Mark Musgrove recalls being furious with Preston Gomez that July night in 1970. Musgrove was a 12-year-old Padres fan at the time, listening to games on a 9-volt transistor radio in his backyard.
A month earlier, Musgrove was in attendance when Dock Ellis authored his infamous no-hitter against the Padres at San Diego Stadium. It was the very first Padres game he’d seen in person.
Now, here was Clay Kirby, through eight no-hit innings, with a chance to make history in the franchise’s second season. And there was Gomez, the team’s manager, lifting Kirby for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth. (The Mets had a 1-0 lead despite being hitless.)
“I just went: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!'”
That Padres’ no-hit drought would last a long time. Like, a really long time. Long enough for that childhood Padres fan to grow up, get married, have a son, watch that son develop his own love of baseball, watch that son get drafted and reach the big leagues, then get traded to the Padres …
… where, in his second start with his boyhood team, the son would throw the first no-hitter in franchise history.
Friday night at the Musgrove house
On Friday night, the Musgroves — Joe’s parents, Mark and Diane, and his two sisters, Terra and Marisa — crowded into their family living room for their usual game-night ritual. Joe Musgrove says he isn’t superstitious. But his family sure is.
Since Musgrove won his first game with the Astros five years ago, they’ve sat in precisely the same seats every time. That means Joe’s older sister, Terra, still sits on the floor.
Around the fourth inning, the Musgroves ordered salads from Greek Chicken, a favorite dinner spot near their house in El Cajon, Calif. The meal arrived in the sixth. By then, it was pretty clear no one was touching those salads.
“Everybody’s stomach was in knots,” Mark said. “Our food sat on the table until the end of the game.”
When it became obvious that Musgrove was on the brink of history, the Musgrove house was mostly silent. No one addressed the elephant in the room. For a brief moment it became clear Marisa was about to crack and mention the stakes out loud. Terra interrupted her.
“Read the room,” Terra shouted.
While the games took place, Musgrove recalls throwing a tennis ball against his garage door, in lockstep with the play-by-play.
“It drove my dad crazy,” he recalled.
Even when Joe Musgrove broke into in the big leagues, Mark kept a keen eye on the Padres. He’d flip back and forth between the Astros and the Padres, then the Pirates and Padres. Mark watched his son pitch, then he watched his own team play.
“I always watched the Padres from afar,” Joe Musgrove said earlier this spring. “And I’d get daily updates from my dad back home.”
When he turned 18, Joe got a tattoo of a baseball on his arm with an interlocking SD. His grandmother chided him for it, wondering what would happen if Joe played for another Major League team. Joe told her it would be just fine — the tattoo was merely an homage to his roots.
Musgrove pitched two seasons in Houston, then three in Pittsburgh with that “SD” tattoo. But last offseason, it became apparent Musgrove would be dealt. He crossed his fingers and hoped for San Diego.
“There was always that piece in the back of my mind that was hoping San Diego would be a possibility,” Musgrove said.
He was wrong. On Jan. 18, he got a call from Pirates general manager Ben Cherington informing him he’d been traded to the Padres. He was ecstatic. His phone blew up. So did his dad’s.
“He’s been a Padres fan since the Padres first came in the league,” Joe said on Friday night. “He’s been there from the start. I know he’s extremely excited that I’m on the Padres now, and we can finally share the same love that we grew up watching together — from a little bit different perspective.”
Musgrove arrived in Spring Training and said it hit him hardest the moment he pulled on a Padres uniform for the first time. He was dominant all spring, and in his first start, he threw six scoreless innings at his hometown ballpark, wearing the No. 44 as a tribute to Peavy.
Sitting on a 22-inning scoreless streak dating to last season, Musgrove headed to Texas for start No. 2.
Musgrove’s no-hitter was about as clean as they come. Mark said he realized Joe had no-hit stuff around the fifth inning. Musgrove’s catcher, Victor Caratini, said the same. The Rangers couldn’t touch Musgrove’s breaking pitches, so he went to them often in the final few innings.
“Pandemonium,” Mark said. “Screaming and yelling. Tears of joy. I had tears running down my face.”
After the game, Joe was asked what the moment would mean to his father, and he did well to keep his emotions in check.
“Me and my dad have a lot of memories,” Joe said. “He’s the one that instilled the love of the game in me at a really young age. He’s probably in tears. They all probably are.”
A party ensued. One set of Musgrove’s neighbors stopped by to check if everything was OK. What, exactly, was all the screaming for?
Another set of neighbors had celebrated with the Musgroves when Joe was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2011. They bought the Musgroves loads of Blue Jays gear the very next day. On Friday, they stopped by for a quick celebration.
As they were leaving, a pair of new neighbors on the block strolled by, decked out in Padres jerseys. They had yet to meet the Musgroves. They handed Diane a few cold beers and a greeting card that read, “Congratulations Musgrove family.”
As a father first and a Padres fan second — the no-hit drought wasn’t even on Mark’s mind until after things had settled down. The focus, as always, was on Joe.
“I stopped being his coach when he was about 12, and I became his fan — his biggest fan,” Mark said. “I resisted all efforts to tell him what I thought about stuff and just encouraged him, as I thought a good dad should do.
“It was more about him than it was breaking the 53-year drought. But, of course, once it occurred, everything fell into place, I just went, ‘Holy cow, what an accomplishment.’”
What an accomplishment, indeed. If anyone could fully comprehend its significance, it’s probably that boy with the transistor radio, who, 53 seasons later, finally got to see his hometown team’s first no-hitter.