TRITON TIMEOUT: How the Padres stole my baseball heart

Hi, I’m second-year sports editor Jack Dorfman. In this column, I’ll take a timeout from discussing specific UC San Diego coaches and student-athletes and instead tackle topics related to sports more broadly, whether at UCSD or within professional leagues.

I’m a rabid Los Angeles Dodgers fan, and I have been for almost as long as I can remember. Unlike a healthy portion of fans, I’ve never bought a baseball jersey before; I’ve never even had one given to me as a gift. 

I’ve only been a San Diego Padres fan for the better part of a year and a half, but on Saturday, I bought myself a game-worn Spring Training Padres jersey. For a Dodgers jersey of similar quality and back story, I could have easily had to dole out $100 or more, but at the 2020 Padres FanFest, I spent just $15 to acquire my first and only authentic baseball jersey. 

Over the span of four hours at Petco Park in downtown San Diego, I got to play catch in the outfield, walk around the infield, throw pitches in the bullpen, sit in the dugout, and walk through the clubhouse. The small market Padres provided all of this to me, and more, in one compact outing. The only out of pocket cost for this indulgent baseball experience was the reasonable $10 charge for parking, which I split amongst four other budding Padres supporters. 

Despite all of the time I have spent in LA as a Dodgers fan, I have only gotten to do a few of those things, and there’s a slim chance that I would be able to do any of those today, as a 19-year-old instead of as a kid. 

Even beyond this event, the Padres have done a great job converting me into a fan. Before my first day of class at UC San Diego last fall, I had already bought a Padres shirt, largely because it was half the price of any Dodgers shirt I’d seen before. A few months later, at an event attended by no more than 50 fans, I got to meet with Padres players in the Petco Park team store.

By that point, I was hooked, more than three months before Opening Day 2019, I’d already become a fairly loyal Padres fan. 

Then I went to a game. 

Playing against my beloved Dodgers, LA and San Diego fans alike packed Petco Park with more than 40,000 fans and watched the Padres come from behind to beat one of the best teams in all of baseball.  

Over the next few months, I spent my weekday afternoons on the couch in my dorm, watching baseball. But it wasn’t the Dodgers games I was watching, it was the Padres. When in LA, I’m blacked out from watching the Dodgers along with roughly 80 percent of the city thanks to an $8 billion TV deal the team’s ownership group signed half a decade ago.

With the Padres, all of their games are televised on a widely accessible regional sports network, so whenever I game was on, I tuned in. 

Granted, I was not a hard fan to convert. I’m already a baseball fan and I’d follow the Padres even if they treated me more like the Dodgers have. But from easily being able to follow the team on TV to meeting players and having a great, affordable time at the ballpark, the Padres have found ways to interact and engage with me on an intimate level that the much larger Dodgers never could imagine. 

Within their more personal framework, the Padres have catered towards fans that aren’t willing to switch TV providers or pay outlandish sums for gear, autographs, and tickets. Instead, San Diego’s largest sports franchise has become the best option for sports entertainment in the city, filling the void the Chargers NFL franchise left behind when they shuffled off to LA a few summers back.

For those of you thinking this line of thinking is heretical, trust me, I’m still a Dodgers fan for life. This doesn’t mean I’m more of a Padres fan than a Dodgers fan by any stretch. All it means is that after only one full season, I have found a way to demonstrate my connection to San Diego and to the Padres more concretely in less than two years than I did after 19 years as a Dodgers fan, and that’s something worth thinking about.