The Sad State of San Diego Sports

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

This is an article about the San Diego Chargers.

But this is also an article about San Diego sports as a whole.

Yes, the Chargers garner the lion’s share of local attention this time of year. But they are far from being the sole reason for the frustrations of local sports fans. The city has its spurts of sporting greatness, but the vast majority of the team’s campaigns end on the last day of the regular season. Collectively, just two percent of the city’s sports seasons have resulted in a championship trip, and San Diego’s claim to title fame remains the Chula Vista youngsters who won the Little League World Series in 2009.

The Chargers entered Week 14 with less than a one percent chance at the postseason, according to mathematically-minded sports blog FiveThirtyEight. The Padres have played October baseball in just ten percent of their 48 MLB seasons. San Diego State has not played in a January bowl game since 1952 (and even that match-up was in a now-defunct Pineapple Bowl against host Hawaii). Montezuma Mesa’s hoops team, meanwhile, has a 6-11 all-time record in the NCAA tournament. Furthermore, despite their run of Mountain West success in recent years, the team currently holds the same number of wins as the inarguably more irrelevant University of San Diego Toreros team across town, a program whose 2016-17 roster includes just three active upperclassmen.

It’s not a secret: athletics in America’s Finest City are just not very good. And for all of the Usual Suspects – the front office mismanagement, the on-field struggles, the small-market stagnations – that have doomed local sports teams in the past, the more likely culprit, like Kevin Spacey’s character in a certain 1995 crime thriller, is one that garners far less attention. Take a look around the next time you’re at a ballgame, however, and the answer will stand out more than the Padres’ old brown-and-gold jerseys in a sea of bland-as-can-be 2017 Friar attire.

Yes, this is an article about the Chargers, but also one about the Padres, the Aztecs, the Toreros, and the single sentiment that unites them all.

Because more than anything, this is an article about the fair-weather indifference that plagues San Diego sports from Mission Valley and Montezuma Mesa to the Gaslamp Quarter and Alcalá Park.

A lot of this apathy, ironically, has to do with the city’s fair weather. A just-right blend of sunshine and clear skies that could make Goldilocks grin with delight leads the way to the city’s world-famous beaches, with miles of seductive sand beckoning to tourists and locals alike. If the surf doesn’t sound appealing, there is Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and the military tradition of the Midway.

AP Photo/Denis Poroy
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

We do not win often, and with so much else going for us, we fail to become the lovable, hard-luck losers that have called the cold-weather climates of Chicago and Cleveland home for oh so long. Pity is not easily directed to a sandy city in Southern California that is kissed by the sun 360 days a year.

And when the ESPN anchors and Sports Illustrated writers don’t pay attention to San Diego’s tradition of mediocrity, why should the hometown faithful? Yes, hearts may be broken on occasion, but these moments are not life-altering. In essence, we have learned to not take any on-field failures to heart. If Bill Buckner’s blunder had occurred in Padres brown and gold, his career actually may have continued unscathed.

Ultimately, it is this indifference to inadequacy that dooms the city’s dreams de deportes. It is the reason that both the Clippers and the Rockets, the city’s former basketball residents, left the country’s eighth most-populous city. It is the reason that the Chargers might head to Hollywood in the near future, preferring playing second-fiddle to the Rams over continuing to try to stay in San Diego. It is the reason that Padres’ games are routinely overrun by visiting fans, and that the cautious optimism created by the Friar’s long-awaited rebuild is fading into the background. Reality check: is the mere possibility of a prospective playoff run enough to separate a competitive 75-win season from a future-focused 65-win one? Certainly not for the casual fan.

All of this means that the city’s local laziness towards supporting its sports teams is likely to continue. Here in America’s Finest City, sports will remain a solid fourth (at least) behind the sand, the surf, and the street tacos. It is illogical to support a losing team when the ocean sits within walking distance, and it is illogical to remain competitive under the shadows of half-empty stands. As a result, the city’s sports are caught in an unyielding cycle of lethargy, backed by losing, backed by lethargy. Much of the time, it appears we are in need of solutions we may not even be capable of providing. And as the city’s longest-tenured resident looks towards a possible move northward, leaving the forlorn Friars as San Diego’s foremost sports symbol, it even awakens the cynic in me to the possibility of a doomsday scenario where professional sports in America’s Finest City simply cease to exist.

For most San Diegans, unfortunately, it isn’t a situation worthy of sorrow or sympathy. But, for the handful of hardcore fans in the room (and you can bet that your friends at the East Village Times fall into this demographic), it is the most frustrating kind of existence: punished for the halfhearted sins of the majority and condemned by the sports gods to a solitary struggle against middle-of-the-road mediocrity.

The lack of interest generated by loss after loss. A steady stream of defeats driving fans out of stadiums and teams out of the city limits.

The greatest danger to our future is apathy.

Maybe Jane Goodall knows a thing or two about sports after all.

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Noah Hilton
I am a current undergraduate at the University of San Diego and lifelong San Diegan. A pitcher and outfielder on the nationally-ranked USD club baseball team, I have aspirations of one day being the GM that finally leads the Padres to a World Series title. I'll write more once I graduate. You can follow me on Twitter @thebackseatlamp

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