The Phillies gave their supposedly beloved interim manager, Pete Mackanin, an extension before the season, predicated on the good work he had done the previous year and how the team had responded to his leadership. The Phillies’ young players proceeded to play like pigs in a slough on a rainy day, and critics wondered if Mackanin was the right man.
Hall of Fame manager and ex-Padre, Bruce Bochy, acted completely befuddled by the giant egg his Giants laid at every turn this year, looking more like a relic and every ounce the manager who hated to rely on youth to win baseball games. The A’s once again sold off promising pieces and played reverse Robin Hood Moneyball by stealing dollars out of their beleaguered fans’ wallets and saving it up for nobody but themselves. The manager of the Tigers, another ex-Padre, Brad Ausmus, lost complete control of his team, looking like he couldn’t manage his way out of a doghouse even if plates of meat had been left out in the yard at second base as scraps for players to feed on. Woof, woof.
Many teams were far more pitiful on and off the field than the Padres. The Taco Train whistled passed them and hardly anybody outside the East Village Times or wherever you get your dose of optimistic Padre cheer even noticed. Certainly, nobody at MLB Network or ESPN did. As was bound to happen, however, along the way, Green was thrown into the tempest. After Anthony Rizzo slid like a cheap shot artist and injured Hedges at the plate in Chicago in early summer, Green refused to order his pitchers to retaliate by throwing at Rizzo the next day, eliciting howls of protest and derision from fans and pundits alike. The players, some of whom admittedly were surprised by Green’s directive, ultimately seemed to rally around their turn-the-other-cheek manager. Even though Green was short in stature, almost leprechaun-like, his presence became larger, rising above the normal baseball verisimilitudes, yet still viscerally grinding it out from below. He made Cubs manager Joe Madden look like the petty, self-absorbed caricature of himself many in baseball know him to be, and far from the Padres becoming pushovers as some expected due to the Chicago escapade, it seemed to increase their resolve.
Green’s resolve worked in the Padres’ favor in other ways as well. When Alex Wood of the Dodgers showed his true paranoid self, and accused Pirela of relaying signs from second base in a game in the middle of summer, verbally threatening to hit him in the head if he did it again (Pirela never did it in the first place), it ultimately led to an on-field argument between Green and Dodger manager, Dave Roberts. I don’t know Dave Roberts, but every single person in baseball says how much they love Dave Roberts, and how he is one of their favorite people in all of baseball.
Well, maybe. But on that gorgeous summer night in San Diego, Andy Green said something to Roberts about the imbecilic Wood, which set off Roberts, so much so that he charged Green and attacked him. Was that the Dave Roberts that everybody in baseball knows and loves so well? All I know is this: Andy Green is the one person in baseball who knows how to get under Dave Roberts’ skin, who knows how to push his buttons. This is no small advantage heading into the future where the Goliath in the division for the foreseeable future remains the hated team from the immediate north. When soon the Taco Train comes around the corner and makes a beeline for the Promised Land, it is an advantage that should and will be used at the appropriate time(s), and could one day prove vital.
Steady as she goes, the Taco Train is in safe hands.
We have a tough schedule to finish up, playing teams with more talent and more at stake, and we’re bound to lose more than our fair share. Most likely, anyway. But the tone already has been set, the foundation has been laid. I know some wished we would have lost 120 this year and garnered the first pick in the draft, but something more important has happened: the Padres began to play the Padre Way. You could call it the Andy Green Way, but actually, it is an organizational effort. I haven’t mentioned Darren Balsley, but the pitching coach in some ways is the originator of the Padre Way, having been here since the early 2000’s and consistently getting the maximum out of the minimum, and doing it professionally, with good cheer and an even keel to boot. Soon enough, possibly as early as next year, we won’t be working with “the minimum”, but with the waves of talent paddling to the San Diego shore for many years to come. We’ll be working with the wheat, not just the chaff. So long as we continue to do it “the San Diego Way”, it’ll all be good.
That’s the hope anyway. Keep the faith, for where there is a foundation, a house can be built, a mansion can be constructed with many rooms, including one with your name on it. With the tracks laid, the Taco Train can travel, taking on the form of many different shapes and colors, classes and genders, taking on the identity of the city we love and call home. We are all part of the Taco Train. Just like on God’s train, there is no legal or illegal on the TT, no majority or minority, no kangaroo trolls or conspiratorial monks. It doesn’t take documentation to enter Petco or root for a favorite player.
The Taco Train is more than a game or a goal, it is a memory, a memory of things that haven’t yet happened. Think about that for the moment. In a parallel universe, we’ve already won the World Series. The glory of the “go-go Padre 20s” has already happened. Now we just have to make it so. Some say 2017 has been a disappointment, either because we’ve won too much or we haven’t won enough. That’s folly. 2017 is the year the Taco Train shed blood on the tracks to lay the foundation. These are the tracks it will ride into the future. This is the solid rock upon which the Padres will build from here on out.
Elvis, the King, took the mystery train. Jesus, the King of Kings, began the slow train. (If you don’t believe in Elvis or Jesus, insert your own revolutionary mystic. They’ll suffice.) The mysterious, slow train winds its way inextricably through many ports of this world and its taco variant has found its way to our fair city, born anew in every small taqueria in the county, in every draft pick and international signing headed our way. Beware the naysayers and the soothsayers, they hold onto things from the past. They haven’t so much lost faith so much as their faith has become stale, antiquated, too petite for the challenges we face. They still dream about Trea Turner, the Chargers, reduced traffic, even Pete Wilson and the flow of immigration. Embrace the memories instead, the memories yet to come. Find your room in the mansion and prepare to ride down the tracks with the Taco Train to glory. To paraphrase a great man, this is a world full of losers, we’re pulling out of here to win. Soon enough we will ride that train from Lake Elsinore to San Antonio to El Paso, and from El Paso back to San Diego, and find ourselves one day in the Promised Land. Once there, we will meet each other, we will greet each other, and know each other for the first time. This is no small thing, and in fact, it’s the only thing.
Get there as if your life depends on it. Who knows, it just might.