Last Sunday, Darklighter and I were able to take part in the Padres' first Social Summit, a gathering of Padres fans active on social media. The idea behind it was to allow fans access to Padres personnal, receive feedback, and give us a chance to voice our concerns. The planning for this event started months ago, but the timing probably couldn't have been better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). With arguably the biggest PR disaster of the year fresh on our minds, we were getting face time with front office executives and other members of the Padres organization.
They made sure to butter us up with food, tshirts, and a suite in which to watch the game against the Dodgers, but there was still a lot of criticism (constructive or not) coming the way of Padres execs, and a lot of angry fans in the room wanting answers and apologies. We got all of those things, and while it's still not enough to gain back complete trust from the fanbase, it was definitely a sign of progress. And underneath it all, it was just a fun day at the ballpark for us to enjoy as fans, which is what we are first and foremost.
Now here's the play-by-play of all the stuff that went down on Sunday...
Upon arrival to the ballpark, I checked in at the gate and received an #SDSocialSummit tshirt, a ticket to that afternoon's game, and a nametag on which I was asked to write my name and Twitter handle. Along with others who had arrived at the same time as me, I took an elevator up to an area overlooking the Coronado bridge as well as an even more beautiful site: breakfast!
I knew they were going to be providing breakfast that morning, so I wore my Gaslamp Ball Breakfasttown tshirt that day (which was also a nod to Tom Garfinkel). I grabbed some food and then went inside to sit and eat while mingling with the other Social Summit attendees, a group of about 40 or so Padres fans who blog and/or are active on social media. I chatted a bit with bloggers from Padres360 and Brady Phelps of Lobshots at our table while I finished my breakfast, and then I walked around the room to talk to others while we waited for our host, Wayne Partello.
As the breakfast portion of the morning started winding down, Partello arrived and chatted with everyone for a bit before having us all sit as he welcomed us and talked a little bit about what we should expect out of the day. He told us we'd be going down to the dugout to meet with Buddy Black for a little bit, then we'd get a tour that would go "beyond the typical ballpark tour." There would be a whiteboard session to get feedback and suggestions on Padres giveaways, followed by some face time with Padres personnel in the form of small group sessions. He stressed that we needed to stay on schedule because they had planned a lot of activities for us to squeeze into the next few hours.
At this time, Partello also invited some questions to start the day. Of course, he started with talking about the BS Plaza fiasco, taking much of the blame for not communicating well with fans, which was a big factor that led to the fan backlash. Someone in the crowd asked if we would be able to see the proposed area of the Plaza on our tour, and Partello said he'd make it happen. He also fielded questions about bringing back the brown (well, he dodged more than fielded this one), why the Padres twitter account supposedly never replies to people's tweets (which seemed to come as a surprise to him, and frankly me), and the Compadres program, which he announced would be making its full return next season.
Buddy Black chat
After asking Partello our opening questions, we all headed down to the field to await Buddy Black for a 15-minute Q&A. While we waited everyone took the time to bask in the beauty of the Petco Park field (which the grounds crew was busy preparing for that day's contest against the Dodgers), take pictures, and experience what it feels like to sit in the dugout.
Buddy arrived after a few minutes, sporting his white baseball pants and a snug athletic shirt, both of which everyone (in attendance at the Social Summit, as well as on Twitter) agreed hugged him in all the right places.
@jodes0405 buddy looks good, not gonna lie— Nicole Jean (@nicole_ehmu) August 31, 2014
After greeting us, Buddy invited us to ask questions. One of the highlights was when Brady asked him how aware he was of the fact that many of us on social media now use the phrase "That's baseball" as sort of a running joke due to his penchant for saying that during his postgame interviews. Buddy replied that he "wasn't aware at all until just now" and joked that he wouldn't be saying that again. We all told him we loved it, though, and he said that from now on if he does say it again, he'll think of us every time.
I freaking LOVE Buddy Black. #SDSocialSummit— Brady Phelps (@LobShots) August 31, 2014
He also answered questions about the team, minor league players and callups, and what was in the Starbucks cup he was drinking out of. The answer to that last question got me pretty excited because that's just another thing we have in common (like our love of the Padres and Aztecs).
