It's that time of the year when you watch "Field of Dreams" (or whatever baseball movie speaks to you) again for the hundredth time. It enlightens your senses towards baseball; the crack of the bat, the smell of the red clay, the sound of a ball pounding into to the glove. I remember in Little League bouncing the ball against the side of a concrete wall in the dugout at just the right angle so that it would bounce back to you, only to be repeated hundreds of times while waiting for the inning to be over or for your turn at bat. I've often wondered how the game would have changed as a child, had I known then what I know now. Back then it was pure fun. Keep it simple. No real strategy. Just hit, run, catch and throw. No double steals. No squeeze plays. No hit and run. We weren't that good. Aw, the good old days.
Now, as we've grown older, the nuances of the game present themselves. Double switches, short relievers, long relievers. Right handers vs. left handers, full moon or blue moon? Baseball, like many other things in life, has become a game of statistics and data. The pitcher has thrown 59 pitches, on 4 days, 3hrs, 2 mins of rest following a .258 hitter whose brother is a truck driver. Time for my 2.43 inning, right handed pitcher who ate a rib-eye dinner last night to come in and shut down their … you get the idea.
Anyway, as Spring Training approaches, the Padres again are sitting in first place. Everyone is batting a 1000 and the pitching staff has a combined ERA of 0.0. Everyone is looking forward to the season and injuries are minor. The rosters are full and the staff is looking for those hidden gem players who will have a breakout year or move from the minors to the big leagues. Most of the big signings and trades are behind us, it's now time to play ball!
What will this season be like for the Padres? After a great year last year, what will be the story of 2005? In my last column, I had suggested that the Padres forgo Seanez and Reyes money to lock down Wells. Well, that didn't happen. The Padres have brought in a lot of veterans (read "older players") and some speed with Roberts. I was glad to see Woody back but that offsets the loss of Wells. No gain there. The bullpen will be second to none again so the Padres are set there. The speed on the base paths will help but how will that translate into a win vs. a loss? 4 games? Maybe that's the difference along with the addition of Williams in the rotation and some left-handed help. Overall, the pitching staff has improved slightly, although much of the burden is on the "veterans", which is worrisome. Many of the non-roster invitees are in that category too. We do get smarter as we get older but injuries seem to take a lot longer to heal when you are over 35. It appears that there are a lot of "recycled" ex-Padres vying for a spot too.
I'm glad (so far) to still see Nevin and Burroughs in Padre uniforms. I can't wait to see my favorites Loretta and Greene again; Eaton, Peavy, Lawrence, Otsuka and Hoffman. Sounds like the start of a song…. I just hope the tune carries on for more than 162 games. A lot is resting on the core part of the team (as in any sport) and it'll be those little extra things that will make or break this season.
When I think of what this season may hold for the Padres, I look at what the other teams did in their league and I am a bit worried. I was a big proponent of keeping the core team together at the end of last season and that's exactly what happened with one exception (which was back filled by Williams). The Dodgers and the Giants did a bit more dealing in the off-season but I think that the Dodgers hurt themselves (lost Greene and Beltre but picked up a boat-load of players who may help). The Giants signed Benitez and Vizquel who will help. What does that mean? I think you'll see the Padres battle it out to the end as they did last year but this time I think they'll come out on top of the division. Why? The Giants rely on one big player who's getting old and with all the scandal of steroids going on we'll see his numbers drop. The key in my mind for the Padres (again), is to stay healthy. Chant the mantra – keep it simple and remember the good ol' days of 1984.
Kevin can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org