Padres owner Peter Seidler was champion of baseball fans and the game he loved

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In the fall of 2022, San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler headed the team traveling party that went to visit Trea Turner as Turner weighed offers in free agency. Turner had been drafted by San Diego in 2014, and, eight years later, the time he spent with Seidler affirmed what Turner felt back then: What a great guy, Turner thought, warm and engaging.

Seidler wasn't just there to visit; he was serious about signing the shortstop: He OKed an offer in the range of $350 million, well beyond the competing proposal of the Philadelphia Phillies. A few days later, the Padres made it clear that if Turner needed a higher offer, well, Seidler would make that happen, too.

"I was really impressed by him," Turner recalled Tuesday afternoon, after he learned of Seidler's death at 63. "What he was willing to do to win -- he wasn't going to leave any stone unturned."

Turner had already been leaning toward making a deal with the Phillies, but Seidler's humanity and his enthusiasm for bringing a championship to the Padres weighed on him. The notion of turning down Seidler felt heartbreaking to Turner, who eventually conveyed this message: Please don't make another offer.

This was typical of the affect that Seidler had on people, thanks to his genial and understated nature, his sincerity, his love for the game in which he grew up. The grandson of the late Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, he was a baseball fan who became a champion for baseball fans in San Diego, effectively spending his own money in an effort to win that franchise's first title. He was the kind of owner that all baseball fans dream of -- a notion that cuts particularly this week, as the MLB owners prepare to vote on another California team's relocation. Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher is prepared to rip his team out of the East Bay, away from their fans. Seidler was devoted to the idea of winning a championship for Padres fans. And with them.

Mark Sweeney, a former player for the Padres who is part of the team's broadcasts, said in a text message, "Today, we all lost an amazing man that left a legacy that reached way beyond the game of baseball and this great city that he loved. His passion and devotion to the game will never be forgotten!"

A few years ago, Seidler stood against the backstop behind home plate in Petco Park and in his gentle voice, he talked with a reporter about baseball, sharing stories about the Dodger teams and players that Seidler grew up watching, about Padres legend Tony Gwynn. At one point, the reporter asked Seidler about the sustainability of what the Padres were doing, spending big on players like Manny Machado, and Seidler smiled slightly. "We'll be fine," he said.

The Padres traded for Yu Darvish, for Joe Musgrove, who was born and raised in San Diego County. Before the trade deadline of 2022, the Padres swapped an army of prospects to the Washington Nationals in return for Juan Soto and also dealt for Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader. Seidler was not handwringing over the projected long-term value of prospects; rather, he was just trying to do what he could to help the Padres win the World Series, and to reward the passion of a fan base that responded by filling seats: From 2018 to 2023, the team's average game attendance increased from about 26,000 to over 40,000. Season ticket sales have soared in recent seasons.

Thanks to Seidler, the Padres came close to the final goal. After knocking out the New York Mets in the wild-card round of the 2022 playoffs, San Diego faced the Dodgers -- "They are the dragon up the freeway we're trying to slay," Seidler had said earlier in the season, on a mic'd up appearance on "Sunday Night Baseball" -- and beat L.A. The Padres' ride ended when they lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.

Despite that final disappointment, Seidler had related in texts and over the phone how much fun it was to see the outpouring of Padres fans. "The crowds are beyond awesome," he said in May. "A true credit to our players and fans who together and organically pushed their relationship to this fun, exciting and intense level."

He listed a handful of players, and then caught himself. "I guess I could go on and on. It gives me chills when I think about all the positive energy."

The reporter once asked him to send a family photo for a story; Seidler forwarded more than a dozen and laughingly apologized for his enthusiasm, while offering context for boyhood pictures with his grandfather and mother, taken in Dodger Stadium, and for a picture with the team broadcast -- "Vinnie," as Seidler referred to Vin Scully.

"A good man, a great heart," one of his ownership peers said shortly after the news broke. "This just breaks my heart. He had such a big heart."

"People [in the sport] were upset with him because he spent his own money, but he wanted to win the World Series and he wasn't worried about the cost. He did it the right way -- he paid into revenue-sharing, rather than being a recipient."

Seidler was a two-time cancer survivor, and his health issues were widely known within the industry, though not much was shared publicly outside an announcement by the Padres this fall that he had undergone a medical procedure that would keep him away from the ballpark.

Now, there are questions about whether the franchise will be able to match its current level of spending without Seidler spurring it on. In recent years, the team carried a payroll of almost $100 million in 2019, more than doubled it in 2022, to $221 million, and then climbed again in 2023 to an estimated $296 million. Machado, Darvish, Musgrove and Jake Cronenworth have signed long-term extensions, and executives with other teams have quietly speculated whether it can continue. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in September that the Padres need to cut their payroll dramatically before the 2024 season, to something closer to $200 million, and if that's the case, then San Diego might be forced to trade Soto and/or other expensive stars.

But there is no doubt about the legacy of Seidler, who was willing to trade profits for the fun. For the fans.

When Trea Turner made his final decision to sign with the Phillies over the Padres, he felt he owed it to Seidler to call him directly, and the shortstop braced for the response. But Seidler worked to make Turner feel better, warmly and graciously accepting his decision, offering some parting words that reflected the perspective of someone who had been in a love affair with baseball his whole life.

"We're in this together," Turner said Seidler told him, "to grow this great game."