Hey, gang. I miss Jerry Coleman already.
I’m not going to explain who Jerry Coleman is. If you don’t know, words don’t exist that could help me to properly explain why he meant so much to me and other San Diego sports fans. This post is meant to reflect on our city’s love of Coleman, who spent many a summer night coming along with me for car rides up the coast.
You’ve heard enough stories in the last 24 hours about what a great guy Coleman was. He was helpful, funny, a great friend and a great listener. He flew missions in World War II as well as the Korean War. He won the 1950 World Series MVP Award.
All of those things are impressive, but none of them are the reasons that I will miss him. I will miss Coleman because, for as long as I’ve been a baseball fan, he has been the voice of my favorite team. He’s also been a fan right there with us. He was a shoulder to cry on and to pep us up during the rough times, and he was there to scream and high-five during the good times. A lot of people will say that “Jerry was Padres baseball,” and that’s mostly true. He and Tony Gwynn, together, are Padres baseball. But Coleman had a passion for the team that seemed unmatched.
For me, Coleman was always the one guiding fans. He was the one giving us hope during spring training, telling us about all the great young players he was excited to watch blossom. He was the one, during slumps, telling us that these things just happen in baseball. He even allowed himself to get angry every now and then, and that’s how we knew we could trust him when he was so optimistic at other times. Now, I wonder who is supposed to lead us.
Coleman is a big reason I’m a baseball fan. I can vividly recall, during the 1998 season, darting my head around to the radio booth every time a player made a great defensive play to see whether Coleman would hang the star out of the window. (After Coleman became famous for saying, “You can hang a star on that baby!” after fantastic defensive plays, someone gave him an actual star on the end of a fishing line that he could hang out of the broadcast booth.) It didn’t matter if I thought it was a good play. All that mattered was what he thought. When I moved away from San Diego, listening to Coleman always made me feel like I was back home. He called us, the fans, “gang” and treated us like family.
Since hearing about his passing, I keep letting myself wonder about the upcoming season. How much different will spring training feel without The Colonel walking around at practice, chatting up the players and coaches with a cup of coffee in his hands? How will it feel to listen to an entire home game without hearing about Coleman’s day? How will the Padres be the Padres without Jerry Coleman?
A few months back, I attended a special event during a Padres game. A bunch of vocal Padres fans on Twitter got to hang out on the new Jack Daniels deck out in right field, and a couple of local media members came to say hello. Before the first pitch, Coleman made his way through the deck, chatting and taking pictures with fans.
“Never meet your heroes,” I told myself as I shied away from the crowd that encircled him. I didn’t say hello or shake his hand or get a picture. I didn’t want to risk how my image of him might’ve changed had he broken my hand with a stern grip. Plus, I thought I’d get another chance some other day. In my mind, Coleman was as likely to die as the Padres were to pick up and move to Siberia.
Now, all I can think about is how I’ll never get that hand shake. I’ll never get to nervously tell him, like thousands of other Padres fans have, how listening to him was the highlight of my day as a teenager. Although I’m sure he knows. Coleman was the broadcaster every fan dreams about, and when push comes to shove, that’s what he was: a baseball fan.