Friday, September 6, 2013

July 14- San Diego Padres

It’s kind of crazy to think that in the 17 years that I lived in California (born and raised) I never went to San Diego until years after I moved away. Living in Bakersfield for the majority of my life this really doesn’t make much sense, especially since the two cities are less than four hour apart from one another. An even weirder thing to consider out of this is that from when I was 13-years-old until I was 19 I was a pretty avid surfer. The furthest south my board and I had ever gotten in California was down to San Clemente, which is still only about an hour north of “a whale’s vagina.” I don’t know. I can’t think of an reasonable explanation as to how I dodged it for so long, but I’m glad that I was finally able to make it out there this last year to catch a game with fellow MLB Fan Cave hopeful Andy Bishop.

Andy and I hit it off almost immediately when we first met in person in February of 2012 for the top-30 of the Fan Cave auditions. He and I have the same appreciation for weird, outlandish, off-the-wall comedy and we are both Mormon. Well, he’s a bit more adherent to the rules than I am; nonetheless, we were both raised with the same faith and struck a common accord during our time together. I thought he would have been a lock as one of the final nine from last season, but then again, I felt that way about a lot of the people that I met. Like Los Angeles Dodgers fan Nick Hamilton, Andy was one of the many people who I told that I would go south to visit him and take him to a San Diego Padres game no matter what the outcome of the Fan Cave experience would be. Just a few days after Independence Day 2012 I lived up to my word.

The timing of my visit technically couldn’t be any worse. Yes, Andy was around; however, Andy was also in the process of moving and didn’t really have a place for me to crash, but we did end up slitting a hotel room downtown. Aside from being an aspiring sports play-by-play announcer, Andy served as a tour guide at Petco Park on off days and before Padres games. Sadly, I never got to get the grand tour from the man, but he did show me around a bit before the game started and after we got to shoot the breeze with Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Andy took me to the warehouse in left field and we made our way to the sandbox in centerfield and the grass knoll-area which sat behind. The Padres were hosting a beer and wine tasting event at the time which was a really cool bonus for fans who don’t otherwise want to just sit in their seat waiting for the game to start. One thing I wanted to do was check out the Padres team store as I was in search of a Tucson Padres cap, the AAA-affiliate of the Padres, for my collection. As luck would have it they had a score in stock; however, the price on the caps was $50, and this was before tax. I passed without thinking twice about it.

The game itself was pretty rough. Even our rally caps couldn't thwart the Padres 0-6 loss, but we didn’t let that spoil our night. 

Andy and I retreated to a local ale house for a quick beverage, well, I did and we stayed there until the end of the Seattle Mariners versus the Oakland Athletics game that was in the bottom off the ninth inning. Andy and I spent most of the time chatting about what we’ve got going on over the next couple of days when the next thing I knew Chris Carter had just blasted a three-run home run off of Steve Delabar in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the A’s a 4-1 win over the Mariners. Worn out an both with busy days the next morning, we went to the hotel, turned on MLB Network and passed out. Andy had all ready paid for the hotel so I headed outside in the middle of the night to grab a smoke and run to an ATM to get money to pay him back. Of all the things that I will ever forget from that trip, the one that sticks out the most is how I left the cash sitting on the nightstand next to Andy’s bed. When I didn’t see Andy leave the next morning, but saw the money gone, I couldn’t help but laugh at that exchange being almost like I paid Andy for a date that night. I have a twisted sense of humor sometimes.

If you’re an avid follower of my blog you might have recognized the cap I’m wearing in the photos with Andy as the Padres Military Day cap I wrote about on April 12th. Seeing how I didn’t write about the game I went to with Andy I felt that this was a good enough platform to bring it up, especially considering the fact that Petco Park, and the numbers I have marked are all relevant to the cap that I’m writing about. The Padres introduced it, along with this cap, at the start of the 2004 season when they retired the white “S” with orange “D”-logoed cap at the end of the 2003 season; this cap. In the case of this sand-colored “SD” logo cap, the Padres wore it as their road and alternate cap and retired it at the end of the 2011 season. The all-navy blue with a white “SD” cap then took over as their regular game cap. I couldn’t believe that I had never worn this cap until I put it on today; the price tag was still on the bottom.

Picking players to mark this cap up was actually a pretty easy move. 

#44- Of all the players to move on from the Padres over the last decade, the hardest to swallow has to be Jake Peavy. I had actually written about Peavy back on February 12th for one of my Lake Elsinore pieces, but there’s so much that I left out as I focused primarily on his time with the Storm. 

