So I was asked to do what we in the media refer to as a “year-ender.” It’s a look back at the last 12 months in the San Diego sporting landscape. But the request was to do it with a bit of optimism. After hearing that caveat my first thought was “Can I just donate a kidney? That would be easier.”
I mean let’s face it, 2016 was not exactly the best year for San Diego sports. We almost lost our football team only to find out we’re probably going to lose our football team … our baseball team traded away pretty much every familiar face … our basketball teams missed the NCAA Tournament … and arguably the most recognizable athlete from our town got in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
So let’s take a walk down amnesia lane, month by month, to see why 2017 can really only be an improvement.
The year started with the Chargers completing their 4-12 season in a 27-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Then they gave embattled head coach Mike McCoy a contract extension. Then they went to Houston expecting to have their Carson stadium plan approved so they could leave San Diego and head to Los Angeles. Dean Spanos went to Houston for the decision and had his teeth kicked in by NFL owners, who voted 30-2 to let Stan Kroenke move the Rams to Inglewood instead.
Of course all that did was start the next act in what was a comedy of errors that nobody found at all funny.
The Padres made a couple of nice additions, adding infielder Adam Rosales and reliever Ryan Buchter. But they made a not-so-nice addition with shortstop Alexei Ramirez. But, the All-Star game at Petco Park was just seven months away!
We did get to see one of the most interesting Farmers Insurance Opens of all time. After a couple of picturesque days of golf the weather over Torrey Pines was outright nasty. One of the very few players to finish his round on Sunday was Brandt Snedeker. By the time the day was over he was the clubhouse leader so he had to stick around for Monday to see if he had done enough to get in to a playoff. That takes us to …
On February 1, Snedeker warmed up on the driving range, did not hit a shot, and won the tournament when nobody else could go get him.
The Padres started Spring Training with hopes of getting back to respectability. Signing closer Fernando Rodney was a nice addition. In fact he was soon to be on his way to the All-Star Game at Petco Park. Of course it would be in another uniform but THAT’S HOW 2016 WENT FOR US!
The Chargers made waves in February when they revealed they would be putting together a proposal to build a new stadium/convention center annex in Downtown San Diego. The plan was assembled without input from any of the local political structure, which immediately organized to start opposing it.
On the penultimate day of the month, however, we had some good news. Jimmie Johnson won the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in Atlanta, the first victory in what would become a season for the ages for the El Cajon native.
The month started with the Padres playing their annual Charity Game against the Mariners in Peoria. San Diego lost 7-0. Little did we know this would be a precursor of how the entire season would go. They also traded Ramona High School alum Nick Vincent to the Mariners.
The Aztecs basketball team lost in the finals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament to Fresno State, missing out on a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. They ended up in the NIT, where they lost in the semi-finals to George Washington.
The Chargers released the details of their $1.8 billion stadium initiative, asking for $1.15 billion dollars in public money in the form of a hotel tax increase. With a republican Mayor. In California, one of the most tax-averse states in the union.
In the Major Arena Soccer League, the Sockers lost to the Sonora Suns in the Pacific Division Final. After winning four straight league championships the Sockers ran their title-less skid to three straight seasons.
But, U.C. San Diego’s men’s basketball team made it to the 3rd round of the NCAA Division II West Region Playoffs, giving us something to keep March from completely stinking.
At the Masters Phil Mickelson, the most successful and recognizable golfer from our town, missed the cut at the Masters, a tournament he has won three times, after imploding with a 79 on Friday.
The Padres opened the 2016 regular season with a series against the Dodgers at Petco Park. Los Angeles won the opener 15-0, the only game San Diego ace Tyson Ross would pitch all season (shoulder and leg injuries ended his year after that loss) then were shut out 3-0 and 7-0.
Thank goodness for the Gulls! In their inaugural American Hockey League season San Diego’s professional hockey team went to the playoffs, knocking off Texas in the opening round before falling to Ontario in the Pacific Division Finals. The Gulls were easily one of the most fun stories in San Diego sports in 2016
The Chargers held a signature drive to try and get people to support their citizens’ initiative for a Downtown stadium/convention center. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to say we can have a Super Bowl if we build a new facility.
At the end of the month the Chargers had a really good NFL Draft. They took Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry and Jatavis Brown, all of whom turned in to impact players as rookies.
The Chargers had their rookie mini-camps and people raved about Bosa. Little did they know that trouble was brewing on that front.
Mickelson was caught in an insider trading scandal and ordered by the SEC to repay nearly $1 million. He allegedly received a stock tip from a notorious gambler and bought several shares, partially to repay a gambling debt.
But former SDSU star Kawhi Leonard gave us a positive when he was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
So did Chula Vista native Paul Arriola, who played his first game as a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team and scored a goal in a friendly against Puerto Rico. Arriola also set up Bobby Wood for a goal in a 3-1 United States victory. He would score again in a World Cup qualifier in September against Trinidad & Tobago.
