Even the losers (get lucky sometimes)
– Tom Petty, RIP
There’s a long-distance train rolling through the rain
Tears on the letter I write
– Bob Dylan, Where Are You Tonight?
So, another one in the can. All that’s left to be done is to edit the highlights, ruminate over the lowlights, and pour over the numbers. Yes, there’s always the numbers to be poured over. It could have been so much worse. I dare you, go back and look at our opening day roster and try to figure out where 60 wins will come from. Heck, even 50 or 55 Ws. Like playing the championship tees at the U.S. Open when everyone else is hitting off the ladies’ tees. Like finagling hurricane relief with nobody in Congress to fight for you. Like rooting your whole life for the one remaining major league team left in town that has a historical 3611 – 4201, .462% W-L record. Like Petty said – God rest his soul – even the losers. But will we get lucky?
Despite it all, many of us Padre fans are indeed feeling lucky today. We didn’t lose 105 games, we lost 91. Not much to hang one’s hat on, but better than the kick in the groin most of us expected. Andy Green seems to be able to “manage up” anybody placed in front of him – Rule 5ers, aging vets, raw rookies, hungry players just looking for their one true shot. It’s kind of exciting to imagine him managing a talented squad of 25. The sky’s the limit. Not to mention Darren Balsley. He’s always been revered in Padre Land as an exceptional pitching coach. But in the back of the mind one wondered whether all his reclamation projects had reclaimed themselves as much due to the Grand Canyon-like dimensions of Petco as to the teaching magic of Balsley.
But the fences have come in at Petco. The park plays more neutral. And still Balsley per capita gets more milk out of his pitching cows than anyone in baseball. Or at least is anybody’s equal. He’s an absolute gem which the national media knows nothing about. Once again, the imagination starts to run wild. What can he do with the dozen or more top of the rotation arms rapidly ascending out of the farm system upon San Diego? What is the upside for all these pitchers with Balsley in charge? I sit here at the typewriter and try not to salivate. I wipe my mouth with pennant fever. I swallow my Starbucks passion iced tea with…yes…passion. Pitching and defense can win you some championships, even in this day of the repetitive and over-emphasized long ball.
Just watch the playoffs. Nobody has any pitching!! Pitchers getting crushed all over the place. All it takes is three or four first class arms along with an assembly of relievers and you got yourself a contender. No wonder we’re feeling lucky. We’re loaded with arms in the farm system. Some of them are bound to make a splash in the bigs, and then some.
Still, the mountain to climb is high. We’re no longer at base camp. That was last year. We’re at the first way station up the trail. We haven’t left anybody behind. Sure, we passed the Giants bloodied and bowed in the bushes halfway up, but like everyone in our division, they have more natural resources than us. While our farm system is in the top three of all of baseball, the Giants basically don’t have one. However, they still have Bumgarner, Posey, and a whole lot of cash they can splash around to get well and get back up the mountain. They may yet rise from the dead.
Farther up the trail in the “Wild Card station” are the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. Neither organization are suckers. Both are well run. Both have stars. The Rockies finally have some young arms who will be around for a while to supplement all their hitting. For the Diamondbacks, Greinke, while still a solid pitcher, is on the downside and his salary will be an albatross around their neck for another five years unless they can dump him. Of course, Goldschmidt has another three to five good years left in him at least. Both teams are tough. God didn’t do us any favors putting us in this division. The Wild Card station is our next destination. Bring it on.
That leaves the Dodgers. They’re at the top of the mountain. They haven’t won the World Series since ’88 (we’ll see what happens this year), but they’re loaded. Still, they have cracks too. Kershaw’s thrown a ton of innings the last 8-9 years, and has a bad back to boot. The rest of the rotation comes and goes. Bellinger, while a terrific young player, does have holes in his swing. Hey, I’m grasping. Still, we’re David and they’re Goliath. If you read Malcolm Gladwell, that means WE ultimately have the advantage. That means victory will one day be ours. Malcolm Gladwell is a really smart person- I’ll go with him. Maybe not a lot of room for error, but enough room to claim our destiny.
If nothing else, A.J. Preller, our general manager, sleeps less than anybody else, or so the urban myth goes. Always looking for an angle, a new path to the mountain top. Allegedly, he expects the same from his scouts, beating the unbeaten paths in endless searches for quicker routes up the mountain. They’ve been in place for three years now. The Padre front office machine is humming like a pack of surfers riding a clean, incoming set. I know at best I am a naïve optimist, at worst a corny fool. I’ve been a hardcore fan since 1970 and my faith has never wavered. I’ve kept it all this time, but now it’s been renewed. Feeling lucky? Certainly. Feeling renewed and lucky. Hard to feel better than that.
To quote a Nobel laureate, the Taco Train is a long-distance train rolling through the rain. We’re in it for the long haul. The hard rain of the Western Division will make it difficult, but that’s just one of the reasons why it will be so satisfying when we get to the top. We must live with our past, so ugly, so inglorious, so unlucky, but we don’t have to look back at it. Don’t look back, a famous man once said, and I only look back when I want to tell tall tales of forgotten Padre legends or, more likely, funny anecdotes of Padre ineptitude. Yeah, I’ve been a Padre fan for most of my life and in that span, it’s mostly been losing. Even when we made the World Series we ultimately lost in humiliating ways. We’ve never had the last laugh. Now we don’t even have the Chargers. God rest our souls along with Petty’s.
But like Petty said, even the losers get lucky sometimes. When that day comes – and next year will be another advancement up the trail – it’ll be because of so much more than just luck. It’ll be borne of long-term vision, hard work, organization, belief, and blood, sweat, and tears. At the moment of truth, however, at the denouement of destiny, God will drop us a little good fortune – a healthy pitching staff, a bloop double by Luis Urias in a key playoff game, an umpire’s call that turns Game 7 of the World Series in our favor. Because yes, even the losers get lucky sometimes, and as Padre fans, we’ve been losers all our lives. Our turn is coming, up around the bend. The long-distance train is rolling through the rain. 2017 is over. It was a new beginning. Next year we start healing the pain.
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.