It was a drive Bud Black made countless times, the trek from his Rancho Santa Fe residence to Petco Park.
“This was a different sensation,’’ Black said. “But once I got here, I felt comfortable.’’
Black was back home this week even if he was doing so in a visitor’s uniform. The former Padres manager played tourist in San Diego for the first time as the Colorado Rockies manager.
So that meant a left turn instead of right one when reaching the downtown ballpark’s first-floor corridor.
“Hey, this is OK,’’ Black said when eyeing the visitor’s clubhouse. “The builders of Petco did a nice job.’’
For nearly nine seasons Black’s task was making the Padres competitive. It was a challenge, with the Padres’ payroll among the lowest in the majors. There was also a revolving door in the front office, where Black was constantly introducing himself to new owners and general managers. So like most men in his occupation, Black was ultimately shown the door. His exit stage left came in 2015, after a season that started with promise thanks to an influx of veteran players, but fizzled by the All-Star break.
Black was the fall guy, never mind the Padres hardly supplied him with a wealth of talent. But that’s baseball — which is among Black’s favorite phases in explaining the unexplainable.
Black’s tenure here is easy to decipher. He was often asked to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers and you know how that usually turns out. Not good, and Black’s 649-713 record with the Padres proved it.
But Black’s legacy can’t be measured on a ledger. He gave class to an organization, which often leaned on him to fall on the sword with regularity. Despite the tough times and despite the mountain the Padres were always trying to ascend without much rope, Black never hung anyone out to dry.
The Padres had protection thanks to Black, as he would deliver a daily dose of optimism that fuels the fire that must burn in any player. It’s among the tougher things a coach has to accomplish.
“It’s tough, man,’’ Black said. “It’s not easy to win.’’
Black, the 2010 National League manager of the year, was always a winner and what the scoreboard might read be damned. Black’s reputation and character was on full display at Petco. Those toiling for the Padres, from high-level executives to those sweeping the lower-level bowl, acknowledged Black being in the building.
When Black emerged from the Rockies’ dugout, fans shouted his name and presented him with items to be signed. There was a dated Bud Black bobble head from years ago, and yes, in some ways, those really were the good old days.
“It brought a smile to my face to be back and seeing people that were smiling,’’ Black said. “A lot of familiar faces.’’
Black now has his hands full with Colorado. But he’ll always be remembered for aptly directing the Padres during some rocky times.
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