For many children, baseball is a first love. The feeling of cool green grass on a summer day, tossing the ball around, that first time you really catch it right. On sun-soaked fields all over the world, a new generation finds itself face-to-face with the romance of the game when the weather turns warm and the days grow long.
This love grows to their favorite team, watching the stars make dazzling plays and trying to recreate them at the field the next day. Many of my earliest memories are flooded with watching players like Tony Gwynn and Andy Benes. The score didn’t matter much to me then. Sure, I wanted the Padres to win, and probably said “aw, man” if they lost (which they did in bunches), but there was always tomorrow. And I got to watch baseball. A feeling of gratitude I try not to let slip by, but I know I have.
Because baseball is also an early heartbreak for many children. That pure spirit of the game, watching our heroes through the rose-tinted glasses of idolatry, not caring if their OPS+ in May is subpar, or if their defense is lacking, that pure joy of the game will eventually be pulled out from us like a rug.
For me, it was July 18th, 1993. My introduction to the concept of The Owner. My Padres traded one of my favorite players (and barely a month past my sixth birthday!) and dealt Fred McGriff to the Braves for Donnie Elliott, Vince Moore, and Melvin Nieves. I remember asking my father why the Padres would trade such a great player for three guys I’d never heard of. He said “The owner doesn’t have enough money.”
My introduction to The Owner was trading one of my favorite players and threatening relocation to Florida. The Owner, a faceless entity to me, was much a villain and a hinderance. As I got older, I found that other cities also had their own version of The Owner, a catch-all for fans’ frustrations and griefs. A corporate capitalist greedmonger who gave the appearance of cigar-smoke filled back rooms and shady deals. The Owner did not want to win. The Owner wanted to do just enough to get your money, and if winning happened, so be it.
Indeed, in San Diego we graded our ownership on the mere existence of the team. Threats to move were consistent, on-field performance was lacking, and even 1998’s glimmer of success was against the cynical backdrop of a push for the downtown ballpark. Payroll sagged in the $50 million range as the big markets creeped over the $100 million mark entering the 2000s.
By the time the ownership group featuring Peter Seidler bought the Padres in 2012, the team had literally been on layaway. So when the new group made promises of contending…well, we listened. But I’m not sure we believed.
Against that backdrop of a tired, weary fanbase came the arrival of Peter Seidler. A billionaire who is in many ways not like a billionaire: comfortable in his own skin, with a zen calm, an ever-present smile, and a an almost child-like love for the game. Whereas “The Owner” is a craven figure fit for the villainy of Old Man Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, Peter Seidler felt like, well, Peter Pan.
Peter Seidler wanted to take the team on the journey we all had never had fulfilled in childhood. He wanted to win, to win big, and to do it wearing those rose-colored glasses. That’s not to call him naïve or ignorant, but rather he wanted it all. He wanted to win. He wanted to enjoy it. And he wanted all of San Diego to go on that journey with him.
Timing is a fickle bird, and the fact the journey started to bear fruit when it did is a special miracle for San Diegans. The brown uniforms debuted in the COVID-19 season of 2020, and so did Slam Diego. For the first time in a long time, our Padres were must-see TV, national, even international news. They had cool uniforms, superstar flavor, and were playing winning baseball at a time we were literally stuck in front of our televisions living out some of the most stressful days of our lives.
Yes, the journey has been far from perfect. From a fan service standpoint, nobody was ever better than Peter Seidler. Even as 2021 and 2023 were struggles on the field, the fans were considered by ownership in a way we hadn’t before. Yes, the roster construction is deserving of criticism. Sometimes, it felt like we tried to do too much too soon. Perhaps Peter was at times like the parent who’s alone with the kids for the weekend and giving them that extra scoop of ice cream and ignoring the early bedtime. It created indelible memories, but was it best for us? We’ll never know now. And it’s definitely what we wanted at the time.
My cold introduction to The Owner was July 18th, 1993. My carefree life was introduced to the idea of baseball as a business. Of money controlling the game I love, of the bottom line coming ahead of my favorite team winning. It was a moment of lost innocence.
The flip side of that for me was October 15th 2022. A five-run Padres rally in the seventh inning took down Goliath. The 89-win Padres defeated the 111-win Dodgers in the NLDS. For the first time since 1998, the club was heading to the NLCS, and was doing so by taking down the team to the north that had tormented us. In a year in which my 35-year-old self had endured tremendous stress and anxiety in my personal life, I sat with my family and watched one of the greatest victories in franchise history, the high water mark of the Peter Seidler Era.
In every way The Owner represents the cold, cruel, dollars and cents of the game, Peter Seidler seemed like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. They did not enjoy having him in their midst, a rogue who would spend beyond profitability (I did not say sustainability), and would do what it takes to win. Peter Seidler was the opposite of an empty suit. He was a fan, he was one of us who had the ways and means to make the team and the community better. He saw himself as a part of the community, not separate or above it, a quality which played itself out beyond the Padres into other community initiatives.
Peter Seidler’s dream was to build the Padres into a brand that ensured business success and a large, thriving fanbase. But above all else, he wanted to bring a championship to San Diego, whatever it took. He approached his role the same way we all would. He approached it with the love and desire and pure joy of the child running across a twilight-streaked field, trying to catch one last fly ball before the Sun finds its resting place on the other side of the world and the matted sunset sky turns to a field of stars. Because of this, Peter Seidler was not owner of the Padres.
He was The Chairman.
And there’s a distinct difference.
Rest in peace, Peter. Thank you for reminding myself and so many others why we love baseball.