On June 24, 1975 a young man just twelve days out of high school boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon that would take him to a world unlike anything he had ever experience before. Like his father before him he had decided to enlist in the US Navy, he had dutifully followed his father where ever Uncle Sam had sent them. From the time he was born until shortly before his 15th birthday he had gone all over the United States. Now after being in Eugene for three years, he had decided to go wherever he was told. He looked back over the 10 schools in 4 states on two coasts that he had gone to in the last 12 years. The three years at South Eugene were the longest he had gone to one school. He remember friends some well, some only fleetingly, some just barely and more than a few who were barely a flicker of memory. He thought he was doing what he wanted but looking back at it now, 35 years later, he realizes he was again and still trying to please his father, but that is a whole other story.
The plane touched down in San Diego, the home of the Padres, but baseball was a long way from his mind as people began to yell at him and all those with him. Go here, go there, do this, take that off, put this on, you want to keep that hair, too bad, line up, shut up, speak up, eat it and beat it, shove it and love it. That kept up for three weeks and then they asked another stupid question, they knew the answer to, how tall are you? 6 foot, you're in drill division on the marching flag team. Yes, parades and who knows what else. Who knows how to type?, they asked. I said I did, good thing Dad made me take a typing class my freshman year in high school, though I got all D's, I could type. That got me all kinds of privileges, going to meals whenever I wanted, a barracks removed from the rest of the base (turns out it was the same barracks Dad was in 24 years earlier) and a trip to Jack Murphy stadium.
Now you see how it starting to tie together. At this point I had been a Padres fan for 3 years, ever since I found out that one of my high school classmates had a older brother who had been drafted by the Padres and was already playing in the major leagues. So I was pretty pumped to be going to a Padres game. I only remember 3 things from that game, one; the young lady who walked past us showing off her assets in a mesh top, getting to see my classmates brother play and seeing Big Mc play.
They were trying to sell him as Big Mac, now that he was playing for the MacDonalds' owner, but I knew him as Stretch. No matter where I had lived over the years I had followed baseball and who didn't know of Willie Lee McCovey. He broke into the majors when I was two years old and I followed the California teams no matter where we lived, I am a 3rd generation Californian. I knew about the all star Willie McCovey, it was awesome to get to see him play. He had been in San Diego for 2 years after playing for the Giants for 15 years. He hit 52 of his career 521 career home runs while playing for San Diego, he left San Diego when the A's purchased his contract in 1976. He was granted free agency after the '76 seasons and resigned with the Giants, playing 4 more seasons before retiring in 1980. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.
Even though the few years that Willie McCovey played in San Diego are but a footnote in a great career, I believe that day in the summer of 1975 is the day that I became a die-hard Padre fan.