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1998 Playoffs

Amen

Padres fans keep the faith with Swinging Friar

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Posted: Tuesday October 20, 1998 08:05 PM

 

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- He's a cute, pudgy man of God who cracks a mean bat. He's the Swinging Friar, a Padres mascot and a man of mystery.

In fact, the mascot goes back so far nobody really knows when the little guy was born. In a town crazed by baseball, though, fans are just glad the short, balding holy man still supplies the blessings.

"I like the friar because he's always smiling and hitting it over the fence," said fan Susan Baird. "He represents San Diego: Nice people, but we can kick butt when we have to."

The cartoon figure has been associated with the team at least since 1958, when the Padres were in the minor leagues. And while it seems a natural choice for a mascot -- San Diego was built around Spanish missions settled by Franciscan friars to convert Indians to Christianity -- no one is sure who had the idea.

"I went back to 1939 and looked at programs and didn't see him," said Glenn Turgeon, assistant historian at the San Diego Hall of Champions, where the city's sports history is preserved. "Unless someone from back then remembers him, we have no other way of tracing his origin other than through paper documents."

Padres spokesman John Schlegel believes the mascot was named and designed as part of a contest.

"But I'm not really sure about that," he said. "We were going to have an intern research that this summer, but we've been a little busy."

What is certain is that at least for the past 40 years the friar has always worn the garb of a medieval beggar -- sandals, dark hooded habit, rope around the waist. And, of course, a grin.

He lost his halo as he grew up during the 1960s. He swung to the left for a few years, then to the right, and he even wore a glove for a season.

When baseball expanded in 1969 and a National League franchise was started in San Diego, the team kept the minor league name of the Padres and the friendly friar.

But he disappeared in 1984 after the Padres made their only other appearance in the World Series. Then-owner Joan Kroc, an heiress to the McDonald's fast food fortune, thought the mascot didn't look professional.

The cuddly clergyman was replaced with a corporate, baseball-shaped logo with pinstripes and the Padres name stretched across, but fans continued to wear their Swinging Friars T-shirts.

"Fans lacked something they could hold on to during that time," Schlegel said. "A lot of fans wanted him back because he was something that was unique to San Diego."

Unless you count the Friars of Providence College in Rhode Island.

The friar was reborn in 1996 as part of the Padres' 60th anniversary and a marketing plan by the team's new management, majority owner John Moores and president Larry Lucchino.

He was given a more rounded head, a bigger smile and the color of his robe was changed from brown to plum. A costume was designed to bring the Swinging Friar to life at games, a fuzzy character who wanders the stands and inspires the crowd. Padres merchandise bearing his likeness are among the franchise's top sellers.

He's so popular, the Friar was added to the team's uniforms last year and he's prominently featured on the team's Web site and publications.

"He was there in 1984 and two years after he's brought back, we're in the Series again," Schlegel said. "I wouldn't call him a good-luck charm, but there may be something there."

Maybe it's the Friar's slogan, "Keep the Faith" or the Gospel message on which the lives of Franciscan Friars are based, "I come to serve."

Whatever it is, Padres fan Michael Harmon hopes for a little divine intervention as the Padres try to win a couple of games at home after starting the Series in New York with two losses.

"We don't need a miracle just yet," he said. "But prayer can't hurt."  

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