By Nicholas McCann
The night before the official announcement came down that the Chargers were leaving, reports trickled in that it was happening. Immediately, I looked around my house for all my team gear. It felt smart to make a list of things to destroy. The bolt mug my mom found at a church rummage sale was shattered in my alley. My Antonio Gates powder blue home jersey was then used to clean up the mug’s broken glass and became featured in a TKF Instagram video essay. In the midst of dividing up the items into groups for separate methods of destruction (Burn, shatter, or drown), I came across a knitted snow cap that took the shape of the Chargers helmet. A friend of mine gave a bunch of them out as Christmas gifts a few years back. That hat will never be destroyed. It was purchased from a local girl who stitched them by hand, and after going through the application process, she was denied official licensing by the NFL. She now lives in Germany and has a family.
It’s not the Padres job to fix me. They’ve made their choices, and unlike Dean Spanos, I’ve chosen to stay. The only baseball team I’ve ever loved is rebuilding again, and as always, I’m skeptical of ownership’s ability to pull it off. Consequently, I feel the same way about myself. This has to be my last go ’round. I need to be the owner of my own happiness and never let a professional sports team hurt me again. I’m too old for that and I have a son now. If the Padres can’t change themselves into a winner I can’t be an angry San Diego sports fan in front of him.
Outfielder Manuel Margot and three other prospects were traded to the Padres from the Boston Red Sox for Craig Kimbrel before last season. Regardless of what the team was saying publicly, this was the first real step in the direction of the current rebuild. They knew they didn’t need a closer and Boston was getting jammed up with young outfield talent. My son was born a few months after the transaction and now Margot is here.
Did I mention my wife is from Boston? She is.
On Wednesday night Andy Green started Travis Jankowski at lead off in the batting order. It wasn’t a big deal, but not having Margot in the opening slot at the top made me nervous. Green has mostly been using Manuel there and it’s felt reassuring to have him in the position to control the tone of a game from the jump. Travis is just a fast dude who plays hard and might have a career at this level. However, when Manny leads off it’s something different. With him, a tangible feeling of relief enters in that informs the rest of the game no matter what the result ends up being. He represents the start of our future. His smile makes me think about what a parade would feel like in the Gaslamp. When he does something exciting, like opening up San Diego’s offense with a leadoff double or homerun, it feels like we’re collectively throwing a lit cigarette at Dean Spanos’ problematic face. Is it unfair to attach this stuff to a young outfielder at the dawn of his career? Perhaps, but as Padres fans adjust to accepting the team being bad for the next few years, Margot is the most realistic embodiment of a preview for something better to come. He is the lighthouse telling our ship where the land is, and more precisely, he gives us hope that land may actually exist.
Manuel started off hot in the first few series and has slightly come back to earth a bit. If this continues the team will be justified in sending him down to El Paso for a few weeks to preserve his service time and give him a chance to work on some things. This will probably spark some debate from the media and the fans because (A) the rules in place allow for it and (B) we’ll have little else to talk about as the Padres plummet deeper into the reality we all saw coming for 2017.
This is all fine for now. My son will have no memory of this time. Right now he’s as excited about our dryer as I am about Margot. Besides, I don’t even remember falling in love with Tony Gwynn. I was born in 1980 and he was always just there as a constant in my life, becoming the greatest contact hitter of his generation as my brain began to form. The rebuild needs to work so my son and I can have some version of what I had. It starts with Margot. He can’t fail. He will be our favorite player together if the universe or the Padres don’t ruin him.
Baseball changed for me after the fire sale of the early 90s. My dad had to explain to me what the value of a franchise meant and why the owner (and producer of the Cosby show) had to strip the Padres down so he could sell it. After destroying all my licensed Chargers gear, I packed up the handmade snow cap in a box in our garage. I’ll explain it to my son later. Like the Padres, I’ll have to build up to that.
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