Taco Train Update: Learning to Fly

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Credit: USA Today Sports


Watching the Astros slay the Yankees, one is reminded that, for most teams, it’s a long road towards the ultimate prize.

The Cubs bottomed out consistently before ascending to where they are now. The Astros were the worst team in all of baseball for three years running, and followed that up with a 90+ loss season, before ascending. Many smug, self-serving analysts argue the Astros are where they are because they were leaders in sabermetrics before everyone joined that wave. While no doubt that played a part, it ignores the fact Houston stockpiled high draft picks for years, all the while languishing at the very bottom of the baseball pond. They’ve finally made it to the surface, ready for some air.

The Padres are just learning to fly themselves. It’s been argued the Padres don’t even know how to tank, that in their attempt to be the worst team in baseball they’ve only been 3rd worst, or 7th, or 9th. Nary a #1 pick can be found. Pity the poor Padres, even when they’re bad, they’re no good.

It’s no time to fret, however. Karma may finally be on the Padres’ side. In the 2017 draft, we had the number three pick and came away with left-handed pitcher Mackenzie Gore. Many scouts and draft geeks considered Gore the best player in the draft. In the summer of 2016, when we traded James Shields and some cash to the Chicago White Sox, we walked away with Fernando Tatis, Jr. During a superlative 2017 minor league campaign in which he rose to double-A as an 18-year-old, Tatis was oft-compared to Carlos Correa and/or Manny Machado, two of the finest talents in the game. (Correa, starting shortstop of the Astros, was the number one overall pick in 2012. Machado was the number three pick in 2010; Bryce Harper was number one that year.)

Via the 2016 domestic draft (whereby they had numerous supplemental picks), and an unprecedented splurge in international signings that same summer, the Padres have stockpiled the farm system to a degree unmatched in Padre history. It’s old news at this point, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Not only is there exceptional talent at the top, there’s extraordinary depth throughout. Not only are we learning to fly, but the Taco Train is built to last.

In the meantime, we begin to sprout wings. In 2017, young players Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, Carlos Asuaje, Dinelson Lamet, and Luis Perdomo began making their claims to be legitimate, big league difference makers. Young “veterans” like Wil Myers, Cory Spangenberg, Jose Pirela, and Yangervis Solarte gained experience. We’ve begun to ascend, but it’s not a linear process. Myers hits 30 home runs, but strikes out like Dave Kingman, barely knocks in 70, and plays defense like North Korea. Renfroe has a strike zone the size of the river from his home state, the Mississippi. Perdomo can’t induce enough double plays to offset his inflated WHIP. Problems persist everywhere.

But we’ve started the journey. Only God knows where we’re headed. If you don’t believe in God, then only the future knows, and what if we don’t have one? A story for another day. We don’t know the ultimate destination, but we’ve set course for the promised land, for Tierra Santa, and like the lost tribes of Israel from days of yore, I believe one day we’ll find it. Once we find it, we’ll make a nice, San Diego home there. As Petty, God rest his soul, said, we’ll know when we get there.

I’m learning to fly
But I ain’t got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

So I’ve started out
For God knows where
I guess I’ll know
When I get there

– Tom Petty, RIP

Despite the yawning differences between us, the Padres can see their future in a team like the Astros. Smaller market, young talent, and hopefully key front office decision-making at the crucial moments. (Think, adding veterans Evan Gattis, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran to supplement the kids. Think, trading for Justin Verlander at the deadline to get over the top.) Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even play them in a World Series. By then, they’ll be the team of experience and we’ll be the young up-and-comers.

The Friars simply must focus on themselves. The Dodgers will likely remain a powerhouse in the division for some time. The rest of the division will also likely not be slouches. We can’t wake up every day and compare ourselves to them, however, and manager Andy Green won’t let his team do that. We simply must play to the maximum of our ability, and let the chips fall, presumably, somewhere between the desert and the ocean, hopefully somewhere over center field and Manny Margot in Petco.

We need to learn to fly, let our wings grow. It will take a little more time. I predict one day we will fly and won’t have to come back down. We’ll just keep on soaring, higher and higher, where no Padre team has ever gone before. The air we breathe will be sweet, it will taste like sugar in our lungs, like destiny in our dreams. We won’t ever come back down. Only God will know where we are, somewhere between Chula Vista and Valhalla, between La Mesa and Nirvana. Luis Urias will have a permanent .400 OBA, Cal Quantrill will win 17 every year. Wil Myers will have a .900 OPS. (I can dream.) We’ll float on the skyway from Del Mar to downtown, from Oceanside to Ocean Beach. 2017 will be trumped by the triumph of America’s Finest Baseball Team. We will have learned to fly. They won’t ever be able to take it away from us, and even if they do, we’ll always have our wings.

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