PEORIA, Ariz. — It’s the most laid-back city in this country.
We’re talking, of course, about San Diego
Formal dress attire in “America’s Finest City” is putting on a pair of jeans and white Chuck Taylors instead of shorts and flip-flops.
Fish taco joints qualify as five-star restaurants.
Fine arts are sand castles on Pacific and Mission Beach.
Since the San Diego Chargers moved north, there’s only one professional sports team in town. And that team, the Padres, happen to have the worst all-time winning percentage of any active team in Major League Baseball, have not had a winning record since 2010, were last in the playoffs 13 years ago and have never won a World Series championship.
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The Padres decided to dramatically change that narrative and jarred this sleepy city like a tsunami, dropping $300 million on Manny Machado, generating a buzz in their clubhouse last seen when Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti and Trevor Hoffman were teammates two decades ago.
“It’s amazing what that has done here,” Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said Wednesday morning. “It’s a tremendous leap for this club and organization.
“In the last 24 hours, there’s such a vibe and buzz, everyone is so excited. We can’t wait for him to get here.
“I know San Diego is so pumped.”
Hosmer, who signed the biggest contact in Padres’ history – eight-years, $144 million – a year ago, understands what a championship-caliber sports franchise can do for a city. He lived it.
Hosmer, drafted and signed by the Kansas City Royals in 2008, watched the franchise struggle for years before managing a winning record in 2013. They reached the World Series in 2014, and a year later, were World Series champs for the first time in 30 years.
“There’s something about a city not having experienced it in a long time,” Hosmer said, “to be the group that kind of re-energizes, regroups a city. It’s such a unique feeling.
“Everybody’s dying to see what San Diego can be like. We’re hoping we can bust out the city.”
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Padres infielder Greg Garcia, the grandson of former Padres manager Dave Garcia, perhaps knows better than any of his teammates what it would mean for the Padres to win again. He was born and raised in the San Diego area. He grew up a diehard Padres fan. Loved the San Diego Chargers and was a season-ticket holder.
Now, with the Chargers gone, he feels the city’s pain and anguish just like every other San Diegan, believing the Padres can go a long way to healing their sports soul.
“I was a big Chargers’ fan, but I’m like a lot of people in San Diego, I can’t root for them,” he said. “Can’t do it. It’s brutal. I experienced the same thing in St. Louis when the Rams left. Those people felt the same way.
“Now, it’s up to us players to go out there and build a culture, because San Diego deserves a winner. And I think we’re just the team to do it.
“I think this town is ready to explode.”
Padres manager Andy Green stressed the impact they can make in the community during his inaugural spring-training speech, telling the players they can make a real difference in the community, helping San Diego regain civic pride.
“In our meeting,” Padres catcher Austin Hedges said, “we talked about how starved this city is for wins. That’s what we expect to give them.”
The NFL, NBA and ABA has come and gone in San Diego, and the Padres have been around for 50 years, but never has a major San Diego franchise won a championship.
“We, as an organization want to completely change that,” general partner Peter Seidler told reporters “We want our franchise to win year after year after year. We’re going to do whatever we can rationally do to help make that happen.”
The Padres, with baseball’s strongest farm system, aren’t fooling themselves or anyone else into thinking they are going to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West this year. Probably not the Colorado Rockies, either. You still need pitching to win in this game.
Yet, after committing $527 million on Machado, Hosmer and Wil Myers the last three winters, Padres chairman Ron Fowler and Seidler are letting everyone in San Diego know that mediocrity will no longer be tolerated.
They’re here to win.
And it better be soon.
“We’re the only sports team available to watch now,” Padres catcher Chris Stewart said, “so hopefully it will draw the fans out of the woodwork. Maybe, the former football fans will turn into Padres’ fans now. Hopefully, they’ll come out in droves this season and finally fill that stadium.
“My God, after getting Manny, we’re sure pushing for it, I know that.”
Machado, 26, the four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, is scheduled to arrive in town Thursday night, after undergoing a second set of physicals for the Padres to insure his contract. His press conference is tentatively scheduled for Friday morning. He’ll step onto the field for the first time wearing a Padres’ uniform, and instantly, the Padres will once again be relevant.
“The guy just got $300 million,” Hosmer said, “so the respect level in the game of baseball for him is definitely there.”
Machado may be just one man, but being the richest free agent in baseball history, he has not only lifted up an organization, but also an entire community.
Machado could be the Padres’ first player to start an All-Star Game since Gwynn in 1998, their first player since Adrian Gonzales in 2010 to hit 32 homers, and perhaps even be only the second MVP in Padres’ history, joining Caminiti in 1996.
Said Garcia: “I’ll tell you, it’s a great time to be a Padre.”