Last offseason on my now-defunct FoxSports blog I did a series of interviews with other bloggers about their baseball fandom. It ended up being a pretty popular series, and I don't know if I myself ever had more fun blogging than when I put those posts together. Now that the offseason is unfortunately here again we fans of the world's greatest sport need something to keep the flame burning. I thought I'd share those interviews over here so that they don't get relegated to obscurity. You probably won't know these bloggers, but if you're like me, you love hearing baseball fans talk about their memories of the game. Since these are from last offseason, a few of the questions and answers are a little dated, but it shouldn't make them any less enjoyable.
This is the third one I did, with Bolt Backer 21 (Will), a Padres fan.
1. Where did it start? How and when did you become a baseball fan?
I can’t remember the day, like a born-again moment, but I know that it was in the early '70's when I became a baseball fan(atic). I was constantly watching baseball or playing wiffle ball in my front yard. I started playing when I was 8, in 1974. I quickly became a Dodgers fan. I’m sure that thrilled my father, as we lived in San Diego and he supported the Padres. I guess the fact that the Dodgers were winning games and the Padres were a horrible team with little history made Los Angeles easier to root for.
I was a huge Steve Garvey fan. I even picked Steven as my confirmation name when I turned 13. Not exactly Biblical, but no harm done. When Garvey was sent packing to San Diego, my allegiance went with him. I was thrilled that I would be able to watch him whenever we went as a family to watch a game. Unfortunately, his boy-next-door reputation was tainted after he retired and we found out that he impregnated half of downtown San Diego. This knowledge brought about bumper stickers that read "Steve Garvey is not my Padre." I wish I had thought of that one.
2. Of all the baseball games you've attended, which one is your favorite?
This is a tough one. I don’t know that I have one particular game that is my favorite. The whole experience of going to the games was enough for me. I loved popping popcorn before the game and bringing it in a grocery bag, loading the whole family in our 1967 Chevy Impala station wagon and heading down to San Diego Stadium (later to be Jack Murphy and Qualcomm). Walking into the stadium was another favorite moment of mine. That moment when you walk through the tunnel and the field appears is still awe-inspiring to me.
As for individual games, I never went to a playoff or WS game, so I don’t have those kinds of memories. However, I do remember going to "Old Timers" games where the former greats would play a short game before the Padres would come out for their game. I still have a scorecard that my Dad kept from an old timers game where Mickey Mantle got a hit.
There was another game where I went with my college baseball team. We tailgated in the parking lot through the first 8 innings! I finally got fed up and went in to the game. The Pads were playing the Phillies. The game was tied in the ninth, when I took my seat. Mike Schmidt hit a foul ball into the upper deck, about one section away from me, and it smacked the hand of a fan who tried to catch it. That ball was smoking. I remember thinking that the guy probably broke his hand and didn’t even get the ball. Anyway, the game went on for another six innings, so I got to see much more than I thought I would.
I guess my favorite game, looking back, would be a Little League Night, back when I was around 10. My whole team loved Tito Fuentes. He was a flashy second baseman who did wild and ridiculous things when he played. He was a true hot dog on the field. To give you an example, the character "Willie Mays Hayes" from the movie Major League acted like Tito in the batting practice scene. During that game, my Dad kept telling us how bad Fuentes was and we didn’t want to hear it. We loved flipping the ball up to our bare hand after catching a ground ball and throwing it to first. We loved bouncing the bat handle off of the plate and making it flip up into our hands too! Horrible!? C'mon Dad! By the time the game was over, Tito had three errors and cost the Padres the game. My respect for Fuentes lowered and raised for my Father.
3. Which Padres season did you most enjoy following?
1984! That was the first time that the Padres made the World Series!!! A young Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, Graig Nettles, etc. were very fun to watch. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzzsaw in Detroit and lost in five. Kirk Gibson hit another memorable homerun in that series against The Goose, who talked Dick Williams out of walking him. Goose still gets teased about that.
4. The Padres have gone through a lot of uniform changes over the years. Which uniform do you think was the best?
This is a tough question. When the Padres were a minor league franchise in the PCL, they were blue and orange (b@O)! When they went to the bigs in 1969, they changed to brown and gold, except the gold was often an egg yolk yellow. There were years when they had yellow jerseys and pants with brown writing. Those were hideous. They then switched to brown and orange, and then blue and orange again.
When they got the new stadium, they came up with new colors, blue and sand. I think their home unis are my favorite, but their sand on sand road unis are brutal.
5. What was your most heartbreaking moment as a baseball fan?
I remember going to a game in the '80's and looking forward to seeing my hero Steve Garvey play. He had a consecutive games streak going that was soon to be the longest in N.L. history. I sit down with my binoculars and watch them exchange the lineups at home plate. When I looked at the scoreboard, Garvey was not in the lineup!!!! He eventually did show up and batted one time, late in the game. That was not enough for me.
6. I'll name some names and you tell me what comes to mind. It can be a thought, a memory, or whatever you want.
Gene Richards= Not that it bothered me, but I remember Richards as one of the ugliest players in the league, right up there with Derrel Thomas and George Foster. Anyway, Richards choked up about nine inches from the handle and slapped the ball. He was actually pretty good. He hit over .300 at least once and stole quite a few bases.
Tim Flannery= Flan was scrappy. That guy busted his butt and never took a play off. He got most of his ability to come out. I met him at the San Diego School of Baseball one day. I recalled a moment in the 1984 playoffs against the Cubs when he got hit by a Rick Sutcliffe slider, right in the knee. I asked him how he was able to shrug it off and run down to first base. He said, "Nothing hurts in the playoffs." I also heard him state, regarding the signing of Jerry Royster to platoon with Flan at second, "He hit .241 last year! I could hit .241 drunk!"
