Snapshots and moon shots: Padres' Polaroid tradition continues in NLCS

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Friday, October 21, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Within the hallway that connects Petco Park's home clubhouse to its first-base dugout, a mural has sprung, populated with a collection of Polaroid pictures that has grown with each passing triumph. The running tally sits at 163 photographs, neatly organized within 11 rows, a static highlight reel for the San Diego Padres' resurgent season.

Two were added in the wake of their dramatic Game 2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday afternoon. One featuresBrandon Drury and Josh Bell, the two men who ignited a dramatic comeback. The other is headlined by Manny Machado, who used both his bat and his glove to secure the 8-5 win that evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece.

Later that night,Jurickson Profar looked through them all once more, smiling at the memories they triggered. He was asked to pick a favorite.

"Man," Profar said, shaking his head, "all of them."

The concept began with Joe Musgrove, who was partly inspired by Marcell Ozuna's mock selfie celebration during home run trots in Atlanta. As more and more teams devised elaborate in-game celebrations, Musgrove was looking for a dugout ritual that would distinguish his Padres. He bought a Polaroid camera, figuring he might as well produce some keepsakes, too.

The Padres have faced their fair share of adversity in their quest to capture the first championship in franchise history, from Fernando Tatis Jr.'s suspension to Josh Hader's struggles to the offense's prolonged inconsistency. Through it all, that wall has been a welcome reminder of the good times, marking their growing camaraderie. Home runs and strikeouts are depicted, but so are random gatherings and quirky moments, some of which don't have an explanation.

When this 2022 season ends -- whenever that is -- Musgrove hopes to compile the photos into a coffee-table book, copies of which might be sold for charity.

"We're not just co-workers -- we're friends," fellow Padres starter Mike Clevinger said. "We have a lot of fun being together. We pick each other up, no one stays down on anybody else. It's just great energy in this clubhouse, and we've built on it. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger."

What follows is a story of the Padres' season, as told through the players' favorite photos.

The Padres defeated the Atlanta Braves in extra innings on May 15, and Yu Darvish immediately pulled out his checkbook. Nabil Crismatt had finally established himself as a reliable major league reliever last season, four teams and one decade removed from being signed out of Colombia. But he stayed stuck at 93 mph. It remained his highest fastball velocity, an encumbrance in an era of triple-digit throwers out of bullpens.

Darvish had offered Crismatt $1,000 for every tick he threw above 93, his way of challenging him to get better. On this afternoon at Truist Park, Crismatt, who pitched two scoreless innings and struck out four batters, finally reached 94 mph. It came against his second batter, resulting in a caught-looking strikeout of Adam Duvall in the bottom of the ninth. This, naturally, is his favorite photo.

"Yu told me if I hit 95 it's a thousand more," Crismatt said. "I'll keep working at it."

Several of the Padres players had a hard time picking a singular photo -- perhaps none more than Musgrove himself.

The Padres starter identified as many as five photos as his favorite, including this one, from June 3, taken shortly after he completed eight scoreless innings in Milwaukee.

Musgrove joined the Padres in January 2021, during a three-week stretch in which A.J. Preller also traded for Darvish and Blake Snell. Musgrove was the least accomplished among the three starting pitchers, but he has become the most celebrated -- as a San Diego product and lifelong Padres fan who threw the first no-hitter in franchise history in April 2021 and eschewed forthcoming free agency by signing a five-year, $100 million extension in August 2022.

When the Padres most desperately needed a win this postseason, Musgrove, fittingly, has been the one who has come through, pitching seven one-hit innings in a winner-take-all wild-card game against the New York Mets and following it up with six innings of two-run ball to eliminate the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. He'll get the ball again in Game 3 of the NLCS from Philadelphia on Friday night, with a chance to swing the series in his team's favor -- and the Padres wouldn't want it any other way.

Profar deliberated for a while before finally landing on this one, commemorating his leadoff home run on June 7.

The Padres' offense operated as a one-man show for most of the first four months, carried largely by Machado. But some much-needed help appeared in late May, when Profar was moved into the leadoff spot in an effort to get him going offensively. It would become his home. Profar provided a .745 OPS as a leadoff hitter this season, 60 points higher than what he produced in any of the other spots in the lineup.

"It fits me really well," Profar said. "It fits my style of hitting."

Drury's Padres tenure got off to a roaring start. On Aug. 3, one day after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds, Drury hit a grand slam. It came in the very first inning, after Juan Soto and Josh Bell -- the other new additions to the lineup -- had reached in front of him. Drury became the first player to hit a grand slam in his first plate appearance after switching teams within a season.

The Padres celebrated with a group shot that ran nine deep.

"That was a pretty exciting photo right there," veteran reliever Craig Stammen said.

"Just the moment," Machado added. "It was everybody's first day together, he does that, we end up winning by a lot -- that was awesome."

One problem: the camera malfunctioned, and a picture never sprouted. The Padres have lost several photos throughout the season, but this was one that needed to be salvaged. So they improvised: Clevinger found the professional photo online, printed it, framed it and posed with it for the Polaroid.

"It was a storybook moment," Clevinger said.

