SAN DIEGO -- This kind of thing doesn't happen much in San Diego.
As Padres owner Peter Seidler walked on stage for a panel discussion at FanFest on a brilliant Saturday afternoon in February, chants of "Peter! Peter! Peter!" rose up from the crowd of several thousand fans jammed into a grassy park just beyond center field at Petco Park.
The most eagerly anticipated season in Padres history starts Thursday and it's not a stretch to say that Seidler is as beloved as the superstar quartet of Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. After all, Seidler's the guy who's going to be writing the massive checks at least three of those players, and maybe all four, will be cashing into the next decade.
"It was a thrill just to be there," said Seidler, an aw-shucks kind of guy who wants nothing more than to bring San Diego its first World Series title. "When your players are good, I guess, it flows to people like me. But it really was all about the players."
Seidler, a third-generation member of the O'Malley family that once owned the Dodgers, has raised eyebrows across baseball by fearlessly lavishing big contracts on players. Since July, the Padres have signed hometown hero Joe Musgrove -- who owns the only no-hitter in franchise history -- to a $100 million, five-year deal; Bogaerts to a $280 million, 11-year contract; ace Yu Darvish to $108 million over six seasons; and the biggest splash of all, giving Machado a $350 million, 11-year deal, the fourth-largest contract in baseball history.
Fans hope that with Seidler at the helm, the Padres will be able to sign Soto to what could be the biggest contract in baseball history to keep the young generational talent here beyond 2024.
"One year soon, the baseball gods will shine on the San Diego Padres and we will have a parade," Seidler said the day they signed Machado.
Ah, yes, a parade. San Diego has been great at throwing parades for losers. The Chargers got one after they were embarrassed by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl 29 years ago. The Padres got one after they were swept by the New York Yankees the last time they reached the World Series, in 1998.
Seidler envisions a parade with a trophy. The organization feels it's close after a stirring run to the NL Championship Series last year.
Many outside of San Diego, including Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort, wonder how the Padres can sustain the spending. Seidler doesn't care what anybody else thinks. San Diego has a different vibe than most other cities and Petco Park is a fun place to be, Seidler says. He scoffs at the city being a so-called small market.
He also doesn't like the word sustainable.
"Let's find a different one," he said. "Do I believe our parade is going to be on land or on water or on both? Putting a great and winning team on the field in San Diego year after year is sustainable."
Even MLB.com wrote that the Padres were "continuing to outpunch their market weight."
San Diego might rank toward the bottom of broadcast markets, "but that hasn't mattered to us in a long time," Seidler said. "We've got great fans in San Diego. It's a sports-oriented city. We, several years ago, believed that if we gave fans a great product, that they would show up with enthusiasm. Our great fans have exceeded our very high expectations. Then the snowball starts rolling down the hill and the better we are, the more support we have in the city, and it's been a great and healthy dynamic.
"I know that we're growing the game for baseball," Seidler said. "Our revenues are up. Remarkably our franchise will pay into the revenue sharing system for first time. We're happy to do it because it means that our way of looking at things is working and I think it'll continue to work."
Seidler has been involved in the ownership group since 2012. A two-time cancer survivor and co-founder and managing partner of Seidler Equity Partners, he bought out Ron Fowler's majority stake in November 2020.
Owner adulation hasn't been common in San Diego. While previous ownership groups were painfully penurious, Seidler has helped transform the Padres from bottom feeders in the NL West to World Series contenders.
The Padres' project to have the third-highest payroll in the majors this season at $255 million, trailing only the New York Mets and Yankees. San Diego's luxury tax payroll projects to $285 million.
"Peter's very clear what his expectations are," general manager A.J. Preller said. "He sees the big picture and also understands philosophically what we're trying to do."
The Padres have had San Diego to themselves since the NFL's Chargers bolted for Los Angeles in 2017. It's a void they've filled eagerly, finishing fifth in the majors in attendance last year, with fans eagerly snapping up expensive jerseys and other gear.
"We're not New York. We know that," Seidler said. "But I'll put the passion of our fans and the support of our fans up against anybody. You layer in the hunger of this city to win a title and now the city and our fans know that we can. That's why our building is rocking every night. We'll be close to a sellout every single night this year. We have a wait list. It speaks to how much our fans love the players that we're putting on the field and the conviction that our players bring to it. They're here to win."