Most national experts predicted the Padres to finish, at best, third in the 2013 National League West. Through the first few weeks of the season, only the Dodgers join the Padres with sub-.500 records. The Padres, of course, rest comfortably in last. Here in San Diego, we are a fan base that desperately looks for something positive in a year that many have already called a throw-away season. We want hope. Yes, we’re looking for a glimmer of hope to hold on to … to wrap our arms around. We want hope that you can give a bear hug to … a long and strong bear hug, not one of those ass-out hugs where your butt sticks out because you’re trying not to get too close.

Rewind a year. The 2012 Padres season started off with an anti-bang. It was brutal. The team started 28-50, and because of their abysmal beginning, America didn’t pay much attention to the Padres strong finish. They closed out the season 48-36. Forty-eight wins, thirty-six losses. Don’t look now, but that’s actually respectable. For Padres fans, the 2013 season was approached with anticipation. Would the Padres strong finish carry over? Would new ownership start spending money for a team whose name is synonymous with “cheap” in baseball circles … or “frugal” to those with a rose-colored dictionary. Sure, there was new ownership, but the off-season came and went with very little movement to improve this team. That kind of movement, or lack thereof, isn’t gonna cut it for this San Diego fan base.

This is a fan base that is still licking its wounds from the stars that management let get away … most notably, Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez, with Anthony Rizzo coming in as an honorable mention. A fan base that is still waiting for Matt Holliday to touch the plate from the 2007 play in game 163 in Denver. A fan base that is still scratching its head after the 2010 season … a season where the Padres looked to be serious playoff contenders until they ran into a brick wall named “10-game losing streak.” They had a 12-5 record against San Francisco in 2010, but it all came down to game 162. Winner goes to the playoffs. Loser goes home to catch up on the latest season of Breaking Bad. With all the marbles on the table, the Padres mustered four hits and lost 3-0. After the game, the squad leaned on the dugout railing in shock and watched as the Giants celebrated on the field. Those very same Giants went on to win the World Series.

So, where is the hope, San Diego? What does it look like? Hope springs eternal my friends. But how does that fit into San Diego baseball? Where is that hope for the Padres? What’s there to get pumped about when your hometown team ranks 26 out of 30 in Major League Baseball payrolls? What’s there to get pumped about when your hometown team’s best player, Chase Headley, starts the season on the DL with a broken thumb? What’s there to get pumped about when your hometown team’s highest paid player, Carlos Quentin, seemingly signed a one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers and form-tackled the Dodgers’ $147 million investment, Zack Greinke, into the ground, snapping his collarbone like a twig in the process?

Now, the Padres are more known for that mound-charge than they are for producing runs. So maybe hope rests in the pitching staff? Hmm … cute idea … but the starting pitching for the Padres paints an ugly picture. I’m talking Sloth from Goonies ugly. And no Rocky Road to sweeten the deal.

With the fences moved in, Petco Park is no longer labeled a “pitcher’s ballpark.” Edison Volquez, the Padres opening day starter—which normally earns you the title of staff “ace”—isn’t looking so hot. Through his first four starts this year, he was 0-3 with an 8.84 ERA and opponent’s were hitting .354 off of him. Ouch.

One of the few off-season acquisitions the team made was Tyson Ross. Hard to get excited about a guy who has a career 5.33 ERA but because the pitching in San Diego is so bad, he worked his way into the starting rotation. Maybe he’s excited, or maybe Ross loses sleep over fears that a now 69-year-old Tommy John is going to hide in his bedroom and bite him when he’s sleeping. What’s that you say? Oh, Tyson Ross is on the DL now, too? Yup. A left shoulder subluxation, whatever that is. OK, it’s like a dislocation. Point being, maybe he should be counting his blessings … it could have been Tommy John lurking in the shadows. Tommy John hates the Padres pitching staff … his famous surgery continues to rear its ugly head in the San Diego clubhouse. Casey Kelly, who along with Anthony Rizzo was the centerpiece in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, will miss all of 2013 recovering from the surgery. He’s the fourth Padres pitcher within the last year to have Tommy John kick him in the cup. He joins Joe Wieland, Cory Luebke and minor leaguer Juan Oramas in this elite cup-kicked club. Rymer Liriano, although not a pitcher, also dines at the Tommy John table for the Padres.

Chase Headley. What a boss. Once he’s back from the DL, is he our hope? He finished 2012 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 115 runs. He’s the obvious choice when fans are looking for hope on this team. Nope. Wrong. I’m calling B.S. You don’t “hope” Chase Headley is going to do well. You expect it. He’s the rock of this Padres squad. He’s the rug that ties the team together. We don’t hope he does well, we expect him to do well.

