If you’re reading this, you probably don’t fall into the category of fan I’m about to describe. If you’re reading this, you are the type of Padres fan that lives and dies on every pitch, every hit, and every catch. You care more than you probably should, you hurt longer than most after a loss, and you get excited a full five hours before the game starts. You are the type of fan the bigger cities fill their parks with. You are the fan that makes places like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park great. You are a true fan. Unfortunately, the Padres play in a small-market. That’s not breaking news, but it means they draw casual fans.
This is a delicate topic because casual fans help the Padres fund their team. They come, they buy group seating, they purchase hot dogs and sodas and beers. They help the Padres keep their park filled enough to stay out of the category Oakland Coliseum currently occupies. The casual fan is the lifeblood of the Padres, whereas the die-hards are the lifeblood of the Cubs or Red Sox.
To watch a Cubs game, with their loyal, energetic, passionate fans makes you yearn. It makes you yearn for the atmosphere, the love, the excitement, and the joy of cheering as one with a sold-out crowd. Watch a Red Sox game, and it’s hard not to get caught up in tradition passed down from generation of rowdy, entrenched fan to the next. The singing of Take Me Out to the Ball Game in Chicago or Tessie in Boston inspires every fan to believe. When you love something so collectively, where the desire to win sweeps up every person and brings them together, baseball becomes magical.
I see these scenes on TV, and I hear them on the radio. I can feel the intensity of the crowds at these games, and I know, aside from play-off baseball in San Diego, I will never experience that. There will never be a time where I question being a Padres fan, but I will always dream of more. I will always dream of a greater focus on the team’s history. 43 years is a long time, long enough to celebrate the history and tradition of baseball in San Diego. I will always dream of sold-out crowds singing during the seventh inning stretch shoulder to shoulder while cheering on the hometown nine. I will always dream of days in which the cheers of “Beat L.A.” clearly drown out the few Dodgers fans brave enough to enter the hostile territory of Petco Park.
Unfortunately, we are born into fandom or we develop is so deeply in ourselves that we have no choice but to cheer. Despite the small crowds, despite the rival fans entering the home stands, despite the lack of emotion, we are Padres fans and we live and die with this team. We may dream the big-city dreams, we may wish for booming crowds, we may hope for more, but no matter what we’ll still be fans.
But eventually the casual fans abandon us after Opening Day and leave Petco Park without capacity crowds. On Opening Day, the Padres drew 42,941. For game two, they drew 10,000 less at 32,490. By the fourth game of the opening series the Padres saw a drop of 23,920 fans compared with that of Opening Day. The fourth game was a Sunday, day game. It’s hard to imagine a good reason for the fans to abandon the team in this large a number over the course of just four games. The only reason is the casual fans were a little too casual. They came out in force for game one. They showed up in game two. Then, they stayed home for games three and four.
So we, the die-hard Padres fan, press on hoping for something more. We will watch, attend the games, and cheer this team on until the fair weather comes back and the casual fans return to the park. But as we wait for that day to come, we will continue to dream big. To be the admiration of baseball, with the sold-out crowds and true home field advantage, is our dream. But for now, that’s all it will remain; a dream.