By Nicholas McCann
My earliest experience with tanking was for a brief period in the early ‘90s at Boomers (Family Fun Center) in Clairemont. If you didn’t feel like playing mini-golf or riding the go-carts, there was an attraction available that allowed patrons to simulate a war scenario involving slow moving tanks that shot hard plastic balls. You and a partner had to climb into these puke green non-death machines and decide who would be the gunner and who would drive. If a ball was shot and hit a target censor on the body of your tank, it would stop moving. If a ball struck the censor on the gun cage above, you would lose the ability to shoot. There was no score to keep. The entire object of the game was to force other participants to have less fun.
You just had to keep tanking.
Usually, rooting for a major league baseball team is about wanting them to win from opening day through the last game of their season. Despite whatever the team has said publicly, in the clearest form of communication to their fans, the 2017 San Diego Padres have made it obvious with their roster they aren’t trying to win. Yet this year is different from past seasons that sadly started in the same direction. It’s the first time where the team has made clear its intentions and managed to create a sizable group of people who are embracing it.
For these folks who are all in on the current tank (we’ll call them Tankers), there’s an element of joy that comes out when they talk about it. It’s fun for them to bask in their own patience and rescue non-Tankers from “traditional” fandom. Is purposely bottoming out the right way for the organization to go? In baseball and in life, there are no guarantees. However, you can’t say that to a Tanker. Even though they might not express it directly, they declare with their inner glow that it’s a foregone conclusion everything will be worked out by 2020. And when pressed on this point, Tankers often will fall back on this general statement: I’m just glad the Padres finally have a direction.
With this season, the current ownership group is beginning the third act of a horrible play that could still have a happy ending. The first act started with the Seidlers and Ron Fowler buying the team. They said all the right things, but didn’t do much. The second act started with the Matt Kemp trade and ended the moment he filed his blog on the Players Tribune. In this third act of losing-now-to-win-later, the team has rebranded itself as modern and smart, but the benefit of doing it is broader than just being disciplined and seeing the long view. The team can hide behind the mistakes they made in the second act by allowing people to believe the direction of building fast and spending money was the wrong way to go on a conceptual level. There is a version of the second act that could’ve worked, but if we trash that period and dismiss it as even being a direction at all, the organization gets a pass from the mistakes they made within that frame work. Winning fast is a way to go, but the Padres were bad at it. They failed at trying to be good, and now they’re taking control of their badness. For people unabashedly on board with the new philosophy, they aren’t just adopting something that has worked for the Astros and Cubs; they are also buying a few years of not being upset at the Padres.
Back at Boomers in the early ‘90s, the tank attraction had a third party element. If you didn’t want to participate and ride a tank with a friend, you could buy a bucket of balls and shoot at the tanks from outside the netted playing zone. For a small fee you could snipe from a position of protection and contribute to ruining fun for other people. With the Padres not intending to be competitive for the foreseeable future, fans have to deal with the Tank regardless if they embrace it or not. Our rivals will be able to take shots at us. This being the case, I’ve resorted to rooting for Bud Black’s Rockies to win the NL West. This is my bit. Besides not being in LA or San Francisco, if Black is more successful outside of the Padres universe, it will support my belief that the dismal results of his era in San Diego were more complicated than who was managing the team. People laugh when I say this out loud. They know I’m deep in a tank, taking shots from all sides, and waiting for the fun to begin.
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