A certain uncle is showing up for the summer. But in this case, it’s a cause for celebration instead of consternation.
Ted Leitner, aka Uncle Teddy to generations of San Diego sports fans, is back behind the microphone. He settled in at his Petco Park booth on Tuesday, in his 41st year as an area broadcaster and in his 39th year as the voice of the Padres.
“The Padres family welcome back Uncle Teddy to the booth with open arms and big hearts,” FOX announcer Mark Sweeney said.
Leitner, who also calls San Diego State football and basketball, had a brief hiatus. Many were stunned when reading his tweet on May 29: “Have always tried to be honest with the radio & TV audience. So will do that now also: I have cancer.’’
The news came fast and with a jolt. The lively, energetic and enthusiast Leitner couldn’t really be ill, right? The Padres had already had their share of heartbreak with the recent passing of iconic broadcaster Dick Enberg, former general manager Kevin Towers and ex-coach Rob Picciolo.
So when word broke that Leitner was stepping aside, even those professing to keep the faith were tested.
But Leitner rallied, much like the Padres have of late. He had a kidney operation to hopefully rid himself of the dastardly disease and everyone else kept their fingers crossed.
Leitner’s mitts then delivered the good news through another tweet: “Had low grade cancer surgery to remove golf ball sized tumor that 4 surgeons said was 95% cancer probability. Removed it and sent to lab for biopsy-BENIGN!”
So that made Tuesday beautiful on what is a special day in Padres history. The greatest Padre not named Tony Gwynn made his debut on that date in 1973 when Dave Winfield went 1-for-4.
But that was overshadowed by Leitner’s presence as the Padres started a short series against the Oakland A’s. There might not be much “there” in Oakland, but with Leitner “here” in San Diego’s downtown digs, things just seemed right.
“Ted is like a sunrise to Padres fans and to colleagues alike,” said Mike Pomeranz, a member of the FOX Padres team. “We’re so used to him broadcasting virtually every game. Like the sun coming up, you expect it.’’
What was predictable was the tsunami of support that flooded every social media platform. The “nieces” and “nephews” of Uncle Teddy were in his corner. Leitner’s tweet explained his emotions: “You’ve touched me beyond words. I’m forever in your debt. Hope to see you soon.’’
Everyone was glad to see Leitner and that’s not a surprise. He’s a staple of a San Diego summer like a well-tended BBQ, with his pipes filling afternoons and evenings with the national pastime.
The rebuilding Padres haven’t always been fun to watch. But Leitner has always been a hoot to listen to. And Padres fans got to put their ears to the radio again on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After that two-game stint, Leitner will tap the brakes. He’ll skip the Padres’ road trip to continue his rest and recovery, while counting his blessings.
Others will count on Leitner telling it like it is, although the Padres are always “my Padres,” when they are leading.
“Great to have him back,” Pomeranz said. “Just like the fans, I’ve missed him. I can’t wait to hear his stories again and laugh with him.”
So set aside a spot for everyone’s favorite Uncle. He’s on the mend and on the radio, and now, summer can officially march on.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jparis_sports
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports