8/3/16 / Padres360.com / @Padres360
By Andy Strasberg … originally shared via Facebook 8/1/16
Every person who works for a professional baseball team’s front office is familiar with this credo: “If you are working the game and watching more than two innings, you’re not working hard enough.”
Although I received four comp tickets to every Padres home game, there were many times during my first year of employment when I was simply too busy working in the ticket office to watch any portion of a game. It was only on rare occasions that I caught the last two or three innings.
On July 2, 1975, for the first time in franchise history, we proudly announced in advance that an upcoming game — July 5 against the Cincinnati Reds — was a sellout.
Not only was “the Big Red Machine” coming to town, but it was Central Federal Jacket Night. Thus, every kid attending the game would receive a yellow, plastic vinyl Padres jacket.
For me, after “working” 41 home games, this would mark the first Padres home game that I could watch from the first pitch until the last out. However, I had already given my Plaza-level tickets away.
Thus, my dilemma was where to watch the game. The press box was out of the question because of the unwritten rule of no cheering in the press box. I knew I wouldn’t be able to contain my inner-fan voice sitting in the back row among the blasé, nonchalant, and semi-bored scribes.
Having been raised by the concept that you never know unless you ask, I had a potential solution that would solve my seat-location predicament – and fulfill a boyhood dream.
An hour after the Jacket Night sold-out announcement was made, I walked in unannounced to Padres General Manager Peter Bavasi’s office. My request was short and to the point: “Peter, can I sit in the dugout for the game?”
Without looking up at me for more than a second, Peter dismissively waved his hand at me and said, “Sure, yeah, whatever.”
Well, that was the answer I was looking for. I knew that when you get the answer you want, it’s not wise to hang around. So, as casually as I could, I thanked Peter and quickly walked out of his office.
In those days, the first base Padres dugout at San Diego Stadium was not “dug out” but rather of the “walk in” variety. The length of the dugout was exceptionally long with plain, metal benches for the team’s players and coaches.
Padres manager John McNamara sat at the end closest to home plate in a vintage, wooden school chair. It had a built-in desk so he could rest his elbows and write notes on his scorecard. His players would sit randomly with personal superstitions dictating their placement on the bench.
I was aware of the rarely-enforced rule that non-uniformed personnel were not permitted in the dugout during games. That in mind, my plan was to sit with the stadium’s ground crew at the farthest end of the dugout toward the outfield and not get in anyone’s way.
I also knew that I’d be the only guy in the dugout wearing a tie and jacket. My biggest concern was the umpiring crew. Specifically, I had to avoid the gaze of Bruce Froemming, who had the plate that night, and Art Williams, who was at first base.
The Pads were nestled in fourth place, tied with the Braves, “only” 15 games behind the first-place Redlegs in the National League West. As a student of the game’s history, my encyclopedic thoughts drifted way back to the 1914 Boston Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and managed to capture the National League pennant by the time the season ended on October 6.
Naturally, I figured I would be the good-luck charm the Padres needed to make a run for the pennant and play in their first World Series.
The Padres did, indeed, have their largest attendance in franchise history that night when they drew a record crowd of 49,618 fans, which eclipsed the May 17, 1975 attendance by a mere 19 fans. Hey, a record is a record.
Once the game started I realized that I was as close to a Major League ballgame as you can get without wearing a uniform — or being on the ground crew. I enjoyed watching and listening to what was going on in the dugout. I heard players’ banter, bench chatter and umpire baiting. It was a close game until the top of the first, when with one out and Ken Griffey on second, the third batter for the Reds, Joe Morgan, knocked him in with a single to right.
The Padres never caught up. After Willie McCovey grounded to third for the last out of the game, a 6-3 loss, the dugout emptied immediately.
I lingered to take it all in as the crowd slowly made its way to the parking lot. I watched the ground crew rebuild the mound, water the infield dirt to keep it from drying out and pat down the holes made by players’ spikes in the batter’s box.
I listened to the sounds made from the kids who were turning over beer and soda paper cups throughout the stadium and stomping on them with their heels to make a loud popping sound that echoed in the stadium.
That’s when it dawned on me that the key to winning baseball games has nothing to do with good-luck charms – that is, me — but rather solid defense, good pitching, and most importantly, scoring more runs than the other team.