Peavy grew up in Mobile, Alabama and cheered the Crimson Tide through and through. As a kid he followed the Atlanta Braves whose core of the 1990s was built around the brilliant pitching of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and one of his sports heroes Greg Maddux. Jake’s father, Donny, was a skilled carpenter who made cabinets along with his father, Blanche, on their three-acre plot of land in the outskirt town of Semmes. Donny was an especially gifted and well-known ball player around town, as was Blanche. Jake was especially close to his grandfather who was still playing fast-pitch softball. He drove Jake to school in his old El Camino most mornings. After school, his grandfather would videotape Jake pitching, pop the tape in the VCR and analyze his motions. Despite all of this keen analysis, no one noticed that Jake was profoundly near sighted. After he got his first pair of glasses, he turned into an excellent hitter, too. One day, in 1994, Blanche turned on a fan in the shop and the unthinkable happened. The blade snapped and went through his eye and into his brain. He fell into a coma, and his family later agreed to let him go. Jake was devastated. From that day forward the loss motivated Jake as he gave it his all for his “Paw-Paw.”

When Jake was ready for high school, his parents sent him to St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile. The school had a reputation for its tremendous sports program, and his parents felt that this was a smart path for their son. St. Paul’s was a private school, so Debbie, his mother, had to take a job in the post office so they could afford the tuition. Money well spent.

As Jake grew into his burly 6-1 frame, he blossomed into an unbeatable pitcher. He had a hard fastball that he slung across his body, and a change up that was very advanced for a boy his age. In his first three varsity seasons, Jake went 31-1. He exhibited the kind of wildness one would expect in a live young arm, but after throwing an occasional pitch to the backstop, he was usually able to collect himself and get back down to business. The scouts who began showing up at his games took note of this quality. –

During Jakes senior season, 1999, he led the Saints to the state championship and never lost one of his 13 decisions on the mound. Of all the colleges who were interested in him, the University of Alabama was the one he wanted to attend the most. Upon hearing this Peavy was invited to Alabama’s campus in Tuscaloosa by then head coach Jim Wells for a tour and an offer… or so Peavy thought. Peavy though that Bama was going to roll out the red carpet for him, instead he was welcomed with little-to-no fanfare and the only offer he was given was Wells’ promise to pay for his books. Yup! The best high school pitcher in the state of Alabama was offered books. Dejected, Peavy took an audience with Auburn University head coach Hal Baird who offered him a full ride if he played for the Tigers. Peavy was at a cross road. He now had even more motivational fuel by playing for Auburn to stick it Alabama, or he could roll the dice and see where he ended up in the draft and make his decision from there. Peavy had all ready told most scouts that he would commit to Auburn if he wasn’t drafted in the first four rounds, which scared a lot of teams off… except one, the Padres. Padres’ scout, Mark Wasinger, had gotten to know Jake’s other grandfather, and was convinced that the kid had all the intangibles necessary to be a star. Wasinger called the Padres late in the draft and asked how high Jake had gone. When he was informed that his name was still on the board, he begged the club to take him. They did, in the 15th round. When the draft concluded Wasinger got Jake to agree that he would sign a contract if he was given fourth-round bonus money. Wasinger put his reputation on the line and convinced the Padres to offer six figures. Jake signed, making Hal Baird the unhappiest man in the state of Alabama.

Peavy made his Major League debut on June 22, 2002 and became an immediate fixture in the Padres rotation despite going 6-7 with a 4.52 ERA in his first year. From 2003-2006 Peavy would win at least 11 games per season, only having one losing year in 2006 where he went 11-14. His ERA was cut in half as he led the National League with a 2.27. In 2005 he made his first All-Star game as he lead the NL in strikeouts that season with 216. But all of these accomplishments were merely the warm-up to his phenomenal year in 2007.

Peavy’s final year in San Diego came in 2008, but it was his triple crown, second All-Star Game appearance, Cy Young-winning season in 2007 which will always make Peavy a legend in San Diego. That season he went 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA, 240 strikeouts and even a league-leading 1.061 WHIP to boot. Had the Padres made the playoffs that season Peavy may have won the NL MVP as well, but he finished in seventh place.

#30- If there is one player throughout my years whose name has come up at the most unusual times in my life; it has to be Ryan Klesko. Klesko was a fifth round draft pick by the Braves back in 1989 out of Westminster High School in Westminster, California. He made his Major League debut on September 12, 1992 and hung with the Braves all the way through their World Series run in 1995 and until the end of the season in 1999. In fact, Klesko is the only person in World Series history to knock a home run a three consecutive road games, which he did against the Cleveland Indians in ’95. At the end of the 1999 season he was traded to with Bret Boone and Jason Shiell to the Padres for Quilvio Veras, Reggie Sanders and Wally Joyner.

