Image credit: (Photo by Dennis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO — The last time there was this much excitement surrounding the Padres on Opening Day, Justin Upton stood in front of a locker on the left side of the visitor’s clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, Matt Kemp held court at the locker just inside the door and Craig Kimbrel was on a flight en route to Los Angeles after a stunning Easter Sunday trade.
That was 2015, the year the Padres were supposed to contend for the postseason and instead finished 74-88. Fifteen months after the franchise had been re-invigorated and the locker room inside Dodger Stadium was buzzing, almost every player acquired to bolster the team was gone.
This time it’s different. At least, it should be.
Buoyed by the No. 1 farm system in baseball, the Padres have organizational depth unmatched at any time in recent franchise history. They’ve shown a willingness to be a big player on the free agent market more than ever before, signing Eric Hosmer to a franchise-record deal prior to 2018 and one-upping themselves with a $300 million contract for Manny Machado before this season.
The hope is, for a franchise with five playoff appearances in 50 seasons of existence, that something stable and sustainable has finally been constructed. That maybe, just maybe, the right mix of depth and high-end talent is finally present.
“These guys on the field, this is definitely the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “And probably before that.”
A 2-0 Opening Day win over the Giants on Thursday was a start on the right track. It marked the Padres’ first Opening Day victory since 2014 and gave them a winning record for the first time at any point since June 8, 2015.
As important as the result was how it happened.
Eric Lauer, the Padres’ first-round compensation pick for letting Upton walk in free agency, pitched six scoreless innings for the win. Fernando Tatis Jr., the crown jewel of their lauded farm system and the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, went 2-for-3 and showed impressive savvy at 20 years old by laying down a bunt single with Giants third baseman Evan Longoria playing deep, a direct result of Tatis lacing a single under Longoria’s glove at normal depth in his first at-bat.
“It’s different,” Myers said. “This is a real team. This is a real lineup. The thing about today, we have six guys who can do what I did today. That’s what’s cool about this lineup.”
It’s just one game, one win more symbolic than substantial, but it was a victory in a town that hasn’t had many recently. It’s one that, rationally or not, helps set the tone and the expectation in a positive direction—that maybe the light at the end of tunnel after eight straight losing seasons is finally approaching.
“Just to show the fans what they want to see, to show them that we’re here and we’re ready to go,” Lauer said, “it’s going to be a fun season.”
The win came with Francisco Mejia and Chris Paddack, both Top 100 prospects, watching from the dugout. Trey Wingenter, the Padres’ No. 24 prospect, was the first one out of the bullpen. Set to start Friday is Joey Lucchesi, a rookie last year, followed by rookies Nick Margevicius on Saturday and Paddack on Sunday, who are both making their major league debuts.
The future is no longer residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana or San Antonio, Texas. It’s in San Diego, making it tangible and, ultimately, relevant to the city and fanbase at large.
“We just want to make things different,” Tatis said. “We want to show people what we can bring. All the fire and heat, and just play some hard baseball.”
The future is here. The talent is here. Already, just by winning on Opening Day, the Padres have taken a major step toward proving that things, finally, are different.
“We’ve approached every year trying to win and expecting to win. That expectation becomes more realistic with the talent that exists in that clubhouse now,” Green said.
“Some of these guys will come up and hit their stride right away, some of them will take a while to get going. We believe in every last one of them. We believe in the guys we sent down as well. There’s a lot of talent in the organization, and it’s fun that it’s starting to surface in the big leagues.”