This month U.C. San Diego students voted to increase athletics fees and move the school from Division II up to Division I. In December the faculty would also vote in favor of making the move. By the end of the year the Tritons were only waiting on an invitation to join the Big West Conference to make the move official.
This is the month that things really started going crazy. In the first week the Padres traded James Shields to the White Sox for Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr., the first sign that the youth movement was fully on. By the end of the month they had also traded Rodney to the Marlins for Chris Paddack. In between they found a massive positive when they stumbled upon Ryan Schimpf. The elderly rookie (he’s 28 years old) 2nd baseman ended up third on the team with 20 home runs in just 276 at-bats.
Things started unraveling for the Chargers in June. They submitted their signatures on the citizens’ initiative with no problem but found out their plan would need two-thirds approval from voters, not the simple majority they had expected. That put the Bolts behind the proverbial 8-ball and they decided to scale back the campaign for the measure knowing it would be a lost cause. NO tax increase of any kind in California will garner 66% approval.
Also in June first round pick Joey Bosa decided he was not going to practice until his contract situation was sorted out. That set off another round of the team horribly botching a contract negotiation, something fans in San Diego have become all too familiar with.
Back to baseball for a moment: the Padres selected Stanford right-hander Cal Quantrill with the 8th overall pick in the MLB Draft. He signed 11 days later. The Friars also selected one Quinn Hoffman in the 36th round. However, Trevor’s son decided going to play at Harvard was a better bet at this point in his career. It’s a cliché but he made the smart move. You don’t turn down an Ivy League education for the bus leagues!
And in the first round of that draft La Costa Canyon outfielder Mickey Moniak was selected first overall by the Phillies. He joins San Diego products Stephen Strasburg, Adrian Gonzalez, Brady Aiken, Matt Bush and Bryce Harper (who played for the San Diego Show and San Diego Stars travel ball teams) as the first player taken in the Draft.
The Padres went temporarily insane in July. They spent a whole lot of cash on international free agents. Exact numbers for Venezuelan players are not made public because of the potential for danger to the players’ families but by the time the year was over the Friars had committed what is believed to be more than $80 million to players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Taiwan, most of them still teenagers.
But the All-Star Game at Petco Park was a smashing success. Wil Myers, who would have one of the greatest offensive seasons in San Diego Padres history with 28 home runs, 28 doubles and 28 stolen bases, participated in the Home Run Derby and was hitting cleanup as the National League’s Designated Hitter. Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning. USD product Kris Bryant hit a first inning home run. But the American League won the game 4-2. Multiple writers and baseball executives raved about San Diego as a host city and openly campaigned to have the Midsummer Classic return.
Not long after that game the Padres traded Pomeranz to the Red Sox for super-prospect Anderson Espinoza. By the time the month was over the Friars had also dealt Melvin Upton Jr., Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea, Tayron Guerrero and Matt Kemp for a bunch of prospects, quick fixes in the rotation, or cash.
The Chargers started training camp (without Joey Bosa) and in the first week lost wide receiver Stevie Johnson to a season-ending knee injury. That would once again become a theme for the Chargers in 2016.
The Albion Pros and North County Battalion both reached the playoffs of the National Premiere Soccer League in their inaugural seasons, proving again San Diego is one of the best soccer markets in the nation.
Much like the entirety of the United States Olympic team, Olympians from San Diego had a fantastic showing at the 2016 Rio Games. No fewer than 15 athletes who either live or grew up in America’s Finest City won a medal. Bonus points since none of them made up a story about being mugged.
The Padres took a misstep this month when they had to take Colin Rea back from the Marlins after Miami realized he had a serious elbow issue. This, along with the Pomeranz trade, sparked an investigation that revealed the team had been keeping two sets of medical records, a big-time NO-NO. General Manager A.J. Preller ended up suspended for a month and eventually, although it’s not been proven, there has been rampant speculation that the scandal contributed to former C.E.O Mike Dee leaving the organization.
The Chargers played their preseason games, starting with a tilt against the Titans in Nashville where running back Melvin Gordon found the end zone for the first time on an NFL field. That turned out to be an indicator that Gordon was in for a Pro Bowl-caliber year.
Joey Bosa ended his holdout and signed a 4-year contract but tweaked a hamstring and missed the first four games of the season. They could have used him.
The Chargers opened the season with a game in Kansas City and things could not have been going better. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead and looked ready to demolish their division rivals until wide receiver Keenan Allen tore his ACL. The team was not the same after that, blowing the first of what would be many double-digit leads in the 4th quarter of games and losing 33-27 in overtime. The Bolts would beat the Jags then lose to the Colts on the road.
The Aztecs football team opened the season with three straight wins and found themselves ranked in the Top-25.
