All of these first baseball memory fanposts got me thinking I should put my own story down as well. Because it was a story almost 20 years in the making. As most are aware I'm not a San Diego native, like many of you. I was born to two New Englanders who'd made their way to California in the early 80's for my dad's job. They settled in the San Francisco Bay Area's South Bay, not exactly fertile ground for Padres fandom.
The earliest baseball memory I have (that I can accurately enough date to a year) would be my first MLB game. It was in 1986. The family were back visiting my grandparents near Boston on the longest summer vacation I had taken before or since because my dad had a six week company sabbatical (yeah those were a thing) plus some regular time off tacked on to it. Being from New England, my dad to that point was a life long suffering Red Sox fan, and while we were back east he took me to Fenway Park to see a game. I distinctly remember sitting on the 1st base side of the ballpark. Looking at the Green Monster, the big Citgo Sign, that quirky outfield, etc... It was a great time, and to this day I still have an affinity for that old mecca of baseball.
But I was not destined to become a Red Sox fan. Later that year a guy named Bill Buckner kicked a ground ball and my dad's long suffering Sox fandom reached an end. After 35 years of abuse and a 3rd decade of the Sox choking away a World Series he'd had enough. He jumped ship the next spring in 1987 to what was now our local American League team, the Oakland A's due in part to his job and a communal season ticket package some of his buddies had that he bought into. It wasn't long before he took me to my second game at the Oakland Coliseum that summer. I don't remember the exact date, but I've seen pictures of me standing outside Gate D at the Coliseum. "Gates" at the Coliseum are less "gates" and more these long dark foreboding tunnels that take you into the depths of the artificial hill they built that old multipurpose donut into. The concourses were equally as dark, so it's not until you move to your seats that you finally emerge into the light again and your eyes take a second to adjust. I remember that distinctly, and then seeing the huge field that the Coliseum has due to the notorious foul territory. I was hooked.
My first Padres exposure came 2 years later. We were a dedicated A's household from '87 on. Making the series in '88 didn't hurt matters any. But what we weren't were Giants fans. Maybe my parents are contrarians, maybe they just never liked the city of San Francisco, maybe they just really liked the DH, maybe the South Bay and East Bay's inferiority complex with regard to SF rubbed off on them. But for whatever reason we did not like the Giants in my house despite the fact all the families we knew were Giants fans.
We didn't listen to the Giants, we didn't read newspaper articles on them, nothing. But being forbidden makes them somewhat intriguing too for a little kid... particularly a little kid with his own radio. So one night I was fooling around with the AM band and came across a Giants away game. And who were the Giants playing that night in 1989... the Padres.
Don't know why but to my little mind in that pre-interleague play era, it had never occurred to me that there were other teams that played the Giants in that other National League, other than the Dodgers. I only knew the then 14 teams in the American League, the Dodgers, and the Giants. So to suddenly be hearing about this other National League team that played in California was frankly intriguing. So much so that I grabbed my old Fisher Price cassette deck and actually put its microphone up to the radio's speaker and recorded the entire remainder of the game. I must've listened to that game a dozen more times hearing names like Santiago, Templeton, Alomar, and of course Gwynn.
It would be several years before I'd even see these "Padres" on TV, but the idea that there was this non-Giants, non-Dodgers team that to that point had never to my knowledge ever played the A's, and thus weren't an enemy team in my young mind, never left me. As the 90's wore on however I would be seeing more and more of them, particularly starting around '96. and thus they became my NL or "other" team.
It wasn't until August 19, 2001 however that I finally got to see the Padres in person. It was my first summer home from college. My summer job had dried up, my old high school friends had spread to the 4 corners and not come home from college. My college friends had all gone home to Seattle and Colorado for the summer. Which left me with nothing to do. So on a lark I decided to do all 5 California ballparks in 5 days with my little brother, figured it would be a great opportunity to not only hit all the Parks, but to see the Padres in person. We hit up a Friday night game at the Giants then brand new Pac Bell Park against the Braves (Maddux was the winning pitcher). Next morning we packed up my Volkswagen and hit the road to LA to catch a Dodgers night game against the Mets where I got my first MLB ball of any kind on the pitiful kindness of the Mets BP coach. I scheduled the trip turnaround, and lone day game, for that Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Padres were playing the Expos, in what would be the only time I'd ever see that team in person. It was also the only time I ever saw Tony Gwynn play in person. We got the Qualcomm really early driving down from our hotel in Anaheim. Puttered around the park watching BP and generally roasting our butts off. We had field level seats on the 3rd base side moveable seating. I can still remember how hot those things were in the mid morning San Diego sun, it was like sitting in a solar oven. We wandered down toward home plate to wave at players, wandered out to the outfield seating trying to snag a ball (no dice). The game as I recall once it got going was pretty uneventful low scoring game, until Tony, who was fighting an injury at the time, pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th. I remember the Q suddenly perking up when Tony stepped in. He got a single as I recall and was pulled from the game as quickly as he'd come in. The Pads didn't do anything with it however and like that the game was over, a 2-1 loss.
It was getting late and we had a long drive back to Anaheim (and a game the next night) so we didn't linger too long in SD, just long enough to get dinner at the Fish Market in Del Mar. We hit Anaheim the next day against the Sox, and finished up the trip in Oakland against the Indians. All but the Angels games were close 1 run affairs and all 5 were lost by the home teams strangely. None of the games was particularly noteworthy, and of course everything in the world got overshadowed by the events that occurred mere weeks later on September 11th. But to this day, the most memorable baseball thing we saw on the trip, was Tony.
I never saw another baseball game at the Q. But a few years later in 2004, I visited my now wife and her grandparents and the one thing I made sure to schedule for the trip, was a visit to then brand new Petco Park and made sure to sit in the best seats I could find, first row on the third base side, Section 122. I was smitten with the beautiful ballpark from the moment I laid eyes on it. And everyone was just having a great time at the game was the biggest takeaway I had that day. I knew I wanted to be part of that more than ever. When I moved down to San Diego a couple years after that the first thing I did after unpacking, was to buy Padres season tickets. It took me the better part of 20 years from sneaking that first radio broadcast of the Giants v Padres back in 1989, to finally being a full blown full time obsessive Padres fan, but good things come to those that wait. The payoff has definitely been worth it in my book.