What just happened?!
Let’s be honest. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the roller coaster of events last week that propelled the Padres into the national baseball conversation.
I asked a few fellow fans to help break things down. But first, a recap:
- On 8/17, with the Padres up 10-3, Fernando Tatis Jr. (FTJ) belted his first career grand slam on a 3-0 pitch from Texas Rangers pitcher Juan Nicasio in the eighth inning. The next pitcher, Ian Gibaut, then threw a fastball behind Manny Machado.
- In the press conference immediately after the game, Jayce Tingler told reporters that Tatis missed a take sign. “We had a little bit of a comfortable lead. We’re not trying to run up the score or anything like that … It’s a learning opportunity, and that’s it. He’ll grow from it.” Tatis and pitcher Zach Davies also answered questions (highlights here).
- In the aftermath, a nationwide debate ensued regarding the relevance of baseball’s “unwritten rules” and whether Tatis should have been swinging on 3-0.
- Hall of Famers such as Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench sent out tweets supporting Tatis. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted: “The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”
- On 8/18, Tingler walked back his comments, saying most of the right things to support his superstar, including: “I probably learned a lesson last night.”
- The Padres proceeded to go on a 7-game winning streak, including series sweeps against the Rangers and Astros.
- The team also set a new MLB record on 8/20 when Eric Hosmer’s fifth-inning home run with the bases loaded marked four consecutive games of grand slams (Tatis, Wil Myers, and Manny Machado contributed the others). The “Slam Diego” puns now stand a chance of overtaking the “Stay classy, San Diego” mentions.
I asked three Padres fans for their takes on the events of the past week. All are diehards and none were afraid to swing away at my questions. Eric is a lifelong Padres fan with a strong presence on Padres Twitter. He also co-hosts The 5.5 Podcast with Danny Ortiz. Liddy grew up as a Mets fan but has rooted for the Padres since moving here in 1996. She co-hosts the Hells Belles podcast with @bullpenbabe. Carlos, also active on Padres Twitter, is a San Diego native with three kids. His daughter Eliana alerts him to Tatis homeruns if he happens to be out of the room.
The 3-0 swing
I started by asking for their thoughts during Tatis’s at-bat and whether they knew that the 3-0 swing would be controversial.
Carlos: I was at home watching the game on tv. When I heard the count was 3-0, I just thought, “Ok, he’ll probably take this pitch.” When he swung, and Don started going crazy, [my son] and I were glued to the TV. I did not think for a second that it would be controversial.
Eric: When the count got to 3-0 with the bases juiced I knew Tatis would get a good pitch to hit. The fact that he was swinging 3-0 and that it may be controversial to swing 3-0 had never crossed my mind whatsoever. As a professional baseball player (and especially a young player trying to prove himself and set himself up for future earnings) it is quite literally your job to put runs on the board. I didn’t think anything of it until the next pitch went behind Manny.
Liddy: I was thinking was about how great FTJ’s plate discipline is. To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking slam. I was just thinking, get a few more runs across, Tatty, because these are the Rangers and we need the insurance—bullpen’s shaky. Nope. Never crossed my mind [that it would be controversial].
Next, I asked for their thoughts on the so-called “unwritten rules” of baseball concerning “gamesmanship” and “not disrespecting” members of the opposing team.
Liddy: The beauty of having “unwritten” rules is that you can pull them out when you want to or let them lie dormant, depending on whom you want to shame. I notice that they are used very often in the case of Latino players, yet when a shithead like Chase Utley slides so hard he breaks Ruben Tejada’s leg, he gets his measly two-day suspension and then THAT is lifted.
Carlos: Liddy hit the nail on the head. Latin players are always treated differently than white players. When a Latin player celebrates a home run, it’s “disrespectful” or “showing off too much.” When a white player does it, no one bats an eye. I am very much opposed to the “unwritten rules” of baseball. It feels like they are only in place to coddle the fragile egos of players. Fernando had to apologize for playing baseball his way and not giving up on a pitch. Why not just let them be themselves, and let them play with energy and passion and not let up.
Eric: I definitely feel like that [race issues] play into it. I know a lot of the Austin Hedges hate I dish out is for the “bit” but it genuinely infuriates me the treatment that Francisco Mejía gets from team coverage, and especially, a majority of those on Pads twitter. “Oh Franky just can’t call a game. His game calling is terrible.” Are you saying he doesn’t have the mental capacity to navigate thru a lineup?? Why?? Because he might not speak YOUR language as well as you want him to? And he “sucks” because he “can’t hit” yet years and years of ineptitude from Hedges has been tolerated. WHY?? Because he’s a charismatic white guy? Because he talks about “Game of Thrones?” Fuck that. I don’t think the unwritten rules guys are going anywhere, but damn I hope we keep seeing the younger players continue to push the envelope.
Come again, skip?
Tingler’s initial handling of Tatis’s 3-0 swing and his labeling of it as a “learning opportunity” for the shortstop was widely criticized.
But Tingler’s subsequent modification of his remarks – along with Eric Hosmer’s strong statement of support – appears to have quelled any concerns about trouble in the clubhouse.
Plus, there’s nothing like a winning streak and a plethora of grand slams to set things right.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is ______
I had one final, fill-in-the-blank question for my interview subjects.
Eric: FTJ is sensational.
Carlos: FTJ is perfect.
Liddy: FTJ is just what baseball needs.
Baseball is changing, and I think it feels great to have a young superstar on our team leading the way. As I wrote back in November, the game is at its best when played with joy and when fun, exciting moments are fully embraced.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan recently produced a cover story on Tatis and called him “the most exciting damn baseball player in the world.”
And, since this blog is my own little soapbox, I’ll add this:
You do you, Fernando. Let the game catch up. -Geekster