Eric Show= Show was a tough little pitcher who was famous for sitting on the mound after giving up Pete Rose’s record-breaking base hit. Rose did have a nice statement about Show once, however. Rose said, "Anyone who hits a homerun on a slash (butcher boy) play can play on my team any day."
Goose Gossage= In my collection of memorabilia I still have a "Goose Saved the Game" pin. Every time he saved a game everyone in attendance got one of these pins and free food from some local restaurant. I used to love The Goose. He had the ultimate in maximum-effort deliveries. It was much like my own in high school. Goose would come in during the seventh inning and be expected to stop whatever rally had started and then finish the game. Most of the time he would succeed.
I also remember Goose pitching in an exhibition game against San Diego State. He blew a fastball past one of the SDSU hitters that left the batter staring at his teammates with a silly grin on his face. You could tell that he had never faced anyone like Goose before.
I was glad to see him make it to the HOF this year. It was about time!
Bip Roberts= Another overachiever. Bip was a little guy who hustled all of the time.
Phil Plantier= I grew up and played against, and with, Phil’s brother Ray. Ray used to put his bat in a vice to flatten the barrel. He figured that would help him hit the ball squarely. It worked pretty well.
I also remember getting free beer at a club because my friend told everyone I was Phil Plantier. Who was I to call him a liar?
Scott Livingstone= I remember the name, but not the player.
Quilvio Veras= Veras was a solid second baseman on the Padres' second, and last, World Series team.
Brian Lawrence= Lawrence was a puss-throwing righty who had some decent years with the Padres. He is also the starting pitcher on the baseball game that I have on my cell phone. He kicks butt in that!
7. Other than Tony Gwynn, who would you say is the greatest player in Padres history?
There were many great players, but most made their mark for other teams:
Jake Peavy (soon to be on another team)
After thinking, I would say that the greatest player in Padres history other than Gwynn was Randy Jones.
He was a crafty lefty who couldn’t break a bottle at a carnival booth. He threw his fastball in the high seventies and his curve was said to have been faster than his fastball. He won 20 or more games twice as a Padre when the team was at its lowest. He threw 25 complete games in 1976 while posting a 22-14 record. He pitched 315 1/3 innings in 1976 as well.
Today, Jones is a radio personality for the Padres' pregame show and owns his own chain of barbecue stands, as well as his own barbecue sauce that is sold in stores. If you find yourself at Petco Park, go out past the center field fence and check out his stand. He is often there serving up the food and talking to fans.
8. How did you feel about Bruce Bochy leaving for San Francisco?
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out Boch! Honestly, Bochy did a lot with what he was given. When he had talent, he won. When the cupboards were bare, he lost. Of course, isn’t that the case with most managers? If your team is loaded, you normally win. I do not think that he ever was able to overachieve with a team by doing a great job inspiring them or bringing talent out of underachievers.
I know the players loved him because he kept the bench players busy and he got the starters a lot of rest. However, he would rest guys who were on fire and replace them with scrubs. The next day, the hot starter had cooled off and didn’t have it anymore. He also didn’t like smallball, which made it difficult with few power hitters.
9. What's your opinion of Kevin Towers?
I think that K.T. has done a good job over the years. Last year may be the exception. He has pulled off some great trades and built very good bullpens in the past. Last year, everything fell apart.
I also think that most of his power has been stripped. He is looked over by Sandy Alderson, Grady Fuson and Paul DePodesta. Personally, I think Alderson is the CEO, GM, and perhaps future owner (the team just went up for sale).
I would like to see what Towers could do with a big budget.
10. What changes would you make if you were in charge of Major League Baseball?
It will never happen, but I would like to see the contracts changed from guaranteed to a limited guarantee. Right now, if a player signs a multi-year deal, he will get his money no matter what. There may be a buy-out clause, but the team is still screwed if a player turns out to be a bust after signing for millions. Look at the Dodgers with Andruw Jones. He gets a massive contract and then earns his way back to the minors. No matter what, the Dodgers have to pay him the rest of his contract.
There needs to be some kind of accountability. If you sign a contract and then fall on your face, your team should be able to dump your contract and either renegotiate or send you packing at the end of the year. This may put an end to the old "Look for him to do well. This is a contract year!" A player should always push to be at his best, not just when a contract is coming to an end.
11. What changes would you like to see the Padres make?
Owners. John Moores did a nice job when he first stepped in and kept the Padres from moving. Now, he is getting a divorce and has to cut the payroll from around 80 million to around 35-40 mil. He is being forced to dump talent and pick up kids. At this point he may as well keep going and get rid of Peavy and Giles, because they are in a position now that they have too many holes to fill to win anytime soon. Word is that Moores announced today that he would be willing to sell the team.
12. To sum things up, tell us what the game of baseball means to you.
I love the game of baseball. The most fun in my life was when I was playing baseball. Whether it was Little League, high school, college, semi-pro, or just a pick up game with some friends, I was always looking to play. I played from age 8 to 30 and loved every minute of it.
I remember playing in three leagues at the same time one summer. My poor parents were constantly driving me from one field to another. They were almost always at my games and never used my participation as a weapon.
To me, baseball is a game of strategy, skill, and teamwork. It’s a thinking man's game where a crafty lefty can be triumphant over a big slugger. It is a game where a slap hitter can get a game-winning hit off of a guy blowing 100 MPH. You can watch baseball every day of your life and never see all the possible plays happen. There is always something new.
Will's blog unfortunately no longer exists, but it will live on in the memories of those of us who enjoyed it. It looks like he got his wish about a new owner and that his prediction on Jake Peavy leaving soon was correct.