Bad break-ups are never easy. And the breakup between the San Diego Chargers and the city that loved them for 56 years was particularly heartbreaking, completely unnecessary, and maddeningly toxic.
In recent weeks, as live sports returned back into our lives and the extraordinarily exciting, relevant (oh it feels so good to type that) Padres captivated our attention and TV viewership in a way they haven't since 1998, I have thought often about why the time just seems right. Time to move on from the professional sports team that was loved but fled the city. Time to remember and embrace how fun sports is supposed to be. Time to enjoy a baseball team and ownership group that actually gives a damn about the city they play in and the fans they represent. I know I know, imagine the gall of thinking that a team represents its' city.
But I digress. I think about how the sports year started, with the equally captivating San Diego State Aztecs team losing a heart-breaker to Utah State in the Mountain West Conference tournament. A supremely talented hoops team led by Malachi Flynn, Yanni Wetzel and KJ Feagin that was truly expected to go deep into the NCAA tournament. An Aztecs team that never got to Selection Sunday, whose seniors never got to walk in their own graduation because we learned a new curse word, Covid-19.
Covid, of course, didn't just halt the sports world, it shut down our world as we know it. It shuttered businesses, changed routines, kept us from our friends and families and introduced us to a possible permanent addition to our wardrobe, face masks. It took lives. And it's a daily reminder of what's important.
I attend occasional Padres games from the press box, played in an empty ballpark, I often think how crazy it is that Padres fans are unable to enjoy watching this incredible team in person after a decade of misery. But we know there are much more important repercussions of Covid than not attending live sports and we've all had to make much bigger sacrifices in our daily lives.
How many of us can't take our parents or grandparents to something as simple as a restaurant because they are considered high risk? How many of us can't take kids to play at the park because parks swings and jungle gyms are tapered off with yellow tape, plus kids touch everything and good luck putting a mask on a two-year old? How many of us know people who have canceled weddings, graduations, had funerals held ONLINE because we couldn't get together in larger groups? How many of us haven't seen beloved family members in months because traveling is too much of a risk?
We have all been impacted by Covid-19. We have all been consumed by Covid. I don't know about you but there are some days that are darker than others, when I literally stop in my steps or stare at nothing because I don't know when the endless darkness will start to lift and it's physically exhausting. But I shake it off and try to focus on the little things that bring joy. It could be something as simple as running on the beach, cooking one of my mom's favorite Japanese dishes or hanging out with the Caswell kiddos. Yep, if often involves a cold beer. My goals these days are simple, try to eliminate the stress and find joy.
And this is where you come in, my remaining, conflicted San Diegans. Sports is supposed to bring us joy, as well as the mandatory moments of agony. The San Diego Padres are joy. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a 6-3, 217 package of endless joy. Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Eric Hosmer, the resurgent Wil Myers, Trent Grisham, Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet, Zach Davies have captivated the hearts of San Diego sports fans. When is the last time the Chargers brought you joy without guilt or regret?
So many of you instantly cut the cord and moved on the moment Dean Spanos dropped the bomb that he was abandoning San Diego for Los Angeles. But many continued to watch, some out of love for Philip Rivers, some to hate-watch and revel in their Carson failures, and some decided the Chargers were still their team, regardless of the owner. Some said they were rooting for the players but not for the owner, which doesn't seem as symbiotic as intended. And when a team has had your heart for over 56 years, saying goodbye just isn't easy despite everyone telling you to move on because they have, or my favorite, stop being salty.
Since the move, I've heard from countless San Diegans that would continue to watch as long as Rivers was the quarterback. Fans that took great pleasure in the Chargers losses but pangs of guilt watching Rivers go down. Guess what, everybody? Philip Rivers is now the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. The last true remaining link to the San Diego Chargers is gone. And as the team prepares to move into Stan Kroenke's dazzling, five billion dollar stadium, donning the powder blue uniforms that you begged for for years when they were in San Diego, you are now free. Free to keep enjoy watching them if you want, free to celebrate and not feel pangs of guilt when Philip Rivers throws a touchdown or a back-breaking INT for the Colts, free to just not care about anything other than what's important and what brings you true joy. Free as the Clippers after game seven! Free to enjoy a spectacular, relevant, San Diego team that is headed to the playoffs!
I don't know about the rest of you but Covid has reinvented perspective. You know what's especially relevant for me in this moment, in this time? Being able to see my family. Trusted friends. Staying sane. Sitting on an empty beach. Staying alive. Watching a Padres team change a San Diego sports culture that was decimated when the Chargers left. Counting the days until a wrecking crew forever demolishes the "Parking Lot Of Sadness," also known as SDCCU, the Q and Jack Murphy Stadium and the SDSU Aztecs moving into their future.
All the aforementioned things were clearly important before the Pandemic. They're just magnified now and in a world of constant chaos, who has time or energy to dwell on what could have been, what should have been and the clowns that put us in this situation? I have zero interest in revisiting the ghosts of the past in the Parking Lot of Sadness when the Padres decade of opportunity is just beginning.
The Chargers move will always bother me. Always. Always. ALWAYS. But in a Covid-19 world without an expiration date, I just don't have the time to think about. I'm more preoccupied with San Diego moving from the red to the purple and what the Padres post-season roster will look like. San Diego can finally move on to the hottest chick in town.
photos: Marty Caswell, XTRA 1360