Mike Walker has been a San Diego Padres fan for 20 years.
The 30-year-old Phoenix resident couldn't have been happier when the club's Triple-A squad relocated to Kino Stadium in Tucson two years ago.
Since then, he's made the roughly two-hour drive down to catch five or six games a year.
"It's a way to see the team without having to drive to California," Walker said. "Two hours is better than six."
Walker made the trip again Friday, for the team's third - and likely final - home opener. Visiting Fresno beat the Padres 7-4 in front of 4,061 fans.
"I left early this morning and met some friends," he said. "The main purpose was obviously to come down for the game.
"I'd rather do this than go to a Diamondbacks game."
With the Padres set to relocate to El Paso after this season, Walker plans on making it down to Tucson at least once a month to catch as many more games as he can. He expects the team to have one of its best seasons in Tucson.
"I watched a lot of these players in spring training in the Valley and I'm excited for it," he said.
The Padres were excited, too.
Leadoff hitter and center fielder Daniel Robertson said it's nice to finally be at home, especially after the wild start to the season that included two games in Colorado Springs getting postponed because of snow.
"That Colorado trip was rough," Robertson said. "It was freezing."
But that's not the only reason he's happy to be home. Robertson said he was looking forward to seeing familiar faces and interacting with the passionate and loyal fans he met last year.
He was also excited to be starting in the home opener this year because last season he didn't get to.
"It's really good to be home because we can put on a home uniform and get our own fans," he said. "Eight games on the road is a long time. You're not the favorite every night and you get worn out."
Starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan was looking forward to taking the mound at Kino Stadium for the first time. He's hoping that the Padres can get back on their feet and put together a winning streak.
"We all got off the plane last night and were so relieved to get back to our own cars, get back to our own beds and be able to come to our own locker room," O'Sullivan said. "It's nice when you're home because you feel comfortable with your surroundings."
First-year manager Pat Murphy was also glad to be making his home debut. He called Tucson a great baseball town and said it deserves a pro team. He's hoping fans can prove that this year.
"Maybe this version of this year's team can get some excitement and people can make a statement that they want Triple-A baseball," Murphy said.
Mike Feder, the club's general manager, remains optimistic and believes that Tucson could become an attractive city for a team looking to relocate if the Padres can draw at least 250,000 fans this season. Last year, the Padres finished last in the Pacific Coast League with 200,991 with the next lowest being 311,516.
"You go around and ask any baseball player what they love," Robertson said, "They love a packed house."
Feder is also ready to make this year special by celebrating 43 years of pro ball in Tucson, whether it is or isn't the final year of Triple-A baseball.
"We had two choices coming into this season," Feder said. "One was to roll over and die, and the other was to make it fun. I chose the latter."
• Who: Fresno at Tucson
• When: 7:05 p.m.
• Radio: 1290-AM