SAN DIEGO — The soccer players, dressed in black shirts and black shorts, lined up in front of the visiting dugout at Petco Park. These were the Xolos, the Tijuana-based champions of the top Mexican league. The San Diego Padres had graciously invited the Xolos to train at Petco, a nod to the regional appeal of the soccer team, but first the mayor had something to say.
"Thank you for giving us a championship," San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said, raising his palms toward the sky as he drew out the next two words for effect. "Some day, maybe the Padres will. Some day, the Chargers might."
The Dodgers were sold last year, and the new owners were greeted like conquering heroes. The Padres were sold last year, and the new owners quickly learned the mayor is not the only one in town tired of bad baseball and broken promises.
The new owners have a brand name to sell, one that stands for excellence in baseball, on and off the field. Of the five primary owners, two are sons of former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, and two are nephews.
But the boys aren't pitching the O'Malley name as a way to sell San Diego on new and improved ownership. The owner out front is Ron Fowler, prominent in sports, business and philanthropy here for three decades.
"We've all spent all our lives up in L.A.," said Peter Seidler, nephew of Peter O'Malley and grandson of Walter O'Malley, the Hall of Fame owner who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn.
That is not a badge of honor around here.
"The city views itself as the anti-L.A.," Fowler said, "whether that's good or bad."
What is bad, at least arguably, is that the Padres' new owners must compete with the Dodgers' new owners, and their apparently endless supply of money.
"We're not going to just idly throw money at it," Fowler said. "That's not San Diego."
It is one thing to say the Padres cannot match the Dodgers' financial resources, quite another to suggest it is a civic virtue not to do so.
"They're not looking for flash and dash here," Fowler said. "They have seen it over the years. They have seen fire sales. What I think the people are looking for is a consistent, winning tradition — that hasn't been here in quite some time — and to do it in a judicious, reasonable manner.
"Every now and then, we'll surprise people with a move that might seem improbable."
This might seem improbable: The Padres are ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West. The winning percentage of each team under its new owners, including last year and through Friday: Padres .520; Dodgers .486.
"We said we thought we had a better team in terms of position players than anybody else did," Fowler said. "I think we've demonstrated that.
"The whole world knows we need some pitching. We are going to do what we need to do there."
They ought to, for the sake of long-suffering Padres fans. The Padres might be happy they were outbid last winter on pitchers Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, but at some point they have to get somebody, just as a show of faith.
The Padres signed outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street to extensions last summer, but they signed no new players last winter. Fowler announced in May that the Padres would offer third baseman Chase Headley the largest contract in club history, but Headley immediately said he had told the Padres he did not want to negotiate during the season.
"No one told us Headley did not want to talk about it," said Fowler, adding that he was fine with Headley's position and that the team did not plan to trade its third baseman. "I would be shocked if Headley were not here in August."
The Padres' payroll jumped from $55 million to $70 million in the first year of new ownership, ranking 25th among the 30 major league teams. The team ranked last or next to last in three of the previous four seasons; Fowler said he would like to see the Padres' payroll settle in at about 20th, give or take a couple of spots either way.