We spend a lot of time talking about what San Diego isn’t as a sports city. People aren’t extreme enough in their fandom here for others to notice, so it’s often assumed it needs to be shaped. For those in the business of selling sports in this community, a common move seems to be looking to South Florida for answers.
The San Diego/Miami similarities are clear. Both areas are warm and desirable locations filled with transplants that have other things to do than follow teams that aren’t good. However, Miami will always be considered a more exciting city. There’s a risky sexiness attached to it that brings a perceived edge we will never have. It’s like San Diego on cocaine before the darkness of a cocaine problem sets in. When personalities in the media and executives on teams are brought in from that area to give us a bump of energy, it always filters down to the dangerous feeling of being pressured into becoming something we’re not.
In the summer of 2016 I went to my third SD Social Summit at Petco Park put on by the Padres. These are events where large groups of bloggers and podcasters come together to connect while the team tries to gauge whether or not the local online community matters. This time we were brought up to the Club 19 Lounge to listen to a lineup of speakers. Mike Janela played his Mike Janela character as host, Don Orsillo and Mark Grant answered fun questions, Tom Seidler got dunked on by a young blogger who pressed him on military pricing, and CEO Mike Dee came out as the headliner.
Even though by this point most of the room wanted Dee gone because he was blamed for the team’s failed attempt to win in an overly accelerated way, the man the Padres brought in from the Miami Dolphins three years prior walked up to the mic, took inventory of the room, and joked about the palpable tension everyone could feel. He then took all questions asked of him, and gave a PowerPoint presentation about the direction of the team. Dee was smooth and seemingly dynamic, even though he said nothing of tangible value. I honestly felt better about the team after and started to feel myself like him.
Of course that all faded eventually and he abruptly left his role later that year. But after seeing him in action I totally understood how he could walk into a room of powerful people and convince them to trust him with a huge asset like the Padres. Before he could Sell The Sizzle to us, he had to sell it to the key inner circle that still runs the organization today. At some point the owners thought San Diego needed a thrill from South Beach to stoke us into the audience they needed.
The other day I was driving in the Gaslamp District. I had my radio turned to the FM dial. Dan Sileo and his sidekick came pouring through my speakers. They were doing the radio bit where their scheduled guest was late calling in so they playfully ribbed them. The guest was Luther Campbell, the legendary Miami rapper and first amendment activist from 2 Live Crew. This wasn’t surprising at all.
After Mike Dee’s departure from the Padres, it wasn’t a complete break. He moved over to Entercom, the company the Padres sold their radio rights to before the start of the 2017 season. Meanwhile, Sileo, a Miami Hurricane and syndicated sports radio host, had taken over morning show duties at the Mighty 1090 and become the preferred destination for Padres Chairman Ron Fowler to give his weekly public address. This year the Padres and Sileo moved to a new Entercom creation, 97.3 THE MACHINE.
Plenty has been written about Dee, Sileo, and Entercom’s involvement with the San Diego sports radio landscape, but the core of the problem with the Padres partnership is that it feels like they’re trying to drive a specific NFL hyper masculine intensity into a product that will never feel natural in that mode. The Padres view their audience as a malleable entity that needs to be changed in a certain way and nobody wants to feel that. Sure, there’s a hole here, but this feels like cheap manipulation and an unhealthy way to fill it.
While listening to Dan Sileo fill time, waiting for the one of raunchiest MCs of all time to talk to him, I realized that for the rest of my life there will be documentaries made about the University of Miami’s football team from the 80s and 90s and I will watch all of them. I love the characters, the stories, and the unique relationship those teams had with their community. They made a mark and I can’t look away. When Dan Sileo has Luther Campbell on his show it’s not just because he was a cool rapper from the 80s who helped players from Miami have fun off the field and served as a mascot for pushing back against our society’s ridiculous perception of amateurism. It’s because every player from The U knows they can count on Uncle Luke forever. Outsiders looking in all seem to know this as well. It’s all part of the story and it needs to be this way.
Yet Big Sils isn’t the only on air talent to make it to San Diego from that specific universe. The Dan Le Batard Show has replaced Jim Rome on the Mighty 1090. His program is based out of Miami and features Dan and his sidekick Stugotz. It’s a fun three hours and their whole shtick is that they’re commenting on the overall lameness of the classic morning zoo sports show format.
It’s an interesting career arc for Le Batard because when he’s locked in and being serious in a column, a long form podcast, or being interviewed as a talking head in a documentary about Miami, his words can be astoundingly beautiful. He could have been one of the great sports writers of his generation, but he decided to have more fun with his life and do the shows he wanted to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, but listening to him now makes me always think about our senior columnist, Nick Canepa from the UT. Like Le Batard, he stayed in his home town. Unlike Le Batard, his writing often feels like he wants to punish his readers for existing.
A few weeks ago, Canepa wrote a piece about how the Padres did a good thing by signing Eric Hosmer. Instead of presenting his acceptable take in an interesting and creative way, he skewered cynical Padres fans for caring more about taking pictures of their food and posting them online. He didn’t directly call out #PadresMeatTwitter (a hashtag where Pads fans post pics of their various cooked meats) for being stupid, but it felt like he was taking a shot at a community that had nothing better to do.
Canepa grew up here and needs to show his authority with every word that he writes. He’s felt all the pain of being a San Diego sports fan and nobody thinks he’s kidding. His heart has the same hole we all have. It’s hard and filled with darkness. But when people post meat pics online they aren’t just trying to get likes and retweets; they’re searching for a sense of community. It would be ideal to use #PadresPlayoffTwitter instead, but in the meantime people need to feel like they aren’t alone. And more importantly, they need to feel like they aren’t becoming Nick Canepa.
I always thought if I lived in Miami I would drive a car with a roofless top, be surrounded by supermodels, and probably own a gun. It would be the kind of fun I would know wasn’t sustainable, but I wouldn’t care. San Diego’s version of Miami that’s been presented to us by the team and sports media has me feeling the other side of that. I’ve been up all night doing coke off a surfboard and having sex I hate with people I can’t even smell because my nostrils have been destroyed. I’m waiting for something real that I can count on. I need my own 2 Live Crew to call me back.
Follow Nicholas McCann on Twitter @Nicholas_McCann