14 years

2 minute read

This site is about my data science journey but various posts indicate my love for baseball. It starts with my GitHub handle: benslack19. Let’s break it down. The “Ben” should be clear. Where did “slack” come from? It originated in one of the first practices for high school freshman basketball, Coach Tim misread the front of my raggedy, marker-labeled P.E. shirt; instead of seeing “B. Lacar”, he barked “blacar, slacker, whatever!” My mates who had known me for years just thought it was the hilarious. I eventually stopped playing basketball, in part because I sucked and in part because I wanted to play winter baseball. Many basketball players and Coach Tim would switch sports too. The “Slacker” and “Slack” nicknames stuck.

That leaves “19”. If you grew up in San Diego in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and liked baseball, there was a singular figure who you admired: Tony Gwynn who wore #19 for the Padres. To a national audience, the Padres were forgettable at that time. Sometimes they finished middle-of-the-pack. And sometimes they just finished last without intending to. (This was before the days of teams tanking to improve their draft order.) The team was so bland and disappointing that I knew some classmates who abandoned their San Diego roots and cheered for the Dodgers. It was shocking to me but I understood their frustration with the local team. Tony Gwynn was often the one and only reason that the Padres were a part of any national discussion surrounding baseball in that time. He was the one player San Diegans could count on to perform. The vast majority of the city’s citizens would consider him the area’s most favorite and best athlete, regardless of sport, in the history of the city. He was Mr. Padre.

I was born in 1980 and therefore most of Gwynn’s career was a very salient part of my childhood. Unfortunately, the only World Series appearances by the Padres were not particularly memorable for me. The first was in 1984, Gwynn’s third year in the league. I was simply too young to remember. The second was in 1998 which was my first year of college. Specifically, I had been in college all of two weeks when the World Series started. I was a bit distracted by the normal college stuff. In addition, the Padres faced an all-world Yankees team and got swept. However, Gwynn hit .500 and crushed a ball off the second deck of Yankee Stadium in Game 1.

I reflect on this 14-year period between these two World Series appearances because of the news today that jolted Padres fans with excitement (in an off-season that has already been incredible). Fernando Tatis Jr. agreed to a 14-year contract extension with the Padres. I was thrilled to hear this. I can’t help but think that there are 4-year-olds in San Diego who haven’t yet heard of Tatis. One day, when they’re older, they may reflect on how Tatis and the Padres played such an important part of their childhood.