols and punk rock, or maybe ’65 with Dylan and plugging in and all that. Who knows? Whatever. The Taco Train is here. The conductor remains a mystery. Let him lead the train with mysterious levers. As long as he leads to glory and the passengers are safe, that’s all I care about. The boys of summer are promising a good one here in the promise of our promised land. Enjoy every one of those grains of sand between your toes as the garden grows because God only knows, the Beach Boys from San Diego are ready to go. Are you? I think you are. I think you’re more ready than you know.