Hahn starting again this season isn’t out of the question. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Liriano is in the lineup today! #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Buddy also told us that's he's not active on social media, but he does enjoy texting, to which just about everyone started replying that we would be happy to text him and that he should give us all his number. He told us that he had been recently exchanging texts with SDSU football coach, Rocky Long. Coach Long spent some time in the booth with Mud and Dick a little while back to announce the new weekly Aztecs football show on Fox Sports SD. While there, I noted that Rocky either follows the Padres pretty well or at least did his research before the game, which was refreshing considering some of the people they have on as guests in the booth at times. So to hear that the two of them are texting buddies who do things like text each other good luck before games just made me so happy.
Even though I don’t blog or tweet, I do text! —Buddy Black #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Buddy Black w/ a great story about exchanging texts w/ Rocky Long #SDSocialSummit— Cesar Torres (@WordOfTorres) August 31, 2014
Buddy also took the time to thank us for coming out and for being so passionate about the team, which he appreciates.
Alas, our time with Buddy had to come to an end and we had already gone over our allotted 15-minute time frame with the skipper. But before he could escape, I had him sign one of the Gaslamp Ball stickers I had brought with me. Between this now and my Spring Training postcard fom 2010, I'm pretty certain I have the most uniquely personal Buddy Black memorabilia on the planet.
I already covered this portion of the day for the most part, but some other things that came up during our whiteboard session that I missed in my original post include:
- Friar robe giveaways (I'll give you two guesses who suggested this one)
- Beach bags
- Bullpen backpack giveaway (like the A's did earlier this year)
- Star Wars Night
- Bobbleheads of past players
- Something that has to do with the retired numbers - perhaps a series of giveaways throughout the year that people can collect
- Noisemakers - Cashner/Quackenbush duck calls, vuvuzelas, etc.
- Petco Park / Padres "House Beer" - not a giveaway, but a suggestion for the ballpark, proposed by Darklighter
Mike Dee arrived during our giveaway discussion. When that came to a close, we were still waiting for the arrival of Don Welke so Dee took that time to address the Social Summit crowd as a whole before we split up into smaller groups.
Dee wanted to talk to us all about AJ Preller, but knew we all wanted to discuss BS Plaza, so he dove into that first, explaining how the Padres failed in their approach to announcing the Plaza. He talked about the Padres Hall of Fame being an important part of their plan to celebrate the franchise, and they felt that Selig's contribution was worthy of honor, even though its not something they can necessarily talk about in detail to the public. After all the fan backlash, they did seem to change their original plan, taking the words "Hall of Fame" out of the title and making the Plaza completely separate from the Padres Hall of Fame as well as moving it from the Palm Court Plaza. It's still not ideal, but at the very least everyone's bricks are safe from having Selig's name above them, and the Padres seem to have learned something from this mess. Still, time will tell if they'll really take these lessons to heart and stop making decisions like this that alienate the fan base.
Dee then went on to talk to the whole group about AJ Preller, who couldn't be there that day because he was out... you know, doing his job. Throughout the whole interview process, Preller always seemed like the obvious choice. Other candidates were qualified, for sure, but they knew that Preller was the "right fit" all along.
Question asked about Kim Ng. Dee speaking highly of her, but Preller was their unanimous choice. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Although Preller couldn't be there, he left Don Welke in his place to talk to us. After Welke arrived, Dee was telling us about how he didn't know when Preller slept, because Preller was texting him at 4am earlier that day. All of the things we heard about Preller all day pointed to the fact that he is determined to give Padres fans a winning team and he works his butt off trying to do so.
"I’ve always told him sleep is the enemy." Don Welke on Preller. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
At this point, everyone split up into three groups for a round robin with Padres personnel. Our group first met with Ted Leitner, whom I had noticed looked like a mix between nervous, scared, and excited when he walked into the room. But when he came over to our group, you could tell he was pumped and ready to talk to us. He started by shaking each person's hand. As he got to me, he took a look at my tshirt and said, "What does this say?" I answered, "Welcome to Breakfasttown!" and he laughed. I wondered if he knew the origin of "Breakfasttown" or if he just thought it sounded funny, but either way he got a kick out of it.
Uncle Teddy answered a few questions, but mostly he just talked, which was great. He told us stories and talked about the team and the organization, both present and past.