And do well he shall.

What about Everth Cabrera? Did you know that he led the league in steals last year? Not just the Padres, the National League. True story. Dave Roberts is the Padres first base coach. He, thanks to the 2004 ALCS, might just hold the distinct honor of the most famous stolen base in the modern era. Some would say there’s a metaphorical passing of the baton to Everth and other Padres base runners when they come to first base. I would argue that when we’re not looking, he’s actually taping a cheetah to their backs. Regardless of which theory you choose to buy into, it’s fun to watch these guys run the bases. Still, is there hope to be found in base-running and base-running alone? No.

Allow me to introduce you to Jedd Gyorko. How do you say it? Jedd Guy-air-ko? Strike 1. Jedd Jee-er-or-ko? Strike 2. Jedd Gee-or-ko? And you’re out… it’s JERKO. Jedd Jerko.

The Jerk.

Gyorko had a modest 2013 spring training, hitting .257 with four home runs, only one behind the spring HR leader, Yonder Alonso, with five. Sadly, the .257 average is a significant drop from the .319 he posted over the past three years in the minors. Something to consider, spring training numbers translate to the regular season like Monopoly money transfers to your bank account. Something else to consider, minor league numbers don’t mean jack squat either. The enigma of this Jerk grows … what kind of hitter will he become … this Jerk?

Yup. That’s his nickname. Jerk. A lesser man might be offended by such a nickname. “Jerk is kinda what I’ve always been called, even when I was growing up, it just kinda makes things easier on everybody.” Easier in the sense that nobody can pronounce his name correctly on the first go ’round.

So, does he mind Jerk? “I don’t mind at all … people can say pretty much what they want, it’s kinda how I take it, not what they say” (Darren Smith-Mighty 1090). Well, that’s about the nicest response to someone being called a jerk that you’ll ever hear. Previously that honor belonged to Kevin McCallister, who just stood there and took it like a man when he was told, “Look what ya did, ya little JERK!”

So, where’s he gonna play? His natural position is third base, although he did play shortstop in college, but seeing as third base is occupied by the Padres best player … Jedd is happy to play second base. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll be more than willing to help out. I just want to get on the field and try to help this team win some games. I do a lot of work with Glenn Hoffman … Hoffy, our infield coach. Gettin’ a lot of reps at second, and starting to get a lot more reps at third now, too. … So just trying to stay on top and make sure I’m prepared to play each position on any given day” (Annie Heilbrunn-U-T San Diego). Sounds like a perfect personality to have on the team … anything but a jerk.

When asked about the transition from playing second and third, he cheerfully replied, “It’s been great. You know, it feels good to know that Buddy [Black] has the confidence to put me wherever he needs me. I’m more than willing to bounce around and go wherever he puts me” (Marty Caswell, Mighty 1090). Stop being so difficult, you prima donna.

Seriously, this 24-year-old kid must have a character flaw, right? The nickname thing, that must only apply for teammates … it’s not like anybody can call him Jerk. “No, anyone can say it because, I mean, I appreciate it when people attempt to try to say my last name, that always gives me a little bit of a smile. They can just stick with ‘Jerk,’ that’s easy.” Good grief, man. Could you be more pleasant? It’s disgusting how approachable you are; don’t you have a little bit of Matt Bush in you? Dangit. I said I wasn’t gonna go there … I did. I’m sorry. I’m done.

Back to the Jerk. As the season carries on, I expect to see the quantity of Gyorko No. 9 jerseys increase in the stands at Petco Park. I’m not trying to jinx his campaign here, but I won’t be surprised if he’s in the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year. He’s that kind of player. I wonder if he’s up for the challenge?

I also wonder if he knows what other San Diegans wore no. 9? Mr. San Diego’s little brother, Chris Gwynn, wore no. 9 when he played for the Padres. That’s a powerful last name in this town. There was another San Diegan named Ted who wore no. 9 while he was playing for Boston. Before he went there, he played here for the PCL Padres and, by golly, he ended up having a pretty decent career. My hope is that Jedd’s career lines up a lot closer to Ted’s than it does to Chris Gwynn’s.

Every great ballplayer has a nickname, and although “Jerk” is wonderful, that other no. 9, Ted Williams, finished his career with the nickname, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” Consider it something to aspire toward, Jedd.

San Diego has put their hopes in you, Jerk … and we don’t ever want to hear the store calling … saying they’ve run out of you.

 

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