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Nowhere outside a McDonald's hamburger stand is the work ethic so fiercely extolled as in the clubhouse of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Even the most industrious visitor to this sanctuary can be made to feel slothful when assailed by such stern admonitions as the one posted nearest the entrance: "Press on—nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.... Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
The message was read with more than passing interest by Padre players last week as they fought gamely to retain the respectability they had earned in the first weeks of the 1975 season. The game's biggest losers over the past six seasons, the Padres actually led the National League West for 12 days in April, easily a club record, and they were happily showing their heels to such dignitaries as the Dodgers and the Reds when they slouched into a five-game losing streak that was all too reminiscent of last year, when they lost 102 games, or, for that matter, of any year they have been in the league. But unlike last year or any other year, they snapped out of it this time with a 4-2 midweek win over Houston that was a monument to omnipotent determination and persistence.
"This was our first real test of the season," said Manager John McNamara of the streak-breaker. "Last year we didn't have the talent to stop a losing streak. This year we do. There was no panic. We have made tremendous progress."
Enough progress that for the first 15 games of the season, 10 of which the Padres won, they were not so much surprising as shocking. The young pitchers who suffered through on-the-job training a year ago seemed to be realizing their considerable promise, and the young hitters, notably Dave Winfield, John Grubb and Mike Ivie, were demolishing the opposition. And when the team finished its home stand last Thursday, out of first place but with heads held high, it had drawn more than a quarter of a million fans, an average of nearly 20,000 per game. Then the Padres went to L.A. and took two of three from the Dodgers.
Credit the work ethic with this astonishing turnaround. The Padres are not likely to win a pennant this year, but they will surely do better than last year, and if their fans continue to abandon their patios, sun decks and sailboats to see them play, they will easily exceed the 1974 record attendance of 1,075,399.
Manager McNamara and Vice-President/General Manager Peter Bavasi are quick to laud that master homilist, Team Owner Ray A. Kroc, for creating a more positive atmosphere. Kroc is the high school dropout who, through determination and persistence, rose from poverty to riches by selling McDonald's hamburgers. "We use many of the McDonald's ideas about marketing with the team," says Bavasi loyally.
Kroc is a congenital promoter, so 61 of the 78 Padre home dates are "specials" of some sort or another, ranging from "Big Mac Sundays" to "The Great Wallenda Night," on which the daring Karl Wallenda will tightrope-walk from the left-field grandstand to the right. Kroc, who posts his "persistence" messages throughout the clubhouse and team offices, has even made sloganeers of such normally articulate fellows as McNamara and Bavasi.
"To handle yourself, use your head," the sign above McNamara's desk reads, "to handle others, use your heart."
"When you're green you're growing," the 32-year-old Bavasi will say. "When you ripen you rot. And if you were a bum when you were poor, you'll be a bum when you're rich. Mr. Kroc says that all the time."
Bavasi and his father, Team President E.J. (Buzzy) Bavasi, deserve considerable credit themselves for assembling an exciting young team and McNamara merits praise for having the courage to play youngsters last season when he might have won some battles with veterans but lost the war. "We decided to give the ball to the kids," he has said. "Now they have a year's experience."