In general, Tuesday afternoons are nothing to write home about. Tucked away in the middle of our weeks, they’re usually packed with routine tasks and must-do-now errands. It’s not often we recall something marvelous happening then.
However, one particular Tuesday afternoon last year – a serene, warm day in early July — couldn’t have been more memorable or delightful. With all duties wrapped up, I recalled that large moving box – filled with Padre memorabilia I’d held onto for more than 25 years – tucked away in a dark corner of my closet. This would be a great time to check out all of those terrific goodies, I told myself. If you don’t take the time now to see what made your good times during high school a joy, you never will.
And so I did.
I hauled out the U-Haul moving box marked “Accessories,” gently dusted off the top with a dry paper towel, and peered inside its 20 pounds of contents. Atop the items were four Padre team photos from 1974 through 1977. Directly underneath those photos lay a full-sized four-panel poster offered to fans at a Dean’s Photo promotional night, as well as about a dozen Padre scorecard magazines, also from those four seasons.
Nearly a decade had passed since I’d last read any of the magazines. With three hours of completely free time to enjoy, I plunged into them, eagerly devouring the articles about upcoming giveaways and events. A few minutes later, I spotted the pieces about team owner Ray Kroc, manager John McNamara and a list of players: shortstop Enzo Hernandez, Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey, second baseman Glenn Beckert, outfielders Dave Winfield and John Grubb, catcher-turned-first baseman Mike Ivie, and rotation mates Randy Jones, Dave Freisleben and Dan Spillner Equally enjoyable were features on radio announcers Jerry Coleman and Bob Chandler, as well as stadium organist Danny Topaz.
But what caught my eye in particular, however, was an inconspicuous tidbit from the July 1977 edition. Placed on the lower-right-hand corner of the “Padres Boosters” page – a collection of ads from nearby businesses that backed the team – was a small notice for a new eatery, a casual spot called Tuba Man’s Grand Slam.
That two-inch-high print ad caught me off guard, bringing back memories of a fun-loving Padre-loving Marine, his band of fellow fans, his fledgling business … and an exuberant Padre fan in her early teens.
In May 1975, I’d been successful in asking my parents to buy tickets to the team’s Ball Day that June 22. Despite the 200-mile round trip from our home town of Whittier to what was then called San Diego Stadium, they agreed to attend the game with me. I excited about getting a baseball marked with the Padres’ swinging friar logo, I was thrilled about seeing San Diego Stadium in daylight. Finally, I couldn’t deny I was more than ready to relax and enjoy myself big time at a ball game.
With that, my parents, brother and I piled into our canary-yellow 1969 Dodge Coronet station wagon – a pert and peppy car for its era – at about 10 that Sunday morning in June. The traffic on the southbound Interstate 5 was brisk, helping us arrive at the stadium by noon. (Along the way, I listened to Jerry and Bob hosting the Padres’ pre-game shows on my high-frequency radio, one strong enough to bring in KOGO-AM 600 to northeastern Los Angeles County.) That hour of “down time” before the game’s 1 p.m. start allowed me to explore the ball park, visit the souvenir stands (the stadium wouldn’t have a gift shop for another decade), purchase a scorecard magazine and pick up lunch.
Nothing – not even seeing two home Padre games on our color television set late during the 1974 season – could prepare me for seeing the stadium’s field in daylight. Its beauty was astonishing, a Technicolor emerald green glowing with the last remaining drops of dew from the morning. It was lovelier than any field I’d ever seen before, even more than the carefully manicured grounds at Anaheim Stadium. The scent of freshly grilled hot dogs and the call of the stadium ushers of “Coke! I KNOW you want a Coke!” were, to this 13-year-old fan, beyond exhilarating.
Barely 15 minutes into the game, I heard a boisterous “Boom! Boom! Boom!” tuba melody, the same one I’d remembered from broadcasts of home Padre games. “Excuse me, sir,” I asked the seventy-ish gent sitting in the row in front of our field-level seats. “Is that McNamara’s Band?”
“It sure is,” he replied. “It’s here every weekend. Do you like it?”
“I love it!” I answered, grinning from ear to ear.
“How do you know about it?”
“I listen to every Padre game on the radio. I haven’t missed one since August!”
Turning to my father, sitting on my right, I asked if I could join the band for a few minutes. “Please?” I beseeched. “I know you just showed me how to keep score for the first time today, but this looks so fun!” “Sure,” indulging his daughter. “I’ll score for you in the meantime.”
