Ultimate Crone Zone? 2B receives warm homecoming

July 26th, 2022

DETROIT -- Jake Cronenworth’s “home” debut might have taken a little longer than expected, but that only meant more time for the folks back home to get ready to show up and show out.

The Padres’ second baseman grew up about an hour north of Comerica Park, in a small town in Michigan’s “thumb” region. Monday’s series opener against the Tigers was a big deal, then, as the community got its first chance to see the star it had watched grown up. It mattered not that Cronenworth finished 0-for-4, or that the Padres lost, 12-4, to the Tigers.

“It's always great when you come back and play [in] a place that's yours,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. “I know he's excited about playing. I was teasing him a little bit about [giving him] the day off.

“There's always something a little bit added to that when you get to play in your home state.”

From the skinny little kid in hockey gear that everyone was sure would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s skate tracks to the handsome young man who rocketed through the Minor Leagues and earned All-Star nods in two of his first three MLB seasons, Cronenworth has certainly proved himself worthy of all the love St. Clair, Mich., had to offer.

And what the town -- population of roughly 5,500, if you’re curious -- brought was plenty.

There were T-shirts and jerseys and signs galore. The town’s recreation department organized a bus trip and got a pile of tickets in the outfield seats; family and friends filled a suite to the seams. They all rose in a wave as Cronenworth’s name was announced pregame, cheered endlessly through each at-bat and rooted as he earned a walk in the fifth.

If there is a town billboard in St. Clair, it probably reads “Closed for Cronenworth” this week.

Michigan had waited a long time for his homecoming, and the Cronies were going to make the most of it.

“I did not know it was hundreds. It's a lot of tickets that you have to give away,” Melvin said with a chuckle. “But, you know, the first time you get to do this, it's special.”

Technically, the first time should have been in late April 2020, during Cronenworth’s rookie season. The Padres were scheduled for just their third trip to Detroit in team history, and Cronenworth was on the roster. COVID-19 had other plans for that season, though, and Monday marked the first time San Diego had been back since 2005. 

In that short span, Cronenworth has grown from a surprising rookie -- remember when he was just “that Cronenworth guy”? -- into a guy Melvin and the Padres have looked to “excel in big spots.”

“It’s so great to see him out there and to see everyone come out and support him,” Cronenworth’s father, Charlie, said. “We’ve got all these people from St. Clair over [in the outfield seats] with their shirts, we’ve got family, and we’ve got a bunch of coworkers here to see it. 

“It’s been a great, great night.”