It was raining the day I arrived for 2011 Spring Training, and by my first full day in Peoria, Ariz., it was pouring. Clouds hung over the entire weekend.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the weather was appropriate considering the situation facing my San Diego Padres heading into this coming baseball season. It's certainly not going to be sunshine and rainbows for the new-look Padres, who have weathered a lot of departures in recent memory.
They've dealt both the major faces of their franchise (Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox, then Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox), traded away pieces of their well-respected bullpen and seen two 2010 starters sign elsewhere (Chris Young to the New York Mets and Jon Garland to the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers).
All this happened while the team is in the midst of an ownership transition, with a recently installed general manager in Jed Hoyer.
As if all those changes weren't enough, fans also had to smart a little when another division rival, the San Francisco Giants, went on to win the World Series. Especially since that Giants team finally put a ring on the finger of longtime Padres manager Bruce Bochy.
It was enough to make even me stand and think, what's going on around here?
There are detailed explanations as to why all of those things happened, answers that involve statistics and the business of baseball, and even court cases, but that's not what I was concerned about. I was looking at it from a fan's perspective.
At the end of the day, what the fans care about is what's out there on the field, and I wasn't really sure what I might see.
For the first time since I'd started writing this column the better part of a decade ago, I went into Spring Training with a completely blank slate. No favorite players to catch up with – Young had signed elsewhere and hustling second baseman David Eckstein was gone. In fact, the names I didn't know outweighed the ones I did.
I didn't have anything emotionally invested in the majority of the players I was there to see, and that was the disheartening part. As much as I enjoy watching a winning baseball team, I'm a simple fan. I find my happiness in players I love to watch and moments that I'll remember more than statistics or a bottom line.
Yet, where once I could name practically the entire 40-man roster, I was lost here.
I stood and watched as the pitchers threw, many of them were names I'd never heard. The Padres' starting rotation this year is already in question.
How will Mat Latos and Clayton Richard perform after impressive 2010 seasons? Will Tim Stauffer rise to the occasion after so many years of being "that other guy?" Does Aaron Harang have anything left? And who is the fifth starter supposed to be?
There were too many question marks. All of them looked good as I watched them run through their motions, but it'd be a lot different on a major league mound during a live game.
Therein lies the question with the Padres. They are a mix of young, relatively unproven talents and pieces from other teams that some consider to be past their prime. There is no one person you can say is the backbone of the team. Everyone has something to prove.
I have no idea how Brad Hawpe is going to perform now that he's back at his natural position at first base. He certainly looked like he got a few good swings off in the batting cages, but I never saw him field. Orlando Hudson did a lot of good work for the Twins, but how will he match with Jason Bartlett? As for Bartlett, I loved what I saw when he played for the Lake Elsinore Storm, but Single-A is a long way from the Major Leagues.
And Cameron Maybin? Well, the biggest buzz about him was that he got food poisoning and then Tweeted about it.
No one disappointed me, but in that weekend of practice, I didn't see anything to get excited over either.
No impressive plays to talk about. No amazing hits that ended up in the parking lot. There weren't even pranks to joke about or overheard anecdotes that stuck in my memory. It just ... was.
As a fan, it's disconcerting. You want stability. You want something to hold onto. But at this point, all I felt like I could do was hope for the best. The 2011 season, to an extent, scares me because I have no idea if this team will be successful or a huge failure.
Yet, I only have to think back a year to the 2010 team that was earmarked to fail and shattered all expectations.
I have no idea what's about to happen. I do know that I'm going to be there anyway, writing a dozen more columns like these. The team is here. The season is set. Now it's time to find out what story they have to tell.
After all, it's not always going to be raining on their parade.