by Mark Harris
PEORIA, Ariz. — With the San Diego Chargers gone, the San Diego Padres have a chance to be fully embraced by their home city.
“I think if we can put together a good season, (we could) give some fans some hope,” right-handed pitcher Walker Lockett said. “Definitely think they’re looking for a team to rally behind.”
When the NFL’s Chargers announced their move to Los Angeles on Jan. 12, the Padres were left as the only big-league team in San Diego.
The Padres lost 94 games last season and finished last in the N.L. West. Their roster is dominated by young, unproven players. It’s hard to make a case they’ll be a contender this season. But with the Chargers’ departure, San Diego’s baseball team could get more local attention than usual.
“If anyone is looking for a team to a team to rally behind the Padres (are) a good one,” Lockett said.
First baseman Wil Myers is the team’s only real star, as evidenced by his All-Star appearance and 28-homer season in 2016.
But with the Chargers gone, the San Diego sports spotlight will shine brighter on the Padres, possibly allowing someone like right fielder Hunter Renfroe to rise in popularity.
(Video by Gabe Mercer/Cronkite News)
Renfroe tied for the Pacific Coast League home-run title last year with 30. He came up to the majors for the first time in September, and in 11 games with the Padres, he hit .317 with four homers and 14 RBIs.
It’s a small sample size, but Renfroe could join Myers as the kind of sports hero San Diego needs.
“You want to bring a World Series to San Diego,” Renfroe said. “I think that would be awesome to be part of that and that would be awesome for the fans.”
The Padres have been to two World Series and lost both (1984 to Detroit, 1998 to the Yankees). The Chargers lost their only Super Bowl (to San Francisco in January, 1995).
The Padres, however, have a huge void to fill.
The Chargers were beloved in San Diego. Over the span of 56 seasons, they boasted some of pro football’s best players, including tight end Kellen Winslow, wideout Lance Alworth, quarterbacks Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers and the NFL’s 2006 MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson.
“The city is going to miss them,” Renfroe said. “They were very liked in San Diego and obviously the fans wish they wouldn’t have left.”
But for now, the Padres are the only option, and that’s an oddity.
Generally when a team relocates, there are still a few teams left behind. When the SuperSonics left Seattle in 2008, the Seahawks and Mariners remained. In 1996, when the Cleveland Browns bolted to Baltimore, the Cavaliers and Indians remained.
This won’t be the case in San Diego. In the wake of the Chargers absence, San Diego becomes the only city with a baseball team as its only major-league team. It’s the first time that’s happened since the Baltimore Orioles were the only team in Baltimore from 1984 through 1995 _ the interim between when the NFL Colts departed and the Ravens (nee Browns) arrived to take their place.
With more than 3 million people in its metro population, San Diego has more people than nine major-league cities. It also becomes the largest American city with just one of the four professional sports teams.
If the Padres succeed this year, maybe they’ll soften the blow of the Chargers’ exit. But the Padres haven’t won the N.L. West since 2006 — that year Tomlinson won the MVP for the Chargers.