*Back in 1988, Padres fan and local San Diegan Joe Furtado, started writing a book based on Padres history up to that point. 21 Chapters later he finished it and after a few failed attempts at getting it published, put it back on his shelf never to see the light of day…..that is until now. To read the other entries, click here.
By Joe Furtado:
There was reason for optimism as the 1971 baseball season approached. Attendance had increased more than 130,000 fans from 1969, and the Padres put the National League on notice that offensively, they were a force to be reckoned with. They had played good ball in September and the current mound corps, although still very young, had a full season of ex-perience under their belts. The future looked bright.
In the winter free agent draft held in January, the Padres had the first pick. With it they chose a 20 year old third base prospect from Pearland,Texas, by the name of Dave Hilton. They also drafted a left handed hitting outfielder named John Grubb. The radio trio of Jerry Gross, Duke Snider, and Frank Sims was pared down to two when Sims was named the Director of Radio and Television Operations. It was also announced that KCST, Channel 39 would televise 22 road games in 1971, including all the games in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Duke Snider and Channel 39 sports director Bob Chandler would do the TV commentary.
As spring training approached, the Padres were confident about their offense and optimistic about their pitching. Veteran Earl Wilson had retired, going 1-6 in 15 games with the Padres last season, leaving a core of young, hard throwing prospects to battle it out for the 9 or 10 spots on the roster. The addition of Al Severinsen and rookie Bill Laxton along with a healthy Dick Kelley gave manager Preston Gomez reason to believe the team could improve by as much as ten games in the coming year.
Plagued by injuries and illness all spring, the Padres left camp with a mediocre 13-15 record. Injuries to the be-leaguered Kelley, second baseman Don Mason, and newcomer Enzo Hernandez jeopardized their chances of being available on opening day, but Dave Campbell earned a starting assignment by hitting .329. Nate Colbert (.389, 5 HR, 17 RBI’s) and Ollie Brown (.348) hoped to continue their torrid hitting into the regular season, and manager Gomez let everyone know how important it would be for the team to get off to a quick start, something they hadn’t done in their first two seasons. He had worked the team very hard this spring, some felt too hard, with emphasis on fundamentals. He felt the team was ready for the new campaign.
Opening night, April 7, 1971. The Padres third opening night attracted a record 34,554 fans. The first ball was thrown out by Major General Jon M. McLaughlin, MCRD Commandant, and the fans in the field sections behind home plate were directed to their seats by ten very pretty Padre usherettes called “Padrettes”, college girls recruited by the team to add a little flair to the proceedings. Everyone settled in to watch veteran Juan Marichal pitch a 5-hitter and see Willie Mays hit the first pitch thrown to him by starter Tom Phoebus for home run #629, as the Giants beat the Padres 4-0. It was San Diego’s first opening day loss after two victories.
Manager Preston Gomez was in Mexico City on personal family business or he would have been just as upset as Buzzie Bavasi with the shabby condition of the playing field. There were bare spots in the outfield and the football markings were still evident in places, and football season had ended back in December! The scoreboard was on the blink until the second inning and the city chose opening day to begin erecting gates at the Mission Village entrance to the stadium, causing needless traffic problems and confusion. One positive note was the lighting. After two seasons of blinding infielders on high hoppers to the left side, they were adjusted.
The starting line-up was 2B Dave Campbell, LF Larry Stahl, CF Clarence Gaston, 1B Nate Colbert, RF Ollie Brown, 3B Ed Spezio, C Chris Cannizzaro, SS Tommy Dean, and P Tom Phoebus. Phoebus pitched 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs to take the loss. Not exactly the type of start Gomez had hoped for. The next night, Mays hit another home run (#630) and Gaylord Perry beat the Padres 7-3. Nate Colbert hit 2 of his own in front of 6,790. Whispers that the team burned themselves out in spring training began to circulate throughout the stands. The last game of the series and of the home stand saw San Diego rally for 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th to win 7-6 and avoid the sweep. Willie Mays drove in 5 runs with a grand slam homer, the 8th of his career, his 631st home run, and his third round-tripper in three games.
To read all of Chapter 4, download this PDF: 4GoodPitch