The San Diego Padres and an emerging sense of fandom

Could San Diego, a city typically listed in the “great weather, bad sports teams” category, be becoming a sports town?

The 2014 edition of The Opening Night of Baseball, which was broadcast nationally via ESPN, featured the San Diego Padres and the hated rivals from up I-5, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In front of a Petco Park record breaking crowd of 45,567, the Padres, who were donning their fan-favorite digi-camo uni’s, rallied from a 1-0 deficit by way of a three-run eighth inning. The tying run came from the newly acquired pinch hitter Seth Smith, who picked a good night to debut for his new Padres fan base. The Dodgers placed Brian Wilson on the mound, a pitcher Smith had yet to get a hit against in his seven year Major League career. Smith, with his first at-bat for the Padres, took a 2-0 fastball and sent it flying into the right field stands, where thousands of cheering fans awaited the ball’s arrival with out-stretched arms and reaching hands.

Immediately following the electrifying home run (the first opening day home run for the Padres since 2011), the record breaking crowd let their voice be heard with deafening roars of “Beat L.A.”

The Padres gladly obliged their fans’ request, going on to beat the Dodgers 3-1. The first win (on North American soil) of the 2014 season belonged to the Padres, their first opening day win since 2011.

For the first time in a while, San Diego seemed to have evolved into a legitimate Major League baseball fan base.

Maybe it was the stage, Opening Night,  a prime-time, nationally televised game. Maybe it was the uniforms. Maybe it was the energy from Chargers miraculous playoff run just a few months ago making a resurgence. Whatever it may have been, the Padres delivered, and the Padres, not the reigning NL West Champion Dodgers, stood atop the NL West, something that has not been said about the Friars for some time now.

Being fan of the Padres for some time now, there are some things that stood out as I watched the game (which is usually a rare occurrence since I currently reside in Colorado).

padresThere was a completely new energy in Petco Park that I have never seen before. Not only was it a record breaking crowd, it was a loud, interactive, and fun crowd. “Fair weather fans” is a common description of San Diego teams’ fan bases, due to typically low attendance records and lack of fan support, but watching the game, it was hard to believe I was actually watching the same ol’ Padres.

It was apparent that the crowd energized the players, seen in Everth Cabrera’s emphatic jumping fist pump, followed by a bevy of high fives in the dugout. The cameras shooting the game panned the crowd, displaying tens of thousands of fans waving jerseys, celebrating, not a single one in their seat.

I began to notice a change toward the end of the 2013 College Basketball season, where the hometown Aztecs were making some noise, and gained a pretty significant following. Sold out games have now become common at Viejas Arena, as well as a nationally ranked Aztec team and its’ emphatic fan base.

Flashback to last December, where the Chargers, thanks to some terrible field goal kicking and a missed penalty, earned a playoff bid, and went on to beat the Bengals. The city erupted with excitement and support of the Bolts, and so started the bolo-tie fashion trend.

Now the San Diego Padres are on national TV, are beating the Dodgers, and are breaking attendance records… who would have thought?

Could this be a lot of analysis from one game? Maybe. But it could be a sign of culture change among the sports teams of San Diego, which could bring about a culture of dedicated and supportive fans, packing stadiums, and transforming San Diego into a genuine sports city.