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Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006 | The San Francisco Giants are in town this week with the Arizona Diamondbacks due up next for a weekend series in a close National League West race. Chris Young is scheduled to pitch tonight, so it seems like a good time to share my long-held opinion that the San Diego sports fans are the smartest in the country.
When our teams disappoint us, we move on to the next sport and the next season. Or we go for a run or a swim, play some tennis or golf or just enjoy the climate.
We don’t burn buildings. We don’t overturn police cars. And that’s what fans of teams in Eastern and Midwestern cities do when their teams win world championships.
When the Padres were swept in the 1998 World Series by the New York Yankees in the fourth game at Qualcomm Stadium, Padres fans remained in their seats, calling for the players to return to the field for the National League championship team’s final curtain call.
When the Chargers won the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh, 70,000 fans greeted them at Qualcomm late that night upon their return. When the Chargers were routed by the superior San Francisco 49ers, San Diegans threw a parade when the team returned. We remember the whole season – not just the last defeat.
We watch the game for the game. If you don’t believe me, let’s ask someone a lot smarter in general than most of us and a lot more knowledgeable about baseball.
Young, the Princeton graduate acquired in an off-season trade from the Texas Rangers, said he loves pitching before San Diego fans at Petco Park.
“I’ve noticed a difference here,” Young said. “The fans are much more astute about the game. It’s exciting to have two strikes on a hitter and hear the fans get on their feet and yell and make noise. It gives me a little bit of adrenalin that helps me.”
If you’re the type who equates some empty seats at Petco Park for a big series with fan apathy, or you don’t understand that the only reason the NBA Clippers left San Diego for Los Angeles is Donald Sterling’s plan all along was to drive the franchise into the ground so he could move it, you’re not one of the smart San Diego sports fans.
“I have limited experience to go on, but it’s a knowledgeable fan base here,” Young said. “The game may not be sold out every night, but the fans are loud and supportive. They’re very into the game.”
One reason fans are smarter here is so many of us are from somewhere else. We’ve already been through the heartache of following the Cubs, the Tigers, the Red Sox or whatever team we grew up with.
We want the Padres, the Chargers and the San Diego State Aztecs to win, but we don’t let them break our hearts. We watch the game for the game and appreciate whatever the teams accomplished before that final loss in the World Series or the Super Bowl or the 1986 Holiday Bowl.
But Young thinks it’s more than just transplanted fans careful with their heart. He grew up in Dallas, where plenty of Yankees are relocated Texans, before he left for Princeton to play basketball and baseball and returned home as a Major Leaguer with the Rangers.
“Maybe in Texas the heat lulls everybody to sleep,” he said.
But it has to be more than just the California climate. How else to explain Al Davis and the Raiders – who represent everything evil about sports – and their fans in both Los Angeles and Oakland?
At the college level, UCLA fans are OK, but have you ever been around a USC fan? They’re insufferable. They’re more like New York Yankees fans than those from Southern California cities. San Diego State’s leadership has been driving fans away the past two decades, but fans here will respond the way they did in 1986 for the Holiday Bowl if given a reason to turn out.
Have you ever listened to sports talk radio in Boston, New York or other Eastern and Midwestern cities? It’s frightening. We have a few pathetic souls ranting on the Mighty XX or typing mindlessly on Internet fan message boards – they probably look like that goof on the ESPN commercial wearing a Boston Bruins hockey sweater and floating a toy boat in a tub – but for the most part they stay in their caves and don’t show up at Qualcomm or Petco.
In San Diego, our superstar athletes are players with personalities like Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman. How long do you think San Diego fans would tolerate a clubhouse cancer like Terrell Owens?
When a self-absorbed athlete like Rickey Henderson came to San Diego, there was the fear he would disrupt the Padres clubhouse if forced to platoon in left field. But San Diego fans cheered him when he came to bat or took the field once they were convinced he had accepted his part-time role for the good of the team.
In New York, they unmercifully boo Alex Rodriguez to the point his psyche is shattered and he might finish his career looking more like Chuck Knoblauch or Steve Sax than the Hall-of-Famer that he is.
It’s one more example that we’re smarter sports fans in San Diego than other American cities. If you don’t believe me, ask Chris Young.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. Send a letter to the editor.