After I wrote a few times about the Taco Train this summer a friend called and said, “I’m enjoying your pieces, Scott, but why do you call it a Taco Train? Is it because San Diegans love Mexican food?” It was then I realized I hadn’t properly elucidated my thoughts about the Taco Train.
So allow me to step back. The origination of the Taco Train does not derive from San Diegans’ well known love for Mexican food. Rather it stems from the Padre uniform colors from the initial era of the franchise, which were brown and gold. Give or take some green shreds of lettuce, they were the exact colors of your basic taco.
You either loved or hated the Padre colors back in the day but it wasn’t a thing the way it is now. First off there was no sports talk radio much less social media for fans to endlessly debate the colors and turn it into a thing. Brown and gold were simply the colors. The Padres were named after the Franciscans, the European founders of San Diego (as opposed to the native San Diegans who’ve been here since long prior), and brown and gold was a logical extension of the Padres’ name and logo, of the friars’ brown robes and golden tassels. It all made organic sense.
In 1982 the Padres traded for outspoken shortstop Garry Templeton. They wore a variant of the brown and gold at the time and would continue to do so for the rest of the decade, at times substituting white and/or pinstripes for the gold. In 1990 the Padres were in the midst of a horrid season and the team was sniping at Tony Gwynn behind closed doors. The season was falling apart. The ever loquacious Templeton, never short of an opinion, took it out on the uniforms:
“Now that you mention it,” the basically over the hill shortstop said, “it’s time to do something about these damn uniforms. We’ve got to change these things. We need to start looking like a ball club instead of like jailbirds. We look like Taco Bell.”
The Taco Train and its alliteration would like to publicly thank Tempy for the loud mouth nature of his playing days.
It was the last year of the brown and/or brown and gold.
Recently the desire to bring back the brown and gold has become a rallying cry for a certain segment of the faithful who long for a return to the “glory days” of the Padres (as if we had any). In fact, it’s more than a rallying cry and has become something of a movement. I’m not an active participant but I support the cause.
One of life’s greatest gifts is to be a member of a beloved community while at the same time being able to maintain and express one’s individual uniqueness. The Padres and their fans have that opportunity every year. Being a member of the major leagues, 1 of 30, with its shared mores, rules and traditions, is both an honor and a privilege. The community of baseball is a wonderful thing of which to be a part.
It also has its limitations. On the field big market teams have a huge competitive edge over smaller markets. As we’ve seen over and over, however, this can be overcome. Our current youth movement is the sanest, bravest and most revolutionary attempt Padre management has ever made to overcome these odds, not just to catch lightning in a bottle and be great for a single year or two, but to be great for up to a decade or more. Time will tell.
To express individual uniqueness, however, look no further than a team’s uniforms. Any team can choose the uniform they desire, subject to MLB’s approval. They’re certainly not income dependent like other things in baseball. For a couple of decades since abandoning the brown and gold the Padres have dressed in an offshoot of navy blue and white. In other words, it is as if we’re wearing some candy apple hand-me-downs of the Dodgers. What? Why are we imitating that which cannot be imitated? At other times we look like that well-known fashion plate-of-a team, the Milwaukee Brewers. (The only thing San Diego has in common with Milwaukee is the Constitution, baseball, and our baseball team’s colors.) Close your eyes and we look like derivations of half a dozen other teams as well. It’s the opposite of unique. It’s pure, corporate, Madison Avenue circa 1950s bland.
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I was at the Kirby/Gomez “no hitter” Curse game. I was at the Holy Roller game. Though I love the man and what he did for the Padres, I cried when they retired Steve Garvey’s number. By my estimation I witnessed in person, watched on tv or listened on the radio to over 3,000 of Tony’s 3,141 hits. Jerry Coleman’s initials aren’t J.C. for no reason.