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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Tough time to be a San Diego Padres fan

San Diego couldn't afford Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy, who have gone on to bigger things. 'You've got to leave San Diego to get a championship,' says Boston's Quintin Berry, another former Padre.

October 25, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Jake Peavy will start Game 3 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox, but he spent the first part of his career with the San Diego Padres where he was a Cy Young winner.
Jake Peavy will start Game 3 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox, but… (Matt Slocum / Associated…)

ST. LOUIS — It has been 11 years since the World Series last visited Southern California.

If you're a Dodgers fan, these are pretty good times. Your team just got within two games of the Series, and baseball's biggest wallet remains wide open.

If you're an Angels fan, these are fair times. Your team has a pitching staff riddled by question marks, but you can enjoy the best player in baseball, Mike Trout.

If you're a San Diego Padres fan, these are maddening and miserable times. Adrian Gonzalez took the Dodgers deep into the playoffs, and Jake Peavy starts for the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, in Game 3 of the World Series.

Gonzalez and Peavy were your guys.

Gonzalez was a hometown hero in San Diego and Tijuana, an elite first baseman at bat and in the field. Peavy, a two-time National League strikeout leader, won the 2007 Cy Young Award.

The Padres traded Gonzalez rather than pay him the market rate. They signed Peavy to a contract extension at market rate, then traded him before the deal took effect.

If the Padres had used the returns from the Gonzalez and Peavy trades to build a winner, then all's well that ends well. However, these days the Padres' season does not usually end well. More likely, it ends in July or August.

"It's a bummer to see," Peavy said Friday, at a news conference in which he and his two sons all wore Red Sox uniforms. "From the time I got to San Diego, we made some progress moving into the new ballpark.

"I'll always have a part of me in San Diego and love that fan base and love that organization. But I can tell you this: I've never felt the way I do feel when I put this uniform on."

The Padres moved into Petco Park in 2004, then won the NL West in 2005 and 2006. Attendance has fallen by about a third since Petco opened, and the Padres have finished at least 16 games out of first place in five of the last six seasons.

Quintin Berry, a Red Sox outfielder, grew up in San Diego. He played for civic icon Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. He watched Gonzalez and Peavy play at Petco.

With Boston, he and Peavy are three victories from a World Series title.

"That's what everybody says: You've got to leave San Diego to get a championship," Berry said, "even with the Chargers. That's just the way it is."

The Red Sox have won as many World Series games this week — one — as the Padres have in their 45-year existence.

If you win, no one cares how much you spend. If you don't win, you can spend money and look as if you're trying. If you don't win and don't spend money, good luck building a fan base to carry you through the lean years.

"I think the fans understand that's the way it's going to be," Berry said. "They don't put their hearts and souls into it.

"I'm guilty of it, as a Chargers fan. When things are going really well, we're behind 'em. When they're not, we find something else to do."

The Padres had one thing in common with the Dodgers: a major league team and minor league organization decimated by the divorce of a former owner. Unfortunately for the Padres, they were not the team rescued by baseball's version of an economic stimulus program.

That leaves Josh Byrnes, the Padres' general manager, to rebuild a franchise on thin margins, to compete against the financial colossus in Dodger blue, and to satisfy fans wondering why their team cannot get close to the playoffs when small-market teams in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay can get in.

"I think the fans are more than fair," Byrnes said.

Byrnes said he believes the Padres can post a winning record next year. It might be a stretch to contend, but Byrnes said the fans understand there are no shortcuts to building a sustainable contender.

The alternative would be to gamble on winning one year and blow it up thereafter. The Padres tried that in 1998. They got to the World Series.

On Quintin Berry's block, they dragged a television outside and a had a viewing party in the street.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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