Padres committed to dressing kids like home team
You expect knocks on the door on Halloween.
But you don't expect the young man on the other side to be wearing a Padres camouflage uniform with a catcher's mask.
"I'm Nick Hundley," the 10-year-old said last October as he held out a bag adorned with the Padres logo.
He was, at least, a perfect scale model.
The Halloween costume was just one sidelight of one of the Padres' most popular community programs.
This season, for the third straight year, the Padres are outfitting more than 14,000 Little Leaguers in San Diego County with Padres-branded jersey tops and corresponding caps.
"I've heard dozens of stories about the kids and their Padres uniforms," said Rolland Slade, the district administrator for San Diego's District 66 Little League. "We know kids wear the uniforms to bed as pajamas. They show up in Padres uniforms on career days at school. They wear them all the time.
"One father told me his son was watching a Padres game and noticed the Padres were wearing the same uniform he had. 'They're like me,' the boy told his dad."
The Padres Youth Baseball Initiative benefits the leagues as well as individual players, while strengthening the connection between the National League club and the area's youth.
"We can recruit kids who normally would not sign up due to a lack of funds," said Raymond Bernal, the administrator for the San Diego American Little League. "The Padres' program providing free, quality uniforms helps keep families from being priced out."
"The program has done wonders for the leagues, as well as the kids," said Slade. "The players love the uniforms. And the program has allowed dollars formerly spent on uniforms to be used by the leagues on equipment and field maintenance."
Over the first three years of the program, more than 40,000 uniforms (tops and caps) have been distributed to minor league, T-ball and challenger teams in five Little League districts plus two PONY leagues.
"Among the things that make the program special is the quality of the tops and caps," said Slade. "They look exactly like what the Padres are wearing, down to the buttoned tops. These are not cheap replicas."
"In past years, we would take our jerseys back at the end of the season because the league could not afford to purchase new jerseys every year," said Southeastern Little League administrator James Trowsdell. "They are able to keep the Padres jersey. That means a lot to parents and the kids."
The idea for the Padres Youth Baseball Initiative started during a Padres Little League Day at Petco Park in 2010. After watching players in Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, etc., uniforms parade around the ballpark, club owners contemplated a Little League Day when everyone would be wearing Padres uniforms.
Today, more than 1,000 teams in the county youth leagues are Padres.
Some are known as the Camo Padres or the 1998 Padres. Others are named after players. You might see the Tony Gwynn Padres playing the Trevor Hoffman Padres.
Like the military-outreach programs initiated by the Padres, the landmark Padres Youth Baseball Initiative is now being studied and copied by other Major League teams.
Last winter, administrators and coaches from Little Leagues and teams throughout San Diego County met with the Padres to pick from the dozen uniform styles available.
Five of the available styles represent the club's current uniforms -- home, road, camouflage, alternate and Spring Training. Also available are replicas of the 1998 home, 1984 road, 1978 home, 1975 road, 1972 home, 1940 home and 1936 home uniforms.
The most popular uniform with the Little League players are the camouflage. Following, in order, are the current road, current home, 1975 road and current alternate uniforms.
The Padres also provide matching T-shirts for coaches, as well as 13 player uniforms for each team.
"Those uniforms mean a lot to those kids," said Slade, who is a pastor at Meridian Southern Baptist Church in El Cajon. "They also create a connection. The kids know the Padres are involved."