It started with Marvell Wynne.
It was the 1986 Pennant Chase, and it’s right around this point that my first baseball memories were developing. I remember the likes of Alejandro Pena, Alex Trevino, Bill Madlock accompanying the Dodgers’ ‘stars’ like Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero.
The Dodgers were involved in the Pennant Chase and I keenly recall Marvell Freakin’ Wynne hitting a bases clearing triple to win a late season game for the Padres, inching them closer to the division title that would eventually be the Dodgers’. Regardless, those fake pinstripes and ugly colors bothered me even then – I mean, you’re NOT the Yankees, lose the pinstripes. Even though my family had a fondess for and cousin residing in the city, it irked me that they wanted to be included under the SoCal umbrella. True, they were SoCal geographically but SoCal is Los Angeles. NOT Orange County, NOT Riverside, and certainly NOT the sleepy beach town that had somehow grown into a moribund metropolis.
Regardless, I ended up meeting Dale Murphy on a family vacation in San Diego the following year, and then in 1988 – as fate would have it – my first ‘real’ little league team, in Mission Hills Major Division, happened to be those ugly-pinstriped Friars. For three stinkin’ years I was a Padre, and for three years we’d come up short. The Braves, the Astros, the Cardinals – these were real teams, real organizations! – would edge us out one way or the other. Realistically, it was because they had more talent and better coaching. I knew better, though – it was because we were the Padres, the franchise that would torment Los Angeles so subtly but so consistently that I grew to out-hate by innate Bay Area rival Giants. This was a true antipathy for the Pads.
From 1990 – 1995, the Pads were a non-factor, never finishing higher than 3rd. They still pestered my beloved Dodgers, however, and Gary Sheffield’s angry bat waving and blistering bat speed might have single-handedly banished the Dodgers to 99 losses in 1993. At least in my own mind. I mean Steve Finley, Brad Ausmus – guys who would become Dodgers – were at the time some of my least favorite players. They just annoyed me, and that’s my whole point here: everything about San Diego is annoying. At least to true Angelenos. And as my adolescence progressed, I became more loyal – fiercely loyal – to mi ciudad. San Diego was a Ken Caminiti throw across the diamond from Tijuana, but the franchise seemed so antiseptic, this quasi-Disney world of self-imposed, sun-enamored isolation. I mean Tony Gwynn was a GREAT ballplayer, a really dynamic player on all levels, but he was a singles hitter. And that’s perfect Padre baseball. Even their all-time greatest legend’s best skill was getting to first base.
The 1998 World Series was particularly annoying, but being that I was in college – the rivalry to the southerly neighbors was an afterthought, and they were swept by the Yankees anyway. Take that, you fake pinstripers. No matter anyway, as the Padres reclaimed their rightful place in the N.L. West gutter for three of the subsequent five seasons.
The arrival of Bruce Bochy and his massive cabeza spawned a renaissance of Padre hatred for me in my early adult years. A pragmatic manager with mediocrity seemingly ingrained in his demeanor, he guided the club through those comfortable years at the bottom of the division. Then all of a sudden the emergence of Jake Peavy somehow thrusts this barely-over-.500 team to the Division Title. With an offense featuring Brian Giles & Ryan Klesko, they were rightfully swept in the playoffs and on their merry way. But with the Dodgers in perennial turmoil (read: Fox, McCourt), the Padres were somehow a better franchise. The Pads, especially after their Adrian Gonzalez-led division repeat in 2006, were literally a superior organization than my beloved Dodgers. Even with the most overrated closer in the game’s history in Trevor Hoffman – hey guys, try to hit my 83mph changeup, because I know you can smoke my 89mph fastball – the Padres were piling up wins faster than my team. And this annoyance was waxing again. It became evident that the Padres would be the perennial thorn in my side, at least vis-a-vis my Dodgers feelings.
Which brings us to last night. And Carlos Quentin. Carlos Quentin, who by the way, attended Stanford University, the “Ivy League of the West Coast.” Carlos Quentin, who has been hit 98 times by pitch since 2008, by far the major league leader, decided that Zack Greinke, he of the anxiety disorders, the social awkwardness, the i’d-rather-be-anywhere-than-in-the-spotlight, would intentionally throw at him in a one-run ballgame, with a full count. Based on the reactions of Greinke (kicked the dirt, turned his head), A.J. Ellis (casually pulled off his mask) and everybody in the stadium aside from Carlos Quentin, one could reasonably assess that Zack Greinke did NOT hit Quentin intentionally. Quentin thought otherwise and the ensuing brouhaha left everybody so aghast that Matt Kemp, the centerfielder, was ejected six minutes after the brawl stopped. Jerry Hairston was also ejected, and he wasn’t even playing. Hanley Ramirez made his first on-field cameo in 2013, and Josh Beckett was the peacemaker.
I was flipping back-and-forth between Vin Scully’s poetic blow-by-blow and MLB Network’s live look-in with Greg Amsinger, Mitch Williams & Dan Plesac, and the former ballplayers were downright angry. “Matt Kemp is so angry because he knows Carlos Quentin doesn’t know baseball!” Williams exclaimed. “You don’t hit a guy intentionally in that situation.” Plesac also defended Greinke, “You can tell by everybody’s reaction this wasn’t intentional. When a catcher and pitcher know that you’re throwing at a guy, the catcher will immediately place himself between the batter and pitcher after the pitch.”
Which brings us back to Carlos Quentin, and back to San Diego. It’s a city that is so engulfed in itself that it doesn’t perceive the obvious. You’re nice, you’re relaxing, but nobody really likes you. That applies to real SoCal natives and it certainly is germane to the National League West. I need to just stop concerning myself with this psuedo-rival and worry about the team that’s up north and has earned the moniker of rival through a century of playing on a level ballfield. I mean, Marvell Wynne? Really?