Thousands rally at Petco to Celebrate San Diego

'This is a special place, and it deserves to be celebrated,' Green says at inaugural event

Thousands rally at Petco to Celebrate San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- Standing on the stage behind Petco Park's batter's eye, Trevor Hoffman pointed toward the statue of Tony Gwynn beyond right-center field. Instantly, the 12,000-plus San Diegans on hand burst into cheers, chanting "To-ny, To-ny!"

What better way to celebrate San Diego than one Padres legend giving a nod to another?

Petco Park on Saturday played host to the Celebrate San Diego Rally, a first-of-its-kind event in the wake of the Chargers' departure to Los Angeles. Several local sports icons were on hand, along with prominent figures from the community.

"This is just a testament to the depth of love that people in this city have for this city," said Padres manager Andy Green. "... To be out here with fans who share the sentiment that we all feel -- this is a special place, and it deserves to be celebrated."

Andy Green at Celebrate SD Rally

The rally took shape as a collaboration between the Padres, San Diego Gulls, San Diego Sockers, San Diego State, University of San Diego, UC-San Diego and the city itself. It began with live music, food and games and concluded with a number of prominent San Diegans -- including Green and Hoffman -- taking the stage to thank the community for its support.

Arguably, the biggest ovation of the day came when Padres great Randy Jones was shown on the videoboard. It was Jones' first public appearance since news broke last month that he is fighting throat cancer.

Nearly an hour after introductions, Hoffman closed the event with a poignant speech reiterating his love for the city.

"For me, [San Diego] is my personal story," Hoffman said. "I came here in 1993 as a single guy. I've raised a family and now am still part of an organization that was very good to me."

Hoffman at Celebrate SD Rally

During the event, the Padres announced they will help fill a void in the community left by the Chargers' departure. For the past 38 years, the Chargers had hosted a blood drive, so the Padres will host one of their own at Petco Park on June 27.

"San Diego is more than sports," Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler said from the stage. "We love this city and are committed to its continued growth."

Fowler was the first to speak at the event, which was emceed by Padres and Aztecs radio voice Ted Leitner. Among those on stage were mayor Kevin Faulconer, police chief Shelley Zimmerman, former Chargers Nick Hardwick and Rolf Benirschke, and Aztecs basketball coach Steve Fisher.

During the rally, the Padres offered a gear exchange, in which fans could trade their Chargers clothing for a credit to the Padres' team store. All the excess Chargers gear will be donated to charity.

At this point, it appears likely the rally becomes a yearly occurrence, especially given Saturday's turnout. Green even gave a nod to the Petco Park faithful, before he left early to catch his flight to Arizona for Spring Training.

"There's not going to be a better place in baseball in due time," Green said. "This will be the best place to watch a baseball game. It already is -- from an atmosphere perspective at the ballpark. When we match that on the baseball field and we start competing to win championships here, it's going to be unparalleled. ... I can't wait until we give the city what it deserves."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.