Padres fans lament opening day without baseball

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SAN DIEGO — This was to be the day of red, white and blue bunting and when brown pinstripes really, truly, officially made their debut.

And it would have been when 94-year-old Bill Doughty watched the Padres for a few hours of enjoyment and relief.

Doughty has bladder cancer and was moved into hospice a few weeks ago.

Oh, how his stepdaughter, Maggie Cascio, was looking forward to talking later Thursday or maybe Friday about Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado and whether Bill thought the new manager had made the right moves in his first game.

“I am so sad that there are no Padres baseball games for him to watch to take his mind off of his discomfort,” Cascio said via e-mail. “… He can’t do much but sit and watch TV. I would give anything to have games for him to watch. Tatis and Machado and Paddack could take his mind off of the pain for a few hours a day and I’d love to see if Jayce Tingler could pass muster with him.”

Opening day is a holiday for baseball fans, the day in which optimism flows before it ebbs.

There was so much to look for forward to on this opening day.

“I was excited to see (Tommy) Pham, Tatis, Machado and (Eric) Hosmer hit in the same lineup,” said Dale Huntington, pastor of City Life Church in Southeast San Diego, who is rarely seen without one Padres cap or another. “… I would’ve listened to the game and watched the game center on ESPN. I don’t have the bling to go to opening day, but I celebrate it. Opening day has been on my calendar for months. I’ve left it there and each time I open up my calendar it taunts me.”


Baseball, like pretty much everything else, is sidelined.

Games will be played again someday. Maybe next month or July or next year.

That opening day, whenever it is, will almost certainly bring with it a renewed appreciation for the games and so much else taken away that was so often taken for granted.

But today, Padres fans’ perpetual state of limbo continues.

Before a pandemic made us wait for this year, last year was supposedly the final time Padres fans had to wait ‘til next year.

“This is our decade,” Padres General Partner Peter Seidler said on the first day of spring training, repeating what he said over the offseason. “We’ve talked about it. We’re not shying away from it.”

Thursday was supposed to be opening day, when we were to begin to see the Padres’ 2020 vision.

It was supposed to be the seventh straight opening day for Bernadette Hilgeman.

Her first, a 3-1 Padres victory over the Dodgers in 2014, was the last game she attended with her father.

“One of my biggest inspirations for being a Padres fan through the ups and definitely the downs,” she said of her dad.

Timothy Hilgeman died later that year after a battle with cancer. All through that season, Bernadette would send texts from games and visit him the next day to talk about what had happened the night before.

“He taught me love of the game and to love our hometown team through the thick and thin,” she said. “… During epic moments in games or when Padres news comes out, I still catch myself having moments where I start a text or think to myself, ‘Oh, I have to tell my dad this.’ “

Some 30 friends and family of Timothy Hilgeman attended opening day in 2015 in his honor. Bernadette, his oldest daughter, has been to every one since and usually attends a handful of games each month throughout the season.

“I’ve met some of the best and most interesting people because of being a Padres fan,” she said. “I’ve strengthened current friendships and made new ones all because of simply being a Padres fan or going to games. Being passionate Padres fans is one of my favorite things I share with my fiancé and something we are really excited to one day pass along to our own children.”

There are so many reasons people miss baseball, why the passing of opening day without games means something.

To some, they know Thursday would have meant tuning in to hear Ted Leitner and Jesse Agler describe the game on 97.3-FM. For others, it would have meant a few hours in front of the television or a computer screen to watch with Don Orsillo and Mark Grant providing the background on Fox Sports San Diego.

“I had the day already off to watch on MLB.TV,” Patrick Hodell said.

A native San Diegan, Hodell lives in Walnut Creek.

“I just love rooting for the team I grew up with,” he said. “Memories of my dad taking me and my brother out of school to go to sunglasses day in the 90s. Of course ‘96 and ‘98 were fun. There is a badge of honor, as well, that goes with sticking with a team that historically is the worst at winning baseball games. It makes winning a lot more enjoyable, even a random June game. I think most of us are under the delusion that one day we will all be at a World Series parade in the Gaslamp. … I believe it can be something special and there is no way I am missing that.”

Watching Thursday’s game would have meant getting up by 3 a.m. Friday for Jason Switzer, a Coronado native who now lives in Thailand.

He reminisced about walking to the newspaper stand so he could “devour” the statistics, the box score and the stories.

“The 1984 season probably reeled me in forever,” he said, recalling his fourth-grade class watching the playoff games during the day and then being at home when Steve Garvey’s home run beat the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

“Over the years, I’ve been a fan no matter where I’ve lived,” Switzer said. “… Even with all the losing, I could at least make myself believe they had a chance to make the playoffs until August rolled around, then every offseason talk myself back into thinking the team could be decent come April. I’m missing them now for a lot of reasons. But mainly the three or so hours of watching them play every day.”

Asking someone why they are a Padres fan brings a variety of responses with some common threads.

It might involve a memory like that of Tim Spivey, who played for Long Beach Poly High on Tony Gwynn Field.

There is a lot of exalting Mr. Padre. There is usually an explanation of generational ties. There is often entangling of all of them.

“As a little kid, I was really close to my grandmother,” Roderick Aquino said. “She used to have a little wooden radio which she would plug in whenever the Padres were playing. She would let me stay up late to listen to Padres radio broadcasts on school nights, making it our little secret from my parents. Her favorite player was Tony Gwynn and she would always clap whenever Jerry Coleman, Ted Leitner or Bob Chandler would announce him coming to the plate.

“After my grandmother passed away, I stayed a Padres and Tony Gwynn fan. I remember waking up every morning to check the sports page of the newspaper to make sure Tony was at the top of the NL batting average leaderboard. … I’ve remained a Padres fan because it reminds me of those evenings with my grandmother and (because of) the SD logo on their ballcap.”

Sometimes, you just are a fan.

“They were my only team I have rooted for since 1969,” said Kevin Grangetto. “… I support them regardless of their winning or losing efforts, and I was especially looking forward to this season.”

Michael Tarantino of Ramona acknowledged the enigmatic nature of being a Padres fan. The five postseason berths in 51 seasons don’t provide much tangible support for fandom.

“The Padres are ingrained in San Diego culture, and stories of Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn are ingrained in anyone growing up in San Diego,” Tarantino said. “My dad is a San Diegan, and a Padres fan. His dad was too. I was a Padres fan because I was supposed to be, and I am still a Padres fan because I choose to be. I know all of the history. I follow the team very closely, but to me, being a Padres fan is simply tantamount to being a San Diegan, and the state of the team is secondary.

“… I would love for the Padres to become successful enough for me to have a ‘baseball’ answer to that question, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll be with them regardless, but it would be nice. Right now, with the possibility of canceling the 2020 season entirely, I would just like there to be a season, period.”

Noting how he misses the injection of optimism that usually accompanies this time of year, Jordan Stark can clearly see opening day, whenever it does finally happen.

“I can’t wait for the full day-at-the-park experience,” he said. “First, being greeted by brown and gold signage coming into downtown, then seeing all the ballpark features converted to brown and gold, and finally watching this team of young potential take the field in their slick new uniforms. It’s going to feel unbelievable, and look unmistakably like San Diego.”


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