ENCINITAS — The music would start blaring, which prompted Trevor Hoffman to swagger through an open bullpen gate and Kevin Towers to bolt from his seat.
“I never saw one of his saves,” Towers once told me. “I’m too nervous and superstitious.’’
“Hells Bells” would reverberate around the Padres’ digs, but it would do so minus the team’s one-time general manager. Towers would be the target of others, busting his chops for being so jittery over a future Hall of Famer’s performance.
Now anyone associated with the local nine would love to see a sweaty-palmed Towers find refuge in the Padres’ clubhouse, just one more time.
But Towers, a Leucadia resident, died on Tuesday morning. The dastardly disease of cancer claimed another victim but it’s doubtful it’s ever taken anyone as beloved as Towers. He was just 56.
During the recent World Series, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former Padres executive, held up a sign with Towers’ name on it to illustrate cancer’s reach.
“He means a lot to me,” Hinch said afterward. “He means a lot to the people within the game for many, many years. He’s done everything in the game. I wanted to put someone on there that was a baseball person that has resonated across the game at so many levels for so many years, and we just keep rooting for K.T. to have a recovery.”
Towers pitched at MiraCosta College and was proud he lived in the house used in “Top Gun.” He advanced as far as Triple-A as a Padres pitcher, but it was during his time as their general manager from 1995 to 2009 that he made his mark.
His tenure stretched from Qualcomm Stadium to Petco Park as he tried make-do with embarrassingly low budgets. The Padres were never the best team money could buy, instead living on Towers’ acumen of dumpster diving for pitchers and patching together a frugal lineup to compete.
Were Towers’ Padres roster always top-shelf? Far from it. But Towers’ belief and enthusiasm led others to believe they could overachieve, or at least reach a level of play not many thought possible.
It was Towers’ handiwork that pointed the Padres to their last World Series in 1998. While the Padres were overwhelmed by a Yankees team that won more than 100 games, the Padres had nothing to be ashamed of.
The real crime was then-Padres owner Jeff Moorad showing Towers the door. Moorad mentioned some nonsense about Towers having too much of a “gunslinger” approach to his ways of building teams.
Instead of being hurt by the backhanded compliment, Towers embraced it.
Up until Tuesday, you could reach Towers at email@example.com. Up until our last annual college bowl pool, he was known as “Gunslinger.”
Was he unconventional? You bet. He traded for Kevin Brown and Adrian Gonzalez. He also had some deals blow up in his face, but it never wiped his smile from it.
He had the upbeat temperament that made him the right man for Padres’ job, one in which he would charm players into buying into the San Diego discount. Plus, he would never fail to take the blame if his bold moves unraveled.
Of the five times the Padres, who were born in 1969, have made the playoffs Towers’ fingerprints were on four of the rosters. San Diego’s last run at the postseason came in 2010, with many players Towers acquired in his last year with the Padres.
Since, the Padres haven’t had a winning season, a skid that has reached seven seasons and is the second-longest in franchise history. Being on the ledger’s wrong side shows no sign of abating soon.
Just like it’ll take time to absorb Towers’ loss. Hoffman knew about Towers’ late-inning act and always laughed about his GM not having the gumption to watch.
When Hoffman met the press after being named to the Baseball Hall of Fame last week, among the first people he mentioned was Towers. That Hoffman did so with his voice cracking isn’t a surprise.
What was a shocker was Tuesday’s heartbreaking news, which comes on the heels of the Padres losing iconic broadcaster Dick Enberg and former coach Rob Picciolo. The Padres’ offseason has been a rollercoaster, with the joy of Hoffman being selected to the HOF tempered by the loss of Enberg, Picciolo, and now Towers.
He had battled the cancer for more than a year. But he did so while often walking on our North County coast, always eager to talk baseball, music, wine and which beach bar served the coldest beer.
Towers was a local and his home clinging the shores off Neptune Avenue was stunning. But it was the people inside, Kevin and his wife Kelley, who made it beautiful.
Once I watched Towers’ act at VG Donuts. His tip exceeded his tab at the Cardiff bakery and yeah, I can still see those hard-working teenagers’ smiles when they saw what he slipped in the battered can atop the counter.
Rest in peace, Gunslinger. You left behind a legacy of baseball know-how, but more importantly, you knew how to treat people. That gift extended well beyond those chalk marks on the diamond. Truth is, you were a gem and we’ll miss that smile which sparkled on a daily basis.
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