The removal of the retired numbers is a sensitive subject for Padres fans. On one hand, it perfectly reveals the Mike Dee regime’s desire to maximize revenue at any expense, fans be damned. On the other, culling additional revenue is needed to maximize payroll, especially as attendance seems to stagnate in the low 2 millions. But minimizing the controversy to dollars and cents marginalizes what a lot of fans are upset about. Of course the team needs money, it’s a business. At this point, all fans should be cognizant and accepting that displaying ads in the bowl is a necessary evil in this age. The main issue is not garish ads, it’s the removal of fan identity, history, pride and emotional attachment to the retired numbers that were displayed on the batters eye. They weren’t just numbers, they were memories of some of the most touching moments I’ve had as a Padres fan.
Ironically enough, the most powerful of these memories was created by the Dee regime in one of their few unequivocal successes. On June 26, 2014, Petco Park hosted an emotional memorial service for our greatest Padre, Tony Gwynn. While the subject matter was sad enough, the emotional crescendo of the ceremony was at the end. “Amazing Grace” was sung, all of the Petco lights were turned off, and the #19 on the batters eye was illuminated. This was a moment that will touch me forever, and every time since then that I’ve sat in my seats and looked at the batters eye retired numbers, I’ve thought of that moment and thought of how much Tony Gwynn meant to me as a fan and as a human being. While Tony can’t be there with us in person, fans that attended the games could always think of him when they saw the #19 in center field.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had company from out of town that have attended Padres games with me that asked me about the retired numbers. Being visible from the majority of the bowl, they were conversation pieces. As fans, many of us have complained about how maybe Steve Garvey and Randy Jones wouldn’t have had their numbers retired if they’d played for a more accomplished franchise. Fair enough to debate this. Now imagine you’re from Washington DC and know nothing about 45 years of Padres history other than that Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman played for them. You get questions like “who are numbers 6 and 35?” an awful lot, and it sparks a discussion of how Randy Jones won a Cy Young and has awesome hair, or how Steve Garvey played for us for like 4 years and we retired his number anyways. Putting the numbers where the large majority of the bowl can’t see them in the “Ring of Honor” takes that conversation piece away, and with it, much of the awareness of the team’s history.
But wait! Bill Center has reported that the team is now just moving the numbers to the Home Plate gate. You know, where you enter if you are sitting in the $400 Lexus Dugout Club seats and parked in the Lexus premier lot. It’s the entrance you would possibly have used if you parked at the lot along Park Blvd. which is now a construction site. And of course, the tailgate park, you would choose between the Home Plate Gate and the Park Blvd gate, but almost certainly choose the Park Blvd gate. Not to mention the Tailgate Park lot is in danger of being turned into the new Chargers stadium if voters have their way. So now the least possible number of eyes can see the numbers. Can you take pictures next to it? Sure. Can the numbers be much more easily vandalized, defaced or damaged? Sure. Most teams display their retired numbers proudly in the bowl, celebrating their history. In the end, there’s really no reason this needed to be a zero sum decision. If they really wanted to create a new “fan interaction experience” with the numbers, they could have ordered duplicate numbers and placed them at the Home Plate Gate, while leaving the numbers on the batters eye. As is usually the case with the Padres, they are burying and hiding their 45 year legacy instead.
The Padres of course have the right to generate revenue. And they should. It’s what will fund the next successful Padres team. The argument isn’t whether the Padres should have ads or not. Of course hey should. It’s whether there is an ethical limit to what should be monetized, especially after this very regime created the most emotional tie to the retired numbers themselves with the Gwynn memorial service. At the first game I attend this season, I will enjoy the game like I enjoy all Padres games. But I will be a little sad and a little alone when I gaze out to center field and don’t see #19 looking over the field.