The Padres were reportedly going to be very busy at the trade deadline this year, according to many baseball insiders. For a team that was massively underperforming (at least compared to the high expectations drawn up after a flurry of offseason transactions brought a lot of big names to Petco Park), it was thought that they'd dump a lot of salary… and talent.
However, they stayed put, actually adding a bullpen arm in exchange for a minor league outfielder (who, has actually been outperforming the guy he was traded for - go figure). Most believed it was because they didn't get the value they were expecting, but the front office spun a few "We think we're still in the race" type quotes to appease a fan base that they must've assumed hadn't watched any of the games this season.
Well, as they fell further and further out, general manager AJ Preller decided to cash in a chip before it left on it's own, and he traded the longest tenured Padre to Texas - outfielder Will Venable.
I have had a love/hate relationship with Venable in his Padres career. I'm a sucker for homegrown talent, and Will was a 5th round pick in the 2005 draft. He made his debut in 2008, and played 918 games in a Padre uniform. That's good for 6th on the all-time franchise list, just ahead of Chase Headley (908 games), and behind Gene Richards (939). In the record books, he is also:
3rd in strikeouts (722)
Tied for 3rd in triples (39, same as Dave Winfield)
8th in steals (130)
13th in runs (370)
13th in hits (694)
15th in home runs (81)
16th in doubles (114)
17th in RBI (304)
While making the top 20 in several statistical categories is definitely something to be celebrated, it speaks more to his longevity than his prowess as a baseball player. To a more negative fan, it might speak more to the mediocrity of the Padres front office for not going out and getting a better outfielder after having him for so long.
Personally, I wasn't following too closely the first few seasons of Will's career, as I would've been in my last year of college during his first full season, and when we moved to Texas shortly after graduation, I was still out of it. By the time I came back around to the Padres, it was 2012, and I was a bigger fan of the guy that usually platooned with Venable, Chris Denorfia.
Being a fan of the guy that was benched in favor of him didn't make me a Venable fan. It made it easier to point out his faults, which were striking out too much, not doing very well with runners in scoring position, and seemingly always hitting weak grounders to the second baseman when the team needed a big hit.
Still, the dude had speed, an incredible glove, and was a consummate professional. I think I really didn't like him not because he was a bad player, but because he was expected to be able to carry a mediocre Padres team, which he wasn't able to do.
When the Padres made all those blockbuster moves, Venable got moved into a 4th outfielder spot, which seemed perfect. All of a sudden, I was Venable's number one fan, getting excited when he was put in to pinch run or hit late in the game, or when he got a random start in center (because Wil Myers should seriously never be a center fielder in Petco Park).
I really hoped that the Padres would keep Venable, if only because I love the idea of a player staying his whole career with one team. Sure, by the end I might not love him as much, but it's so rare and if anyone had a shot, I thought it'd be Will. Of course, having a new GM with no attachment to a 4th outfielder type more than likely meant that he'd be gone, either now or in the offseason, so I guess I'll take what the Padres can get for him and hopefully root him into the playoffs. It'd be rad if he was brought back next year, but if there's one thing the Padres have plenty of, it's outfielders.
So, here's my farewell to a former "Lifetime Padre". This post also could've been called "Every Will Venable Card I Own", but well, I think I've done an "Every ________ Card I Own" post (yep, I did, an Austin Hedges post last month).
I'll start with all the Topps flagship cards first. Here's Will's rookie card, from 2009 Topps. I dig the little Rookie Card symbol in the bottom left. I don't have many '09 Topps cards, but this might be my favorite of the bunch, behind Tony Gwynn Jr.'s spectacular card from that set. It seemed that later on in his career, Will would adopt the "pajama" style look with his pants, but I love the high socks right here.
Do you like pictures of Will Venable diving? Topps certainly does. This is the first of a few cards that show Will laying out to make a catch. Will's been a Padre for so long, that they even changed the camo uniforms since he'd been with the team. I'm not really a fan of '10 Topps, but this is my favorite card of the set for the Friars.
Alright, now we're talking. I loved the 2011 Topps set, and I'm currently working on putting together the team set of the "diamond anniversary" parallels. I obviously already have the Venable card, which looks great - a "check out how far I hit it" glance from Will, who is once again rocking the high socks. Solid.
2012 Topps was a pretty lackluster team set for the Padres, and Will's card was pretty mediocre. Once again, a follow-through-swing shot, and this time, he's rocking a new version of the camouflage uniform.
Alright, if I loved the 2011 Topps set, then I was downright infatuated with the 2013 set. In my opinion, my favorite Topps set since the 90's (I really liked the '92 and '93 Topps sets, the first ones that got me into collecting). We're on our second of three laying-out-to-make-a-diving-catch shots, and it looks incredible. The ball is just peeking out from behind the frame of the card, and Venable's tracking it all the way into his glove. I loved the emerald parallels from this set so much that I put together the team set for them. Maybe I should get the base card of this because I love it so much.
Last year's card had the final installment of the diving-catch Venable cards. While not as stellar as the '13 version, still pretty good. Topps Series 1 had yellow bordered parallels that reminded me of the '91 Fleer set that I love so much, so I put together the team set for them. The Padre blue mixed with the yellow reminds me of San Diego's other big league professional team: the Chargers. It also reminds me of the All-Star Game logo that was revealed a few months ago. Ugh.
Here's the final chapter in the Will Venable Topps Timeline: Overall, a pretty solid card. It'll be hard for me to dislike any card that show's the Jerry Coleman memorial patch that the Padres wore last year, and I dig the colored borders of this year's set as well.
Along with the Topps flagship cards and the pair of Heritage cards I showed at the top, I have two "other" Venable cards:
I loved that '13 Topps card so much that I also got the blue foil parallel from 2013 Topps Opening Day as well. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that when I went to a game last year, I saw some banners that had this image on it. While marketing Venable as the "face of a franchise" probably wouldn't have happened with many other teams, I can't say I blame them too much, because this picture is gorgeous.
Here's the final card of the post, my only Venable auto. I had a few others that I've since traded to other Padre collectors, but I couldn't bring myself to deal this one, even when I was mad at Will for taking Denorfia's playing time. Even though it's a sticker-auto (which are always a little less rad than on-card autos), I LOVE the throwback uniforms. SO much better than anything they've had since the 90's.
For lots of players (especially ones from my childhood), when I think of them, I think first of my cards. With Will, there will be two plays that will ALWAYS come to mind when I think of him.
The first is this one, which I would put into the canon of Top Padres Plays of All Time:
Seriously, probably the greatest Padres defensive play I've ever seen live. I almost screamed out loud when I saw it, but fortunately refrained, since the rest of my family was sleeping.
Next, I think of this play, which is currently the final play of the last Padre game I've been to (I couldn't find a video of just the play, so you'll have to watch til the end of the three minutes here):
Thanks to Will Venable. I didn't begin to appreciate you until this season, which is when you left. Such is life. While I still won't go out and grab a Venable jersey anytime soon, he'll still always be a Lifetime Padre in my heart.