Padres get their party started with a win amid proclamations of expectations and hope
A news conference took place at Petco Park the other day. The mayor of San Diego was talking, but my eyes wandered to the enormous gold banner the Padres had hung behind him. The banner dwarfed the mayor, with the Padres declaring their 2021 mission statement in three words: “HUNGRY FOR MORE.”
It is not just that the Padres’ first postseason appearance in 14 years has been classified as an appetizer. It is that the Padres, within a few short months, have morphed from that fun bunch dressed in brown into a team that can inspire shock and awe.
It is difficult to overstate the anticipation surrounding the Padres this season.
For San Diego, this could be the best team ever fielded here, in any sport, in a city that never has won anything.
For Major League Baseball, these Padres could be the best hope to stop the big, bad Dodgers from repeating as World Series champions. In an opening day letter to fans Thursday, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked up what he called “story lines everywhere” within the sport.
The first story line he listed: “A new marquee rivalry in Southern California.”
Corey Seager will stay as hot as he’s been since October and win the NL MVP award; the Angels won’t have enough pitching — again; and other predictions.
We’ll see. The Dodgers have won eight consecutive National League West titles. The Padres haven’t won one since 2006, when Dave Roberts was their left fielder.
In February, when the Padres signed shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year contract — the longest in major league history — general manager A.J. Preller said this in a statement: “Fernando is a special talent who will be instrumental in bringing a world championship to the city of San Diego.”
When might Padres fans expect that world championship?
“Any time soon,” Tatis said. “Any time I’m on the field, they should be expecting that, because that’s what I dedicate my work for.”
Preller had no interest in publicly prodding the beast. He called the Dodgers “a phenomenal team” and said the Padres’ “first and foremost goal is to get back to October.”
Yet Preller also made clear this is not an all-in year for the Padres.
“The next five-plus years, if we do it the right way, we have a chance to put together a really competitive and fun product at the major league level,” Preller said.
On opening day, the Padres stars did not shine. Tatis struck out three times and committed an error that led to three unearned runs. Manny Machado went 0 for 5. Yu Darvish gave up four runs and made 93 pitches without getting out of the fifth inning.
Still, the Padres scored eight runs, just enough for an 8-7 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jake Cronenworth reached base four times. Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers homered. Hosmer and Victor Caratini each drove in three runs.
“We think we can be the best offense in the league,” Hosmer said.
After fans were barred from the ballpark last season because of the pandemic, opening day was less of a ceremony and more of a festival. The spirited crowd of 8,773 booed Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner, jeered an umpire after a disputed call and chanted “M-V-P” for Tatis. On the stadium video board, Tatis danced, fans chugged beers and one fan held up this sign: “SO HAPPY TO BE HERE.”
That, really, was the point the mayor made the other day. With Petco Park — and, to be fair, Dodger Stadium — serving as mass vaccination sites, communities had gotten one day closer to the end of the pandemic. As Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sean Doolittle said last year, sports are the reward of a functioning society.
MLB understandably needs some time to canvass owners and build consensus on moving the 2021 All-Star game out of Atlanta. So announce it on Jackie Robinson Day.
“Hope is here, not just for the new season and for the potential of a World Series win, but for the opportunity to get back to regular life,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said, “and I can’t think of a more quintessentially American thing than baseball.
“This is a good day. This is hope for San Diegans.”
That was Tuesday. Thursday was a good day, too, with more hope for San Diegans. For a day, at least, the Padres were in first place, and the Dodgers were in last.
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