Leitner referring to late 90s Padres org as Camelot. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
He talked about the late Junior Seau, Jerry Coleman, and Tony Gwynn in reverie, saying that no other fanbase or city has ever had to go through what San Diego fans have gone through the past few years losing these icons. He told us about what a terrible flyer Gwynn was, noting one flight in particular when Tony, who wasn't much of a drinker, had to have three drinks to calm his nerves. Even when he wasn't flying, but just dropping off someone at the airport, he would start to get nervous. Ted also told us how amazing it was being able to say the name Seau on the air again (referring to Micah Seau, Junior's nephew who plays football for San Diego State).
At one point someone asked him about the possibility of doing any TV broadcasting. He talked about his work on TV in the past and then said that people prefer seeing younger men and women on TV while the old guys go to the radio. This didn't make any sense to me because we've got Dick Enberg on TV and Bob Scanlan on radio, but Uncle Teddy said that with Dick's history in broadcasting, he should have the latitude to do and say whatever he wants.
Ted also talked about how much he loves the current Padres ownership. He truly believes that they love this team and this city and they want to do what is best. He was especially high on Ron Fowler, who has been in San Diego and with the Padres for decades. He noted that past owners "bought the Padres and then learned to love them," but that wasn't the case with Fowler.
"Ron’s been here 30 years. He loved the Padres before he bought them." #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Mike Dee and Ron Fowler were next for our group. Darklighter already talked about what they had to say for the most part, which was largely about BS Plaza, so you can check that out here. They also talked about the state of the payroll and the future of the team, Buddy Black (who was ejected from the game the previous night for arguing with an umpire), and more about Preller.
Finally, our group met with Josh Stein and Don Welke, who mostly talked about scouting and how the organization looks for players. My biggest takeaway from this part of our small group meetings was that Don Welke is a treasure. Just by listening to him talk for a short amount of time you can tell the amount of knowledge and love he has when it comes to baseball. Josh Stein was great to hear from as well, especially in contrast with Welke, who's been in the business much longer. You could tell from talking to them that the belief in Preller is real and justified, and that Preller has a strong vision for the team.
"My name is Don Welke. I’ve been with the San Diego Padres for six and a half days." #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Padres developing a much better idea of the type of player that will succeed at Petco. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
"They have to want to be the best guy, not the 5th best guy." -Don Welke on the types of players Preller and co. look for #SDSocialSummit— Jodi Paranal (@jodes0405) August 31, 2014
Mallex Smith is a player we should be watching. In Lake Elsinore right now. 88 stolen bases. #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
"He wants to be Rickey good." #SDSocialSummit— Richard (@gdarklighter) August 31, 2014
Don Welke speaking of being as thorough as possible to find the inner makings of a player. His drive, passion, etc #SDSocialSummit— Cesar Torres (@WordOfTorres) August 31, 2014
Stein talking about identifying players who are wired differently. That value the preparation as much as the game itself #SDSocialSummit— Cesar Torres (@WordOfTorres) August 31, 2014
Welke wants to have organization w/ ability & stability. Develop consistency #SDSocialSummit— Cesar Torres (@WordOfTorres) August 31, 2014
Visiting the Batter's Eye / HoF Plaques and BS Plaza
Following our small groups, we all got together once more to take a mini tour down to see the location of Selig Plaza and talk a bit about the plans for the Padres Hall of Fame. You can read about that in more detail here. We also got to see the plaques in front of the the batter's eye, which are presently hidden from view but will eventually move to the BS Plaza. Being up there also meant we got a peek at Luke Yoder's garden and a magnificent view of the field right before the start of the game.
Finally, it was game time. We were led to the Western Metal Building, running into Mark Kotsay and Mike Pomeranz on the way. There, we were let into a suite stocked with food and non-alcoholic beverages. Soon after we got there, Kotsay came into the suite to chat for a few minutes.
The view was beautiful, though we were surrounded on both sides by Dodgers fans, and the game wasn't the most fun to watch. For as much as we fans have to complain about regarding the organization and how they run things, being able to interact with personnel like we did at this Social Summit isn't something you see with every team, and for that they deserve props. It would have been easy for Fowler and Dee to skip out on this event after what happened last week, but they went into it head-on and faced their critics face to face. There's still a long way to go, but hopefully this helps lead to even more accessibility and less fan disconnect.