From 2000-2006 Klesko played first base and left field in San Diego where he made his one and only All-Star appearance in 2001 after hitting .286 with 30 home runs and a career-high 113 RBI. In 2002, he hit .300 with 29 HR and 95 RBI, and collected career-highs in hits (162) and doubles (39). In his career he has a .370 on base percentage with a .500 slugging average, for a .870 OPS. His .525 slugging percentage as a Brave ranks 4th all-time among the team's career leaders, ahead of Eddie Mathews. His .886 OPS as a Brave ranks him 5th among Braves' all-time leaders. Klesko hit .279 with 278 home runs and 987 for his career. He also had a really sweet mustache for most of his career.

My one story that has to do with him came in 2004 when I was interning at a newspaper in Salem, Oregon called The Statesman Journal. My first assignment was to interview a bunch of kids who were on a Little League team that was gearing up to make a solid run for Williamsport. One of the questions that I had to ask all of the kids was, “who is your favorite player?” One of the kids said his favorite player was “Brian Flesko.” I even had him write it down. Well, guess who got their ass chewed out for not correcting it to Ryan Klesko? It wasn’t that I didn’t know who the kid was talking about; I just knew that he was being a smartass so I decided not to change it, which is also why I made him write it down. Needless to say, I never let that happen again.

#3- Khalil Greene was one of my favorite players to come up through the Padres organization. A 2002 Baseball America All-American, Dick Hoswer Trophy winner, ACC Player of the Year, All-ACC first team, Rotary Smith Award winner, Golden Spikes Award winner (best college baseball player), sociology degree recipient out of Clemson University, Greene entered the MLB draft and was taken with the 13th overall pick by the Padres. Greene moved through the Padres farm system with ease in a year-and-a-half starting with the short season-A Eugene Emeralds on to the Lake Elsinore Storm on to the AA Mobile Bears and then for a brief time in 2003 with the Portland Beavers before making his MLB debut on September 3rd.

Greene became a regular fixture in the Padres lineup in 2004 and put up solid numbers in his first year, but finished second for the Rookie of the Year award behind Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jason Bay. Greene hit .273 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI on the season. Greene became a fan favorite overnight. He looked like Jeff Spicoli and played with reckless abandon.

Hell, he even won me over.

But Greene’s time with the Padres would be short-lived as he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2008 Winter Meetings. What’s actually pretty crazy is that even though Greene only played in five full season with the Padres, he still holds the franchise record for most home runs hit by a shortstop with 84. Greene took several weeks off during May and June 2009, after it was revealed that he was possibly injuring himself in mental anguish (revealed to be social anxiety disorder) due to a slow start for the Cardinals, hitting .197 with only three home runs at the time. He returned to the Cards lineup on June 19 at the Kansas City Royals. Playing third base for the first time since college, he went 2-for-2 with a double, a solo home run and a walk, eventually being substituted after fouling a ball off his foot. Following a 1 for 17 stretch over five games, Greene was placed back on the disabled list with social anxiety disorder on June 29. Greene filed for free agency for the 2010 season, and signed with the Texas Rangers. He announced on February 22, 2010 that, suffering another episode of social anxiety disorder, he would not be reporting to Rangers spring training. On February 25, the Rangers voided Greene's contract. Greene’s final game in MLB was October 4, 2009.

#32- Sean Burroughs was born in Atlanta, Georgia but grew up in Long Beach, California and is regarded as one of the greatest Little League World Series stars. His father Jeff, former American League MVP with the Texas Rangers, was the Long Beach coach and led his son and company to the LLWS and won back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993. Sean is also the only player to pitch back-to-back no-hitters in the LLWS. Before breaking into the Major Leagues Sean was also a somewhat accomplished writer as a piece of his was included as one of the freedom writers as his is diary entry #132.

Burroughs was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft by the Padres, bolstering solid numbers with the gold medal-winning 2000 USA Olympic team and the AAA Beavers in 2001 before getting called up and making his MLB debut on April 2, 2002. Burroughs’s career with the Padres had a lot of promise. His best season came in 2004 where he batted .298 with 156 hits, two home runs and 47 RBI, but after the 2005 season the Padres dealt him to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Dewon Brazelton. Burroughs only made it through August before the Devil Rays released him. After that, he faded into obscurity… or so people thought.

After getting released by the Seattle Mariners in June of 2007 Burroughs disappeared, literally. He ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada moving around from motel to motel, drinking up to eight Slurpees a day and eating cheeseburgers out of trashcans. Sounds unbelievable, right? It gets worse. During an interview with ESPN Burroughs admitted, "I was doing a lot of things that were morally not correct and physically not correct. I was knocking at death's door. I was flirting with going to jail and getting locked up someplace. It was scary. Some people kind of came to my rescue. It was pure insanity, but I got myself back together and I'm coming back out of the haze I was in for so many years.''

The former LLWS star, Olympic gold medalist and highly-touted prospect picked up the broken pieces of his life and got back into baseball in 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the Minnesota Twins in 2012. In 2013 he was signed to a minor league deal by the Los Angeles Dodgers and played 57 games with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts.

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