The Padres finished the regular season with a whimper, getting swept by the Diamondbacks in the season’s final series (which actually stretched in to October). By losing three straight they “earned” the third overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. But the Friar Faithful had a reason to get excited.
The El Paso Chihuahuas won the Pacific Coast League championship behind the most potent offense in the minor leagues. Outfielder Hunter Renfroe was named MVP of the PCL while infielder Carlos Asuaje earned Newcomer of the Year. They were both called up to the big club, along with outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher Austin Hedges, at the end of September. All of them made a contribution but it was Renfroe’s prodigious power that had people buzzing. He became the first person ever to hit a home run on the very top of the Western Metal Supply building in left field.
The Aztecs opened the month with a loss on the road against South Alabama, knocking them back out of the Top-25. They did win the next four when Mountain West Conference play started and running back Donnel Pumphrey became a national topic of conversation with his quest to become a Heisman Trophy candidate.
San Diego State also named John David Wicker its new Director of Athletics in October. In August Jim Sterk had left the school for the same position at Missouri.
The Chargers opened the month by losing another monster 4th quarter lead, this time handing Drew Brees and the Saints a pair of 4th quarter fumbles in a 35-34 New Orleans win. The next week in Oakland Bosa finally showed up and had a pair of sacks but another rookie, punter Drew Kaser, botched a punt and dropped a snap on what would have been a game-tying field goal try in a 34-31 loss to the Raiders. Back-to-back wins over the Broncos and Falcons showed the Bolts have the ability to beat anybody … but another loss in Denver kept the Bolts from being able to reach the .500 mark.
The University of San Diego Toreros made us take notice of their football team in October. During the month Dale Lindsey’s team went 5-0 and outscored its opponents 210-33 in the process.
But the biggest sports story of the entire year had a San Diego influence. The Chicago Cubs FINALLY won the World Series with USD star Bryant at 3rd base, former Padre Anthony Rizzo at 1st base, and a front office filled with former Padres executives like Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, the architects of the roster that broke the Curse of the Billy Goat.
In a year full on nonsense, thank goodness for Jimmie Johnson. The Granite Hills High School alum won the final NASCAR race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway to clinch his record-tying 7th series championship. Johnson now has as many points titles as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, making him arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history.
The Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive with wins over the Titans and Texans but hurt them with a loss to the Dolphins, a game where Philip Rivers threw four interceptions in the 4th quarter of a 31-24 Miami win.
The Aztecs saw their Mountain West Conference winning streak come to an end with a 34-33 loss at Wyoming.
But, the Toreros won the Pioneer League and then won their first FCS playoff game, beating Cal Poly SLO on the road 35-21.
MLB postseason awards were handed out and Bryant was named the National League MVP while Rancho Buena Vista High School alum and former Padres bench coach Dave Roberts won the National League Manager of the Year award for leading the Dodgers to another N.L. West division title.
Oh, there was also that little vote on Measure C. The Chargers convadium initiative only garnered 43% of the vote. Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos then started holding every Bolts fan hostage when he said he would not make a decision on moving to Los Angeles or not until after the season ends.
The speculation on whether or not the Chargers will stay in San Diego hit a fever pitch this month. Spanos was quoted as saying he was leaning towards moving the team to L.A. but still had not made a final decision. The team even reached a lease agreement on 100,000 square feet of office space in Costa Mesa that it can possibly use to build offices and a nearby practice facility.
In the meantime the team launched itself on a 4-game losing skid, including a Christmas Eve loss on the road to the 0-14 Cleveland Browns. Through all of this head coach Mike McCoy somehow kept his job.
The Aztecs beat Wyoming in Laramie to win the MWC Championship Game, its second straight conference title, then went to Sin City and whipped Houston 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl. In the process Pumphrey finished his career and college football’s all-time leading rusher in the eyes of the NCAA, an amazing accomplishment for a kid who is 5-foot-9 and weighs 180 pounds.
The Toreros had their season come to an end with a 45-7 loss in the FCS playoffs at North Dakota State, who had won five consecutive national championships. USD also named Bill McGillis the Director of Athletics after Ky Snyder was promoted within the University.
In women's basketball La Jolla Country Day alum Kelsey Plum broke the all-Time Pac-12 Conference scoring record. The Washington Husky star did it in style, too, dropping 44 points on Boise State that game.
Also, to Padres were not done making moves, signing left-hander Clayton Richard and right-hander Jhoulys Chacin to free agent contracts and traded catcher Derek Norris to the Washington Nationals for right-hander Pedro Avila.
In high school football both Madison High School and Cathedral Catholic High School won California State Championships.
That’s the big stuff and a little bit of the small stuff from this year in San Diego Sports. I know you all have things I missed so please, let me know on Twitter (@DerekNBCSD) if I did or what you think were the high and low points of the 2016 year in San Diego sports.
One thing I sincerely hope for in 2017 is trying to find a positive spin is not nearly as difficult as this year was.