The San Diego Padres have constructed a worthy young roster. They also have built a farm system that is the best in all of major league baseball. From Wrigleyville to Friarland, the Padres future could certainly change in the coming years.
I believe that many die-hard Padres fans (myself included) will tell you they are intently watching Padres baseball throughout the month of September in order to fully and thoroughly evaluate the extensive list of player personnel we have going into the 2019 season.
However, it is with as much pain as it is honesty that I admit that my attention to Padres baseball tends to dwindle as pennant races begin to heat up across major league baseball.
We now reside in the midst of that certain point in the season where dejected Padres fans begin to look forward– placing their faith in the promises of owner Ron Fowler, whose prophecies of a perennial playoff contender competing year in and year out with a central core of Eric Hosmer, Fernando Tatis Jr., and MacKenzie Gore.
Two weeks ago, I packed my bags from sunny San Diego and moved to Chicago, more specifically, I moved to Wrigleyville– the borough in this massively populated city which just so happens to be the home of the Chicago Cubs. Being in Chicago amongst the Wrigley-faithful in the midst of a pennant race has reminded me that not all too long ago, the Cubs faced a 108-year-old championship drought the longest championship drought in major American sports history with only one way to go but up– as they had the number one farm system in all of baseball.
Remembering the Cubs from 2014, they weren’t all that dissimilar from the 2018 Padres. Finishing with a 73-89 record under former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, players such as Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz resided in their everyday lineup while players such as Javier Baez and former Padre Anthony Rizzo were just beginning to plant their feet in the league. Like the 2014 Cubs, the 2018 Padres have consisted of role players such as Christian Villanueva and José Pirela with young studs such as Luis Urías and Francisco Mejia waiting to get their chances.
The following year, the 2015 Cubs were advertised as “still being one year away”– a label to which they responded by winning 97 games and making it to the NLCS. Now, I’m not saying that the Padres will do this, but optimistically, I’d like to think that our trajectory is at least headed in the right direction. During the 2014-2015 offseason, the Cubs announced their presence by signing Jon Lester and trading for Dexter Fowler— two pieces which ended up becoming instrumental that season.
What makes our situations the most parallel is the pain endured by our fanbases. In fact, ESPN just released a list of the top 25 most miserable fanbases in sports, a list which saw the Padres ranked second only behind the Sacramento Kings and one spot ahead of the Cleveland Browns. Circa five years ago, one would fully expect the Cubs to have been on a list like this. As Padres fans, we complain about not having won a championship in our 49 years of existence. But 108 years? It’s a seemingly incomprehensible length of time.
Throughout my time in Chicago so far, I have had the chance to talk with Cubs fans about what all of those dark years were like, and what it feels like now to be in a competitive position. One fan I spoke with said, “When you’re at the top, it makes enduring all of the lows that much more worth it.” While another fan told me, “We used to be complacent about losing. It used to be about coming to the ballpark every week, grabbing a few beers and sitting out in the bleachers, now it’s about something more.”
As a Padres fan, the latter of these two responses really stuck with me. I realized that a complacency for losing has not only been ingrained in my own Padres fan DNA but seemingly across the entire city of San Diego. An accepted reality that year after year, we would be looking at 90+ loss seasons and unfulfilled promises of Jedd Gyorko winning the batting title. That, similarly to the ways in which Cubs fans viewed Wrigley Field for so many years, going to a game at Petco Park is good enough due to its luxuriousness and its USA Today Ranking. But becoming immersed in the Wrigleyville community and the Cubs fanbase has honestly given me hope for something more.
At the same time, I realize that the lyric from that one Zach Brown Band song holds true: Heavy is the head that wears the crown— a very true reality for the Padres as seemingly dozens of “prized prospects” have reached the major leagues before with promises of greatness. From the likes of Cory Luebke, to Yonder Alonso and Mat Latos— the promises of skyrocketing out of mediocrity, unfortunately, have not come to fruition. However, what separates this rebuild from all of the others is that this time, we are the best. We have the best farm system in baseball for the first time in recent memory, and recent track record around the league at least suggests that a few Septembers from now, we’ll finally be able to lift our heads up and hope that the Padres will be playing meaningful games in September.
A recent USD graduate, Ben grew up in San Diego and has been a life-long Padres fan. Currently, Ben is residing in Chicago, IL where he is pursuing his Master’s degree in Sports Media Journalism at Northwestern University.