SAN DIEGO – It took longer than the Padres hoped. A lot longer. But they finally put Fernando Tatis Jr. atop this lineup at Petco Park.
After all those months they’d spent dreaming of it -- the real thing was every bit as good as they imagined.
In an 8-3 victory over the Reds on Monday night, Tatis played his first game at Petco Park since September 2021, finishing 3-for-5 with a trio of singles. When he emerged from the dugout in the top of the first, he was greeted with cheers from the fans in right field, and he responded to those cheers by taking a bow.
In the bottom of the first, Tatis received a full-throated standing ovation. Which, of course, won’t be the case in most other ballparks in the wake of his 80-game PED suspension. Afterward, Tatis summed it up rather succinctly:
“This is home,” he said.
By the end of the night, all nine Padres starting position players had recorded hits. They tallied 16 overall. Tatis had three of them, and he tacked on an excellent running catch in right-center field to end the top of the eighth inning -- before celebrating by hopping halfway up the wall in front of the fans.
“They love him so much here,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “A little showmanship – he’s a real entertainer. … This was a big night for him to come home and get that kind of reception.”
Nights like these were part of the plan last August when the Padres traded for Soto. At the time, Soto spoke excitedly about the opportunity to play alongside Tatis, famously wishing “good luck to the other pitchers.”
But that lineup never materialized in 2022. Ten days later, as Tatis was working his way back from wrist surgery, he was suspended 80 games for a positive PED test.
In the offseason, the lineup only got scarier. Xander Bogaerts arrived on an 11-year deal, and suddenly, the Padres’ offense projected as the most fearsome in baseball when Tatis returned.
“I’m hitting fourth pretty much every day now,” Bogaerts said. “That’s a nice place to be [with] the guys in front of me.”
Petco Park buzzed all night -- more than 37,000 for a Monday game in May against the Reds. Once Kim touched home and donned the home run sombrero, he gave a curtain call. The crowd roared again.
“I’m always looking to give my love to the fans,” Kim said. “Today, they made the moment for me.”
Added Tatis: “Who doesn’t love Ha-Seong Kim?”
Speaking of that home-run sombrero, it’s a good reminder of Tatis’ seamless return to the Padres’ clubhouse. It’s his own prop. During Friday’s off-day in Mexico City, Tatis took the famed Xochimilco boat ride. When it ended, he noticed some blue tents selling sombreros. He bought a few.
“We’re in Mexico, I’m just trying to enjoy it, bring back some souvenirs,” Tatis said.
Tatis wore one of those sombreros to the team’s first game in Mexico City, and, on the bus, his teammates raved. They had to use it as a home-run prop. Sure enough, when Nelson Cruz launched the first long ball of the weekend, Tatis was waiting for him on the top step of the dugout, sombrero in hand.
It wasn’t always so obvious that Tatis would reassimilate this seamlessly. Last August, his teammates publicly expressed their disappointment. Then, Tatis apologized to them directly, asking for their support and their help. To hear everyone in the San Diego clubhouse tell it, his words -- and his actions since -- went a long way.
“That hasn’t been an issue for quite a while,” Melvin said prior to the game. “He took care of that last year. Since that point in time, everybody’s been looking forward to getting him back. You’ll see that out of our fan base today.”
Melvin wasn’t wrong.
Tatis is sure to receive some rough receptions on the road this year -- nowhere more than next weekend at Dodger Stadium. But, as Tatis was quick to note, this is home, and there’s no place like it.
“You can’t put it into words,” Tatis said. “I’m just glad they’re on my side.”