Monday, June 4: PADRES 11, BRAVES 4
I wasn’t really surprised a couple of days ago when my Frontier flight (thankfully, the only one of the trip) was delayed by four hours. But when this Alaska Air flight was delayed by an hour, it chipped away at some of the Alaska mystique that I’ve built up over the last few years. I have my kids convinced that Alaska is so much more superior to every other airline that they claim they’ll fly nothing else, even though I’m not sure if they’ve ever actually been on one of their flights. At least during the delay we were given a snack box containing one of those beef sticks and some gummies and smoked gouda. And it was just about an hour and not four but still, I had been hoping to check out BP on the field in San Diego and wasn’t able to make it to the park until 6:30, about a half-hour before game time.
The benefit of the delay was a Lyft ride with Burton, 1970s scruffy and talkative like the third guy on the boat in Jaws. Burton is a roving high school band instructor who was eager to narrate a vivid history of the long-running failure of San Diego sports. It was the best Lyft I’ve ever taken.
Listen to Burton here. Seriously. Do it.
The Padres aren’t great and currently reside in last place in the NL West. But the park IS pretty great. It’s a little disappointing that there aren’t more people around to actually enjoy it. There seemed to be as many Braves fans in town as Padres fans. The game itself started promising, with the teams trading runs in the early-going before the home team tacked seven runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth. As improbably as it seems, this was the second time in four games that I’ve seen a team push across that many runs in a single inning. The game being a blowout, coupled with the fact that I recognize almost none of the players on either team, meant that I could explore the park a little more.
I am fascinated by the players a team celebrates, particularly when the team doesn’t have a ton of history. It took me a while to figure out who those former-star throw-back Padres might be. A gigantic mural of Randy Jones is painted on a wall near the food court. Seriously, Randy Jones, who was a fairly decent southpaw for a couple of seasons in the 70s but I’m not sure is mural-worthy (Jones claim to fame: the only pitcher in major league history to win the Cy Young Award but retire with a losing record). Tony Gwynn jerseys were in abundance, of course, but I only saw one Dave Winfield and no Steve Garveys, Michigan State or otherwise, despite the fact that I thought I saw a guy who looked like he could be Garvey while waiting for my Hodad’s burger.
The food and drink is the highlight of a Padres game. That Hodad’s burger is no joke and perhaps one of the best burgers I’ve ever had; worth the wait and the line on a Monday night with the park less than half full suggests you’ll have to wait. Most of the rest of the dining choices are pretty high-end as well. And the beer…holy moly, what a selection. San Diego is now be one of the premiere places for craft breweries in the world, and they’re mostly all on display in the ballpark. Rows of beer carts and brew stations with dozens of choices. Hundreds, maybe. If you aren’t really into the team anyway you can pretty easily get to the point where you have no idea what the score is by about the third inning. I had the pleasure of walking out of the stadium alongside two graying couples who had clearly decided on that strategy early on. I was impressed that they had made it through the entire game.
Before that, I got to watch two hyped-up daredevils tear across the field with one out in the top of the ninth, likely realizing it was their very last chance for glory. They’re not streakers if they’re wearing clothes, right? What do you call them then? Anyway, they played it up right, starting off in tight formation and then splitting off in opposite directions once security got wind of their plot. The first guy headed straight for the right field wall, actually crashing into it face-first while the crowd gasped, and then gasped again when his pursuer did exactly the same. Security guy got back up much more slowly. The villain, meanwhile, slipped away, dodging and weaving through at least six other security guards at a full-on, booze-fueled sprint back the way he had come, then pivoting toward the stands behind first base before the inevitable gang tackle sent him sprawling into the warning track dirt. The remaining crowd roared as his accomplice galloped the other way, circling in figure eights around his would-be captors who all seemed to be much older and were probably not nearly as amused as the crowd was. He lasted a little longer than his compadre but eventually gave himself up, realizing there wasn’t much else in life to accomplish at that point. I don’t know how many high-end beers you need to get to that level of bravery/foolishness, but those guys do. At 17 bucks a pop it’s an expensive endeavor to begin with. More expensive still after capture, I’d guess.
My ticket was left in the name of Bay Area native and Padres reliever Robbie Erlin. His agent, Adam, is a parent of a kindergartener in my wife’s classroom and, like most every other parent who’s ever had a kid in Leigh’s class, thinks she’s amazing. I just get the perks that come with being married to the greatest elementary teacher in the country, which include tickets to ballgames in various parks around the country. Adam has become my favorite person I’ve never actually met.
The other Erlin-comped tickets went to people far more deserving and far less random than me, San Jose-area pitching coach Dave Salters, who has worked extensively with both Robbie and Braves reliever Shane Carle. Salters was attending the game with his son Cooper, as well as his San Diego-based brother and niece.
Salters runs a Kona Shaved Ice truck in the South Bay area, an endeavor that has proved lucrative enough that he quit his contracting job not too long ago. He was, in fact, part of the crew that built the spectacular new gymnasium on Paly’s campus, shortly before getting into the ice business (cool story from the San Jose Mercury News here). He and his son were able to get on the field to take some photos with both pitchers prior to the game; 11-year-old Cooper was clearly having a great time, taking in the game and devouring a pulled pork sandwich, a big messy bbq-sauce grin on his face. It probably didn’t hurt either that he got to play hooky to watch a ballgame in San Diego.
At one point in our conversation I asked if Cooper’s name had anything to do with the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Yeah, of course. In fact, that’s his middle name.”
“What is?” I asked.
“Stown. Cooper Stown Salters.” I waited a beat, trying to decide how serious he was. He grinned. “Nah, I’m just kidding. My wife put her foot down on that one.”
“She probably knows best,” I said.
“That’s the truth.”
In another life, Salters once played college ball in Louisiana himself, prior to the arm troubles that spelled the end of any possible baseball career aspirations. He turned to coaching, which has kept him busy for a quarter of a century now, and he chats regularly with two of his star pupils, Erlin and Carle, who are both in the midst of strong seasons. The biggest change in pitching he’s seen over the last couple of decades? “Pitch counts, for sure. Players get sort of coddled now.” He likes to see starters forced to figure out how to worm their way out of precarious situations, and he gets frustrated when they are pulled under the slightest sign of danger. “That’s how you learn how to pitch. You gotta get through that stuff; it’s what makes you stronger.”
Cooper and Dave were headed back to the Bay the following morning, meaning they got to watch Shane toss one scoreless inning in a 11-4 Padres blowout, but didn’t have a chance to see Robbie pitch. The San Jose early-summer weather report was too good to pass up when you’re slinging iced treats to the masses, and the Kona Ice business beckoned Salters back north. But Cooper had an on-the-field chance to pose for pictures with two big league pitchers. I’m thinking they definitely went back home happy. I was happy to have met them too; another couple of quality characters in a trip that’s been full of them thus far. On to the Lone Star State!
PREVIOUS GAME: @Seattle Mariners vs. Tampa Bay Rays
NEXT GAME: @Texas Rangers vs. Oakland A’s
MILES TRAVELED TO GET HERE: 1450
MILES TRAVELED TO THIS POINT: 4095