We've all heard it. San Diego isn't a good baseball town. The Padres suffer because their "fans" are apathetic, too laid back or just have too many other entertainment options in America's Finest City.
What a bunch of crap.
Yes, we have lots of things to do here. We have the beach, the bay, the zoo, Balboa Park, Sea World, golfing, night clubs, great dining, blah, blah, blah. So what? Are you seriously telling me that a significant number of people choose not to go to a baseball game because they decided to go to the beach, or to Tijuana or to see Shamu throw a trainer around? Are these things mutually exclusive?
If you look at the attendance rankings for any particular year (see last years at http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance/_/year/2009) you will notice a very simple trend; teams that drew well were either from one of the very big markets or making a playoff run (or had made a playoff run in a recent year) or both. The teams that did not draw well did neither. Period. There were plenty of markets that had lots of other things to do (New York, Chicago) as well as markets with relatively little to do (St. Louis, Detroit) that drew just fine, thank you very much.
But as to the question of whether San Diego is a "good baseball town" I want to remind the talking heads at ESPN of the following:
San Diego has had professional baseball since 1936 with the PCL Padres, not just since 1969.
San Diego has had organized baseball played on a large scale since the 1870s.
San Diego has been the cradle for some of the greatest players to have ever played the game including Ted Williams, David Wells, Adrian Gonzalez, Graig Nettles, Aaron Harang and Cole Hamels, among others.
An even longer list of great baseball people have had the wisdom to choose to make San Diego their home including Dick Enberg, Jerry Coleman, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Bud Black, Trevor Hoffman, Steve Finley, Dave Roberts, Brad Ausmus and (I can't believe I am saying this) Mark Grant.
Finally, a lot of fans end up moving to San Diego from other parts of the country and two or three of those people adopt the Padres as their team. True, many keep their old home-town teams as their favorites but many of those fans root for the Padres whenever that other team is not in the mix. That is why that one guy at the end of the row who is usually in Padres gear shows up to three games looking like he got lost trying to get to Wrigley Field. But you know what, those folks still love baseball and they love the chance to go to a big-league game.
Our city is not an excuse and our fans do not need to have any excuses made for them. There is a core group of Padres fans that is very knowledgeable and dedicated. Can that fan base be larger? Sure. I do believe that the Padres can and should invest energy into turning some of the "spectators" that come to games into "fans" who are more in tune with the play on the field, turning them more into students of the game. Fans follow every ball and strike and appreciate the nuances of baseball, like a well executed double-play or a successful hit-and-run or stolen base. Spectators just want to be where the people are, it could just as easily be a night club as a ball park. Turn a percentage of the spectators into fans each year by helping them understand what a beautiful game baseball is and you can build a population that will show up to games just because it is major-league baseball. To their credit, the Cubs, the Cardinals and the Red Sox have fans that root for their club through thick and thin. Granted, it has been mostly thick for those guys lately but they have drawn well for a long time.
That could be us. A surfboard or a zoo won't, and doesn't, keep a real baseball fan away.