Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My not so brief History as a Fan

Padres Baseball has often been difficult to watch this year, and I don’t just mean from the quality of play.  The saga of Fox Sports San Diego not being available for Time Warner or AT&T U-Verse subscribers is well told and documented.  Personally, I made the switch to DirecTV at the beginning of the season upon discovering it was available to me.  Earlier today, it was reported that Tim Sullivan of UT San Diego was looking for people, like me, who had made the switch. I had a quick interview with him, and my name appeared in the UT  One of the questions asked was if watching Padres baseball was important to me.  As a lifelong fan, naturally, it was.  However, I started thinking- how many games do I actually get to watch? When did actually WATCHING the games become important to me?

     I fell in love with Padres baseball at a very early age. My earliest memory is sitting alongside the Padres dugout at Spring Training in Yuma when I was three years old. I was asking several players that came in to the dugout if I could have a ball. Finally, Tony Gwynn came out and rolled me one. This was in 1984 before he became the legend that he is today.  Gwynn instantly became my favorite player, and the Padres became my team for life. 

Nater Tater as a little Tyke, Sporting the Mustard and Brown
Throughout my childhood in Yuma, I caught Padres games on TV on whichever limited nights they were available.  No home games were ever shown on TV, unless they were playing the Dodgers, in which we caught the LA channel showing the game, with Vin Scully.  Strangely, it seems he was always pitching for Farmer John’s hot dogs and to this day I link the voice of Scully with that product.   I digress.  I was a big fan of Jerry Coleman, and as a kid envisioned working with him, or having his job.  Loved his excited calls of “Oh, Doctor!” and “You can Hang a Star” on a great play! I remember the late 80s and the cheesy CGI Star coming across the screen.

I couldn’t watch a lot of Padres games as a kid.  They were only available a few nights a week, and never at home. Between an early bed time and different activities I couldn’t always watch them when they were on.  I still always found a way to know how they did every night. In a way I was a better fan as a kid then I am today because of limited resources to know how the team did. In order to know how the Padres did I had to read through the recaps and the box scores. Often times they were just a 1 paragraph blurb in a summary of league recaps.  I collected baseball cards as a kid too, and in my free time was reading the back of them, and learning to calculate AVG, SLG, OBP and my favorite, SLOB (SLugging plus On Base)  Did I mention I do maths? The other thing I did as a kid-listen to games on radio. A lot.  I would pop in headphones and listen to the games as I would lie in bed at night, or keep the score on a pad of paper. 

I started working as a little league scorekeeper when I was 12 years old, and then for adult softball games when I was 14.  Between these two things, I worked a lot of nights during my teenaged years in the mid to late nineties, after the players strike.  I don’t remember Padres games being on TV as much during those years, at least not in Yuma.  Or maybe it was because I was never home.  I still followed as best I could, but I didn’t get to actually watch much of the 96 playoffs.  The 1998 Playoffs, however, were the highlight of my Padres fandom.  That team was fun to watch, and I thought for sure Greg Vaughan was going to stay on pace with Sammy and McGwire.  IT was also the first time in my life that I had this thing called the internet. AOL Dial-up anyone?  It was so cool logging into the World Wide Web and seeing the box scores on there, or commenting about the Padres in internet forums. I even made the prediction in July or something that the Padres would go to the series and Vaughan would edge out the two HR titans.  Well 1 for 2 wasn’t bad was it?  I remember being filled with so much rage at Kevin Brown blowing game 5 against the Braves in the NLCS, and Filled with joy when the Gwynn homered at Yankee stadium.  I remember Rich Garcia blowing a strike three call before the Yankees hit the go ahead HR and never looked back before sweeping the Padres.  That was a bittersweet series.  I also, listened to a lot of radio.  I could pick up the mighty 690 radio station, and would get pissed at Hacksaw even then as he wrote off any chance of the Padres defeating the Astros, then the Braves, then the Yankees. I hate Hacksaw.

However, as fun as 1998 was, I still didn’t get to WATCH them a lot.  I live in Arizona. With the expansion DBacks coming into the league, our local cable provider carried the Dbacks station.  I also didn’t get to LISTEN to them, because the radio station that had been carrying the Padres, had switched and carried the Diamondbacks. I really did have to rely on box scores and internet postings about the game to really follow that team.  The fall of 1998 and the spring of 1999 were also my senior year in high school, so with all I was doing to get ready for graduation and head to college, baseball fell by the wayside for me in 1999. I still paid attention somewhat, but between moving to Phoenix, and being a poor college student, and living in a dorm where I was still reliant on paid dialup internet (and having a roommate who liked to use the phone) I couldn’t keep track as closely.  I still caught Rob Neyer’s columns on the early versions of espn.com and would see the scores. But 2 years in Phoenix turned me into a casual baseball fan for the better part of a decade.

I moved back to Yuma after those 2 years, in 2001.  At that time, Padres baseball was still not on TV.  I don’t remember if mlb.tv was yet available, but like I stated earlier, I became a casual fan, so didn’t really look into it.  I was able to go to one baseball game that year, on Saturday, September 8.  It was a sad game- had some fun moments, but it was sad. I remember it was a bubblehead day game for one of the DBags.  Bubba Trammel, Phil Nevin and Wiki Gonzalez all had HR for the Friars, and Trevor Hoffman came on for the save in the bottom of the ninth, leading 6-5. He gave up a solo shot to Steve Finley, and the Dbags went on to win in the bottom of the 10th with a 2 run HR from Matt Williams off Wascar Serrano.  3 days later was September 11th.  Baseball seemed a little less important then. But baseball also was very important. Getting back to the routine of watching games, I still believe, helped the nation start to heal. 

