On Saturday February 11, the San Diego Padres hosted a rally. Named “Celebrate SD”, it was intended to show that we weren’t the sorry losers that the owners of the former San Diego Chargers and the NFL portrayed the city to be.
I attended the rally, partly out of loyalty to my hometown and partly because I’m so desperate for the baseball season that I’ll use any excuse to go to Petco Park. I anticipated a couple thousand people to show up, mostly to make themselves feel better about the Chargers leaving town. Also, possibly, to trade in those Charger garments for a $25 coupon for the Padres store.
What actually occurred was surprising.
San Diego sports fans, clad in Padres, Gulls, Aztecs, Torreros and Sockers gear, flocked to Petco to celebrate our city, our teams, and our will to go on despite being spurned by the mighty NFL. The official crowd count was over 12,000 souls, per official Padres turnstiles.
Most local radio stations showed up to promote their lineups. San Diego sports teams had booths to promote their teams. As is the norm anytime sports fans gather, food and drink were plentiful.
The Padres store was a madhouse. Crammed with bargain shoppers taking advantage of a 25-60% off sale of Padres and All-Star gear.
There were games for the kids and socializing for the adults. Then the guests started showing up. Former Charger and San Diego radio personality, Nick Hardwick posed for selfies with the crowd, wandering the K Street strip wearing his Padres cap and welcoming fans.
Padre legend Trevor Hoffman showed up at the wiffle ball field, signing autographs and posing for pictures with his adoring fans.
I was dutifully seated on the grassy hill for the start of the rally at 1pm. Many representatives of our local sport teams spoke about the spirit of San Diego sports and what a great place this is to live and view sporting events.
The police chief, Shelley Zimmerman, demonstrated how she had missed her calling as a cheerleader with a rousing call to arms to defend the greatness of our city.
The mayor also made an appearance, wearing his Padres jersey. It was notable that most of the speakers did not utter the name of the departed team that inspired this love fest of our city and our other teams.
The face of Padres ownership, Ron Fowler, spoke from prepared notes and was followed by Padres manager Andy Green. Green appeared pumped (though not as much as the chief) and grateful, not uncommon for the skipper. He finished his remarks by apologizing for having to leave to catch a flight for Peoria, AZ to get ready for spring training.
That brought a rousing cheer from the home town fans.
Nick Hardwick and Trevor Hoffman closed out the rally, Both expressing surprise and enthusiasm over the size of the crowd gathered around the K Street stage. Hells Bells played for Trevor’s entrance, which always gets the locals pumped up.
All of this was ably emceed by our Uncle Teddy, known to the rest of the world as Ted Leitner. At his best when hosting events paying tribute to “his” Padres. His introduction of Randy Jones, seated on stage but not speaking, included a mention of his current battle with cancer. Ted got choked up, the emotional guy that he is, and the crowd cheered.
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The whole event was enjoyable, uplifting and ended up being so much better attended than I envisioned. Baseball season is almost upon us, the Aztecs football team seems to be enjoying an upswing in season tickets now that the other football team is gone and San Diego is hosting the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic in March. All is NOT lost.
We might actually survive the decamping of the Spanos family and their team to the greener pastures of SmelLA. I, for one, hope that this event stirs more of a community involvement with the other sporting organizations in our city. As well as more support for the teams of our universities.
The world has not ended with the loss of the NFL and the Padres proved that Saturday with a fun event that might be a yearly occasion. At least that seemed to be the sentiment on Saturday.