CARLSBAD — Baseball is back, for the moment.
And for Padres fans it means high expectations for a truncated 60-game season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even more than the game, social media has brought together hundreds of fans with blossoming friendships around their beloved Padres — which usually also means meeting at the ballpark, sharing a cold beer, catching up, and of course, evaluating the team.
North County fans Michelle Yates, Sam Neher, Chad Etchison and Corey Stewart crossed paths on Twitter, where their timelines are filled with what’s known as #PadresTwitter or the #FriarFaithful, an ode to San Diego’s cherished mascot.
They tweet constantly about the Padres, their expectations, personal evaluations of the players, and, of course, get in on some cheeky fun at the expense of their opponents.
And on July 24, the four, plus thousands of others, will flip on the TV and watch as the Padres host Arizona. First pitch is at 6:10 p.m.
“So many things have changed I’m waiting for something to drop and they say we’re not starting,” Yates said.
Still, the threat of COVID-19 and the logistics of how the players and team staffs can stay healthy to complete the compressed season and playoffs. No fans will be allowed to attend games at Petco Park this season.
Stewart said he’s not optimistic it can be done as if one player tests positive, it could mean a team could be severely shorthanded or even have to forfeit games if the virus has spread throughout the clubhouse.
Assuming the season does go off without issue, this year is a radical change to what is usually a 162-game marathon. Now, it’s a sprint, and staying healthy for the Padres (and every other team) is key to success.
“I still have no illusions that they will get through 60 games, and playoffs on top of it with the way things are going,” Stewart said. “If anything, we’re going to go 40-2 and they’ll pull it. The most Padres thing ever.”
Regardless, Yates, Neher and Etchison are bully on the Padres bullpen this year, as pundits and fans agree it’s one of the best in the major leagues. And with added offensive firepower, in addition to Manny Machado, second-year sensation Fernando Tatis Jr., Tommy Pham and Eric Hosmer, the trio believe the Padres can make a run to the postseason.
And while fans cannot make the trek to Petco Park, it hasn’t stopped the four, along with fans, of interacting on Zoom calls, playing general manager, and staying in touch during a difficult period.
“I really love Pham’s addition to the lineup,” Etchison said. “Either you force pitchers to pitch to Pham or force them to pitch to our other superstars.”
But one aspect of the shortened season is each game will matter more, Etchison and Neher said. A slow start and the Padres could be out of the race in the first several weeks.
But a great start would dramatically increase the chances of reaching the playoffs, which has the four excited for a potentially great season.
“I feel more confident with the 60-game season, looking at last year we started hot,” Neher said. “Our bullpen is strong and play it like the playoffs. Our rotation is better.”