The 2001 World Series featured the Arizona Diamondbacks against the New York Yankees. At the time I got caught up in the excitement of other Arizona fans around me, and also, I hate the Yankees, so I pulled hard for the Dbacks.  I’m embarrassed about that to this day.  The question was recently posed to me if the Dodgers and Yankees met in the series, who would I root for?—my easy answer was the Yankees. I hate the Dodgers. Dodger hate is ingrained in every fiber of my being. I also hate the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants.  They are divisional opponents and I hate them all.  So if any of them were to play the Yankees or Red Sox…I think I’d have to root for the AL team.  Or maybe not watch. 

2002-2004 Were years I didn’t see much of baseball at all. In the summer of 2002 I joined a traveling drama team based in Minnesota.  Our schedule didn’t allow for much time to see baseball. I didn’t see a single inning of the Giants-Angels series, and was on the road for the first half of the 2003 season.  I repeated the same thing in the summer /fall of 2003. I caught part of the Marlins beating the Yankees in what was presumed to be Roger Clemens last start.  But ask me anything about Padres baseball from 2002-04 and I really couldn’t say much of anything. The team wasn’t very good, and didn’t make any headlines to catch in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  All the baseball I knew then was baseball I knew then was based on what I saw in headlines.   I didn’t have a chance to follow the Padres for those seasons, even casually.  I didn’t even find time to go to a Twins game.  I do remember hoping to be able to see the Padres play the Twins in interleague while I lived up there, but the details are sketchy in my mind why that didn’t happen. Either I was too busy with work, or they didn’t play there until after I moved back to Arizona. 

2005- It was time to get back to baseball. Hey guess what, the Padres opened a new park. I knew it was being built but I was so far out of the world of Friar Baseball, I didn’t even know it was done.  I caught my first Petco Park game that year- They lost to Aaron Harang and the Reds.  The Padres weren’t on TV in Yuma yet that year, and that’s when I discovered the blackout rules of MLBTV, so it was back to internet following.  I also made it a point to catch a few games live, taking some day trips with my dad to see the Mets-Padres (and David Wright’sfamous barehanded catch) and Jake Peavy vs. Roger Clemens, among other games.  But despite being able to go to a few games in 2005, I still couldn’t watch my beloved Padres on TV, and didn’t have the money to listen to them. 

I moved to Phoenix again in 2006, and it was then that I finally started getting to watch my Padres. I paid for the MLB.tv package and watched games whenever I could in 2006.  It was beautiful. Padres baseball on a screen.  I took advantage of every opportunity I could, but I worked a lot of nights, so didn’t get to take full advantage.  Still, I finally became hooked on the opportunity to watch them.  I moved back to Yuma in September 2007, and the Padres weren’t on TV in Yuma.  My MLB.tv didn’t let me watch now that I was in the blackout area. Stupid blackout rules.  Jeff Passan on Yahoo! Sports had a column about it somewhere back in that time frame, and I proposed to him that baseball allow teams in the blackout area to watch their teams while earmarking part of the subscription fee to the team they were watching.  I explained it more fully then, but it is basically pay-per-view of your own team.  I didn’t miss out on too much simply because, again, I was working every night, and because the Padres were competitive, I didn’t have to look very far to find information about how they were doing.  It looked like a promising year. Then the Rockies caught lightning in a bottle, Tony Gwynn’s evil offspring hit a triple of Trevor, and then the Game of which I dare not speak that shares its number with a San Diego highway happened. 

2008 Had me back in Phoenix again, and I watched on MLB.tv again. I even watched the long game against the Rockies. Every Inning.  I went to the next game against theDbags.  2008 was long and painful.  I prefer not to remember anything from it.  Moving on.

2009-Present – I moved back to Yuma in the spring of 2009, The Padres were finally on the air! Finally, after years of not being able to watch them despite being blacked out on mlb.tv for being in the broadcast territory, I was able to watch my Padres whenever I was able on Ch 4 SD, carried locally on channel 19.  2010 happened and I went to 10 games in San Diego that season.  I started watching the Padres almost religiously.  I started contributing to Gaslampball.  In 2011, my cousin was no longer stationed in San Diego, so my free room was gone. I wasn’t able to go to but one game last season.  But I could still watch them on TV, when I could.  Rumblings of a new TV contract began to occur and I had mixed feelings. I was skeptical Time Warner would pick up the station, at least locally.  We already had a fox sports channel with Fox Sports Arizona, and I couldn’t envision them carrying FSSD as well.  Turns out I was even more right than I realized. To this day they aren’t even carrying games in San Diego.  So I made the switch to DirecTV.  And in the first 12, games, I’ve yet to see one in its entirety.  I’ve seen about 4 in part.  Makes me wonder why it was so important. After @colleen_teresa pointed out to me that I wasn’t home much during game time, I was prompted to write this post.  Not sure if it took the direction I initially envisioned. I started rambling a lot, and I’m sure many will be thinking, tl;dr.  Okay, the few that are reading are thinking tl;dr.  That’s okay. It’s my history as a fan. And I realize in my history as a fan, I haven’t seen a lot of games on TV. But I like having the option to when I’m home.  Even bad baseball for an inning is better than no baseball at all.

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