Jacksonville, NC. Population: 70,145. It is the home of recording artists Ryan Adams and former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham.
And the birthplace of the person writing this post. Hi there. It only seemed appropriate that as we are likely meeting for the first time that I introduce myself. Jacksonville, NC is an odd place for a Padres fan to be born. Considering it sits 2,599 miles from San Diego it doesn’t make a ton of sense. It might help to know that I know nothing of the city in which I entered this world, nor do I know much about the state of North Carolina. You see, Jacksonville, beside being the home to a mediocre college football coach, is also the home of Camp Lejune, a U.S. Marine Corps Base. Such is life as a child of a military family.
At age 4, my parents were transferred to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA. In the next 6 years before moving to Tucson, AZ a love of a team that was and remains irrational was formed. I suppose there is an argument for fate here. I just of easily could have been a Braves fan, or (shudder) a Giants fan.
Between the ages of 4-10 are formidable years. In life, and in fandom. First professional baseball game? Jack Murphy Stadium. First professional baseball player I tried to emulate on a Little League field? Tony Gwynn (and later, as a middle infielder, Bip Roberts). I didn’t land on the Padres, the Padres landed on me.
After retirement from the Marine Corps we moved as many retirees do to Tucson. In life, when I am asked where I grew up, Tucson is always the answer. It’s where I learned to drive a car, first kissed a girl, graduated High School and college (Bear Down) and meet my wife. But I never wavered in my fandom for the Padres. It helped that when I moved to Arizona the Diamondbacks were years from existence.
An odd thing happens when you live somewhere other than the home city of your favorite team. Your fandom becomes more rabid, more meaningful. After all, unlike in San Diego where seeing people in Padres gear is common place, you are out on an island in other cities. You have to fly your metaphorical flag higher, prouder, and on those rare occasions that you meet someone with a #19 jersey its like meeting an English speaking person while travelling abroad. If anything, I became a bigger Padres fan by not living in San Diego.
All of this is to lead up to what I like most about Friar Fest. As I’ve only lived 9 of my 32 years in San Diego, Friar Fest are not a common occurrence for me. But when I go, there is one thing I enjoy more than any other aspect.
You get to go on the field.
The Garage Sale is cool. Autographs are great. But I will never not get excited for being able to walk onto the field where the Padres play baseball. I’ve been on the field three times in total in my life. Once, as an Honorary Bat Boy in 1988. Once, at Photo Day in 1995 (though technically this was only the warning track), and once, at Friar Fest. And whether I was 7 or 27, the experience is thrilling.
Moonlight Graham is an aged doctor, buying hats for his wife who is waiting for him at home. Until he steps onto a baseball field and is instantly transformed into bright-eyed, young Archie Graham who just wanted to play baseball.
At Friar Fest, you are giving that opportunity. To step on the field and instantly become Archie Graham. If only for a moment. So take it in. Take pictures. Sit in the dugout and pretend to call a double steal. Jump at the wall and rob a HR. No one will judge you.
Because everyone’s Archie Graham at Friar Fest.