When you’re a fan of a bad sports team, the things that matter to you become increasingly trivial. In the absence of any actual winning achievement you begin to cling to ideals like “honor”, “royalty”, or “pride”. Once you’ve accepted that your favorite team isn’t going to reward your support with things like playoff games you just hope that they’ll conduct themselves in a manner you can be proud of. It is a loser’s mentality, yes, but a loser that refuses to completely give up whatever hope they may have left. This mentality is on prevalent display a few nights a week at Petco Park, home to the bottom-feeding San Diego Padres.
To be clear, there are definitely worse teams to be attached to besides the Swingin’ Friars and their picturesque stadium in a city with near-perfect weather. Still, the Padres’ management has made a concerted effort to keep this franchise as frustrating as possible. Despite our boys in blue (or brown, or camouflage) not reaching the postseason since I was in the sixth grade, San Diego still loves and supports its Padres in a big way. All we ask in return is that they display a genuine desire to win over the course of nine innings and knock a few dingers every once in a while. They generally oblige us and so we keep dancing up in the cheap seats after a couple of tragically overpriced beers.
Alright, so now you’re wondering what the point is. Why am I sitting here describing to you what it’s like to watch your favorite team lose all the time and just hope they’ll maybe beat the Dodgers every now and then? Funny you should ask, because I really want to stress how winning isn’t nearly as important to us as THE PRIDE OF THE TEAM. Got that? Good, now pay attention. On Monday, June 19, the Padres and Cubs kicked off a home series for the defending champs who had been swept in San Diego earlier this season. In the sixth inning, after a Kris Bryant fly ball, Anthony Rizzo (a former Padre by the way) was heading home when he decided that it might be better to launch himself straight into our beautiful and innocent catcher, Austin Hedges, than to score in what was a closely contested game. Rizzo went knee-first into Hedges, who was completely out of Rizzo’s path to the plate, and crushed him into the ground. Hedges had to leave the game with a thigh contusion and would not be able to return. Here is handy chart to help in case you can’t quite visualize the scenario:
Although the MLB is known for its numerous and often confusing unwritten rules, there happens to be a pretty clear statute for this sort of scenario. The MLB rule 7.13 states: “a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher”. Pretty cut and dry if you ask me. So Padres fans were understandably upset on Tuesday when the MLB office inexplicably announced that Rizzo had definitely violated the rule, but would not be punished. Imagine a cop responding to your 911 call and saying, “This guy definitely robbed you, but I’m not going to arrest him”. It was a classic case of a big-name player on a big-name team being favored over the all-but irrelevant club down there on the coast. In his postgame comments, Padres manager Andy Green called out Rizzo for his shady play, calling it a “cheap shot” and an “egregious violation of the rule”. At this point it was obvious what San Diego what have to do. If the league office was going to let Rizzo off the hook and Cubs manager Joe Maddon was going to pretend his player had done nothing wrong then the Padres would have to take matters into their own hands. There was only clear solution: hit Rizzo. He would be the leadoff hitter the next day and it was the perfect opportunity to send a simple yet important message: we’re not going to let you walk all over us.
The next day at work there was a palpable buzz surrounding the game. “Did you see Rizzo last night?” co-workers asked. “We have to hit him, there’s no way we let him off the hook for that”, others asserted. So imagine my surprise when my phone buzzed with an update from the ESPN app: Rizzo homered to center. Cubs lead the Padres 1-0 in the top of the 1st. Wait, what?! So not only did we let him off the hook, but we laid some ham across the plate for him to smash into oblivion? I couldn’t believe it. I immediately started to receive texts from friends all disgusted that our team had seemingly laid down and accepted Rizzo’s disrespect. Remember earlier when I spent a whole page explaining that we deal with our team’s numerous, numerous losses by taking pride in the attitude of the club? When Green commented on Tuesday that he “didn’t want the team to retaliate” was as fans were left with neither. And why shouldn’t we retaliate, Andy? Hedges is a key player in the core of a young, rising team. The man’s on billboards all over the city. I got a pocket schedule the other day and guess whose ruggedly handsome face was on the front cover? THE MAN WALKS OUT TO CARELESS WHISPER, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
The Padres failure to stand up for Hedges, and themselves, left many a fan asking themselves this question: If the team doesn’t win and the team doesn’t have a fighting spirit, then what am I supporting? It’s a question that I’ve spent the past week asking myself as well and, to be honest, I’ve failed to come up with an answer. Andy Green successfully implored a city used to losing to buy into his vision of a playoff contender and now, with one decision, he may have torn it all down. The Rizzo incident was washed out of the news cycle by Wednesday night, but the anger and confusion it caused in the hearts of Padres fans will linger for a long time to come.