Opening Day for the 2020 baseball season at Petco Park was delayed by 17 weeks and one day. Even when the Friars were awful (and everyone knew it) the first game of the season was a sellout and, win or lose, a celebration in the East Village.
Add in the fact Major League Baseball has expanded the playoffs to include 16 teams instead of 10 and this year Padres fans have legitimate reason to hope for a post-season appearance that hasn’t happened since 2006, which would only ramp up the excitement.
Alas, the coronavirus pandemic has put the party on hold. No fans are allowed in to see the Padres and Diamondbacks start the 60-game season and their absence is noticeable.
“Just walking into the ballpark and the appreciation for the fans,” says Padres General Manager A.J. Preller. “Fans are as important as anything in sports, you know? It’s what makes the sport so great, going into that atmosphere and feeling that but that’s how it’s going to be this year.”
This will be one of the rare times that Opening Day starter Chris Paddack takes the mound without family members in the stands.
“It’s gonna be different. I definitely would say that I feed off my family’s energy, as well as all the Padre fans in San Diego so it is gonna be a challenge,” says Paddack.
Petco Park’s sound system will be employed to try and make things as normal as possible for the players.
“They’re continuing to announce our names and doing the speakers and the music in between outs and walkups and all that stuff,” says Paddack. “I think we’ve done a really good job of bringing good energy to the stadium.”
In the energy department, it’s nice to have Fernando Tatis Jr. around. The 21-year-old budding superstar is a bundle of electricity who’s already taken it upon himself to be the spark plug for his club.
“I just like being a good teammate. I just like being out there for the boys, trying to bring energy every time I can, even on those hard days.” says Tatis. “I’m just trying to stay positive no matter what, keep talking to my teammates, always trying to bring some good vibes to my brothers.”
For a Major League team to play 60 games in 65 days finding an energy source like that going to be is crucial.
“All we keep talking about is, you’ve gotta adapt,” says Preller. “I think we have a group that’s very motivated. You’re not going to be motivated by fans or the roar of the crowd but I still think it’s Major League Baseball. It’s competition. Our guys love to play the game.”
For guys like Paddack, who pride themselves on their laser focus, the awkwardness of a silent stadium shouldn’t last very long.
“After I release that first pitch I won’t be able to hear anything,” says the big Texan. “It’s always kind of been like that, how locked in I am.” If the Padres as a whole can stay locked in they have their best shot at the playoffs in a decade.
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