If you did not know it was early August, you would think it was the middle of October.
San Diego’s Mr. October had arrived and the atmosphere at Petco Park among Padres fans was that of a World Series game. It was an overnight sellout, TV news crews were broadcasting live and interviewing fans – including KUSI talking to you’re truly – as we walked into the stadium and the cheers and yells even before the first pitch were at a level rarely experienced at this cool ballpark.
Juan Soto was in a Padres uniform, #22, in right field and blockbuster trades that also brought the game’s best reliever, Josh Hader, to the team. Suddenly the team became a contender. At least in the fans’ eyes. And so, too, in the eyes of a few watchful (and jealous) Dodgers fans three hours to the north. One diehard texted me to say “the Padres just became real. They probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers in the division but might beat them in the playoffs.”
To the success-starved San Diego fans accustomed to sports disappointment in both baseball and pro football it’s okay to dream big and think thoughts of “World Series title or bust!”
The Soto opening game was on a Tuesday and he further endeared himself to the fans by throwing the between-innings warmup balls into the outfield stands. He walked in four pitches in his first plate appearance and a few batters later scored when another newcomer to the team, Brandon Drury, hit a grand slam. The Padres were ahead 5-zip in the fist inning and never looked back in a 9-1 rout of the Colorado Rockies.
@pubclub.com Big night @Padres as #juansoto jouns rhe team! #padres #pubclub #sandiego #baseball #bignight ♬ original sound – PubClub
All around the stadium there was a loose and confident feeling among the fans; they are too tainted from too many years of close calls with the Padres and recently-departed Chargers to be cocky. The fact the Padres were playing the team with the eighth-worst record in baseball did not matter on this night.
So can Soto and teammates deliver the team to glory never yet experienced in this city. It’s too soon, to tell, of course, but with Manny Machado – who homered on Tuesday – having an MVP year (.292 batting average, 19 homers and 59 RBIs) and Fernando Tatis Jr., to return by late August (if he can stay off a motorcycle, that is but wait, he failed a drug test for PEDs), the team is has a chance to go deep into the playoffs. And yes, quite possibly to the World Series.
And Padres fans are ready for if it happens.