One player is noticeably more prominent on the wall than any other -- Nick Martinez, the veteran right-hander who has become an invaluable member of the Padres' pitching staff for his ability to start games and, more recently, work in high-leverage roles out of the bullpen. Martinez has tried to get in on as many Polaroids as possible, often waiting an extra inning to walk to the bullpen in hopes that a picture-worthy moment will materialize.

The photo above, though, is his favorite. The date is unknown, but the theme is evergreen: players sitting together in the clubhouse, in no rush to get home, a common occurrence this season.

"It's a testament to how close we are," Martinez said. "We like hanging out with each other after games, and that one just kind of shows the camaraderie that we have."

This is Bob Melvin's only appearance on the wall. The picture is from Sept. 2, shortly after Darvish pitched seven scoreless innings from Dodger Stadium. A handful of players identified this as their favorite, not just because Melvin is in it but because he agreed to be photographed while a game was ongoing.

Snell called it "iconic."

"It was Yu," Melvin said. "He's the only guy I'd do that with. After we took it, he was like, 'I hope that didn't make you uncomfortable.' I told him, 'Yeah, maybe a little bit, but for you I'd do anything.'"

One of Melvin's greatest strengths as a manager is his ability to connect with players, a byproduct, largely, of genuine trust in them. Melvin won over the starting pitchers earlier this season -- and got them to buy into the concept of a six-man rotation -- by letting them pitch deeper into games than they normally would. It's true of his offensive players, as well: Earlier in these playoffs, Trent Grisham credited Melvin's "consistent faith" for his surprising offensive resurgence in October.

Melvin also knows how to pick his spots. He saved his first and only real postgame blow-up for the night of Sept. 15, in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field in Phoenix, after the Padres were blanked by a rookie pitcher making his major league debut. The Padres had been playing to a losing record since the start of July, and Melvin chastised them for their lack of intensity. It shocked the players, but it also helped them lock in for the stretch run.

The Padres won eight of their next 10 and have played a much more crisp brand of baseball ever since. "It was the right time and the right place to kind of light a fire under everybody," Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth said, "and it seemed to work."

Until this postseason, the Padres had been dominated by the Dodgers, losing their final nine games against them in 2021 and 14 of 19 during the regular season in 2022. But they navigated their NLDS triumph over Los Angeles with noticeable swagger -- and maybe the roots of that were planted on Sept. 2 (moments before Melvin's inaugural Polaroid appearance).

The Padres faced the famously demonstrative Dustin May that night, and one sequence in particular irked them. It was the third inning. May got Soto to swing through a 100 mph fastball to move ahead in the count, 1-2, and let out a primal yell to celebrate. Soto took the next three pitches for balls to work a walk, then flicked his bat and glared at May before beginning his jog to first base. Two pitches later, Machado launched a 410-foot home run.

The two returned to the dugout and prepared to strike a pose -- and Soto's improvisation quickly turned mocking.

"He's screaming in the photo," Musgrove said. "That was pretty funny."

Musgrove got the photography bug through his girlfriend. The two have taken to scrapbooking their offseason camping trips, and Musgrove has learned to appreciate a good photo through it. This one -- of Sean Manaea playfully blowing a kiss to a nearby Padres fan in Pittsburgh, moments after an on-field interview -- stood out for the aesthetics.

"Just the sky, how it came together behind him," Musgrove said. "That was a cool shot."

Wil Myers represents a different time in Padres history. He was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team, 11-player trade in December 2014, one of the headliners in a dizzying five-month stretch that also saw Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel head to San Diego. The group lasted less than two years together before Preller traded away the veterans to kickstart the rebuild that produced the current nucleus.

Myers is the only player remaining from the prior era, and his remaining time in San Diego might be short, given the $20 million club option that is certain to be declined this offseason. As his Padres tenure nears the end, though, he has found a way to contribute. After the Soto acquisition made him the odd man out in a suddenly crowded outfield mix, Myers re-learned first base and became a defensive stalwart at the position.

In the middle of the eighth inning of the regular-season finale on Oct. 5, the Padres removed Myers so that the home crowd could salute him one final time. As he came into the dugout, Musgrove, camera in hand, twirled his right index finger in the air, signaling for teammates to gather. The Padres were headed into the postseason, but it would begin with a best-of-three wild-card series played exclusively in New York City. Nobody knew if Myers would get another home game as a Padre.

It's no surprise that photo is the one he identified as his favorite.

Machado has a signature look -- arms crossed, shoulders back, head slightly tilted. It never wavers.

"That's my pose," he said.

Usually that pose is surrounded by boisterous teammates. But in this photo he is distinctly alone, in the back corner of the visiting dugout at Citi Field. It was the fifth inning of the Padres' postseason opener on Oct. 7, and Machado was fresh off clobbering a home run that ended Max Scherzer's outing prematurely.

Twelve days later, as Musgrove and Manaea looked through their swelling mural, that photo kept popping up in conversation -- perhaps because of what it signified. That night, the Padres had announced themselves as legitimate threats in these playoffs, stunning the 101-win Mets to take Game 1 in emphatic fashion. Over the next two weeks, they would go on to play their best baseball of the season, saving their very best when it mattered most.

Suddenly they were carrying themselves like legitimate championship contenders.

That moment -- that photo -- embodied their attitude.

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