LOS ANGELES — Monday morning, game day, and the San Diego Padres seemed nice enough. There was Wil Myers and Erick Aybar and the blond guy and that guy over there who looked kind of like Jeff Weaver and the other guy whose name card over his locker was partially obstructed by a T-shirt and was probably a catcher.
All good mornings and how was your springs and traffic wasn’t too bad for you this morning was its? All very buoyant. All very hopeful and likeable.
Their general manager, the man who reimagined and rebuilt this, was standing near the dugout rail with his scouts. Dodger Stadium was filling up blue. The season would start in a couple hours. In the clubhouse, young men made right turns to the bathroom when they should’ve gone left. Many sorted through their catcher’s gear. Four of them, 16 percent of them, are catchers. The Padres are hoarding catchers. Three Padres are Rule 5ers. The Padres are hoarding Rule 5ers. One of which is a catcher.
Eighteen of them were not on the Padres’ 25-man roster a season ago. This turnover follows the theme of last opening day’s, a year ago, when 17 Padres were new to the club or the big leagues or both. They lost 94 games.
This looks like another one of those, if not worse, OK probably worse, and on the drive to Dodger Stadium it might have occurred to you: the all-in do-over is the right course, the smart thing to do, the belated thing to do, and then somebody has to play the baseball for the next six months. See, that’s where all the catchers and Rule 5ers come in, the opening day lineup with a combined 25 years’ service time, about 17 of those from Aybar and Jhoulys Chacin, the opening day lineup with five players earning league minimum (or within a few grand of it), and a total of not quite $11 million. Clayton Kershaw makes more in two months.
“I got one thing to say to you,” one of the Padres was saying to another late Monday morning. “If Kershaw throws you a curveball, you gotta hit it.”
The other Padre nodded. Curveball. Hit that. Got it.
Everybody wants to play the kids until the kids show up and are throttled three hours at a time, for weeks at a time, for the better part of a summer. But, you know, here they are. Here we are. And there’s something cool about that, if you’re able to look out past the horizon and trust that beyond it there isn’t just a cliff with dragons waiting on the other side. Though Kershaw and the Dodgers might qualify.
No matter how many games the Padres play this season, and judging from their postgame Monday comments it’ll be 162, they will be overrun in service time and payroll (and, probably, big-league talent) in every one of them. So there’s not a lot of sense in grinding that.
“I don’t look at the world that way,” their 39-year-old manager, Andy Green, said.
Later he added, “You don’t play baseball games if you don’t expect to win,” and, “We’ve got to keep that faith all the way through the season.”
So. The Padres got throttled, 14-3, and by 14-2 after the Dodgers played their infield in with one out in the first inning when Kershaw was pitching and his opponent was Chacin. They played error-free but threw three wild pitches and allowed four home runs and at one point went 19 consecutive batters without reaching base against Kershaw. The story was the Dodgers and another season in which they expect to lord over the NL West and then maybe find a few guys to pitch after Kershaw in October. Joc Pederson hit a grand slam and Yasmani Grandal hit two home runs and Corey Seager had two hits and three RBI. Kershaw was pretty precise and looked about how you’d expect against an offense that is, well, learning, and more than 53,000 people stood and cheered and drank beer and dreamed of doing this sort of thing to all sorts of teams all summer.
Then again, Allen Cordoba, a 21-year-old Panamanian infielder who’d never taken an at-bat above rookie ball, popped out against the Dodgers in the eighth inning. His mom was watching from back home.
“Contento,” he said afterward.
“I was really, really excited and really proud,” he said through a translator. “Whether I failed or had a hit, it was going to be exciting no matter what. I was reaching a dream.”
Then again, Miguel Diaz, a 22-year-old Dominican right-hander who’d never thrown a pitch above A-ball, got four outs in a big-league ballpark.
“Tranquilo,” he said.
“They were all watching,” he said of his family back home. “When I got to the bullpen I sat down and look around. Once I did that I cleared my head, drank some water, I was fine.
“Of course it’s a bit shocking, this jump. At the same time I was really focused on going out there and doing my work.”
Then again, Luis Torrens, whose body of professional baseball work consists primarily of 184 A-ball at-bats, grounded out in the eighth inning. He’s 20 and from Venezuela.
And Christian Bethancourt, the 25-year-old catcher-turned-pitcher/catcher/outfielder, was the first man out of the Padres’ bullpen. His first pitch went to the backstop and ended with Bethancourt on his back, his knee slashed open by the cleats of baserunner Andrew Toles, who’d scored.
“I wasn’t nervous,” said Bethancourt, whose prior professional pitching experience was five outs last year.
Then he threw another wild pitch, and Seager homered off him, and, well, in the end everybody was asked back for Tuesday night. If you can’t dream of the World Series on opening day, then what’s there even a trophy for? Then the hard part starts.
Maybe not a lot of this wins games for the Padres today. And the distance between the Padres and anything like capable appeared awfully broad Monday afternoon. Kershaw and the Dodgers will do that. They’re designed for that, while the Padres are designed for who they are, which is a team rooting against cliffs and dragons.
“That’s obviously not the way you want to start out the baseball season,” Green granted, adding, “It’s one baseball game. We got work. We got work ahead of us. Gotta do better.”
Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. It’s why they keep score. Meantime, as Bethancourt observed, “Tomorrow will be another day.” That’s probably good news. Probably.
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