“Thanks so much! I’ll be back in about 10 minutes.”
As I bounded up from my seat and darted up the steps to the field level concourse – we were seated only about four rows from the thoroughfare – I saw my mother shaking her head, my brother rolling his eyes, and heard my father say, “Let her do this! This is her fun.”
So here I was, face to face with this high-spirited troupe, happily strutting their fandom on their own terms – and, without a doubt, happier still about entertaining fellow Padre fans. Jim Eakle, the “Tuba Man” and Pied Piper of his ensemble, played his gently pre-used tuba with an exuberance I’ve still never heard before. Joining the Marine lieutenant were drummer Dennis Thomasson, “sign man” Jim Boettcher, the flute lady and two dance/boogie girls. Two eager kids, about 10 and 11, jumped and wiggled to Eakle’s thumping tuba line and Thomasson’s beat.
Waiting until the band had finished its “Go Padres Go” theme, I shyly approached Eakle. “Do you mind if I dance for a few minutes with the band?” I asked, blushing deeply. “I’m a big Padre fan.” “Sure!” he said, smiling broadly. “We’re happy to have you! Just enjoy yourself!”
So, for the next five minutes, I was the honorary Teen Padre Girl from Whittier, clapping my hands and rocking out without reservation to two more strains of “Go Padres Go” – and hollering “Charge!” so loudly I could barely speak or cheer.
But cheering was a must-do that sun-splashed Sunday: Right-handed starter Dave Freisleben, my favorite Padre, had thrown a sparkling game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing two runs and two hits in seven innings. (In the bottom of the fifth inning, I’d completely lost my voice cheering for the Texas righty’s hard-hit ball to dead center, one that stopped five feet short of a home run.) It was a tight game with few player substitutions, one that a first-time scorekeeper could track comfortably and still relish the game.
Two years later, my family returned to San Diego Stadium in late August. I’d noticed immediately, though, that the fan experience itself had definitely changed. Taking center stage in the stands was San Diego State University graduate Ted “The KGB Chicken” Giannoulas, working Padre crowds into giddiness and guffaws – and, at the same time, breaking ground as the first official mascot in major-league sports. Despite the undeniable charm and humor of the oversized fowl, though, I missed Lt. Eakle and his troupe. Wonder what happened to the band? I’d caught myself wondering throughout this game. I really miss hearing the “Go Padres Go!” rally. That was awesome!
As I flipped through that August 1977 team magazine minutes before that Padre game, I spotted a tiny print ad for a spot I’d heard Jerry Coleman mention during earlier Padre broadcasts. So that’s the Tuba Man’s Grand Slam! I murmured. It looks cool – and Jerry said that it’s fun and offers good times for the whole family. When the top of the fourth inning ended, I asked my parents if we could visit the Grand Slam briefly after the game. “I heard on the radio that it’s about three miles from here,” I added, blushing and embarrassed. “I really hope we can go.”
“OK,” he answered. My dad pulled out his Thomas Guide map book, he located the whereabouts for Eakle’s establishment within five minutes of our leaving the stadium. Sure enough, we arrived at the University Heights site – “home of Padre fans,” according to the ad – a mere 15 minutes later.
My father parked the Coronet station wagon across the University Avenue locale cited to be Eakle’s Grand Slam: a tiny, storefront covered in dark-hued paint. A lone neon Coors sign provided a flash of brightness for this small diner. Stepping out of the car, I told my parents “I’ll be right back.” I crossed that quiet street, lit by late-afternoon sun and walked closer to the eatery.
That’s when I saw the sign posted on the Grand Slam’s front door that read “No One Under 21 Allowed Without an Adult.” I looked up at the men, pointed to the sign, and said, “I can’t. I’m 15.” Apparently these guys were pretty good at reading lips; they nodded and smiled indulgently. I got back in the car and the four of us drove to the now-iconic Anthony’s Fish Grotto for our seafood meal and a sunset highlighting Mission Bay before heading home Even though I didn’t go inside The Tuba Man’s restaurant, I was still happy I got to go see the place in person.
Here’s hoping that Tuba Man, Jim Eakle, has since found another way to support his beloved Padres. I hope he is doing well and I would love to hear his tuba once again. Baseball is a game that has provided me with many great memories and none better than on that on a mellow Tuesday afternoon.
Jan Ewell Crocker
Guest Writer for Padres360