For a Change, Padres Have All the Answers in Camp

Times Staff Writer

My last memories of the 1984 Padres were of anxious moments sitting on the team buses in the midst of a riotous mob scene outside Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

It is just a little bit different this spring in the Valley of the Sun.

Call it Camp Tranquility.

"It's a bad spring for the writers," Manager Dick Williams said. "Nothing's happening."

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

If the Padres' training camp was an omelet, it would be plain. No cheese. No mushrooms. No chilies. Not even salt and pepper.

If the Padres were a puzzle, all of the pieces would be in place. Virtually every spot on the roster is set.

This is a championship team methodically preparing for what it hopes will be another championship season.

"We've improved ourselves as much or more as anyone in our division," Williams said. "We should win it."

Nothing bold. Nothing brash. Just a matter-of-fact statement.

Remember when the Padres were like a real-life Abbott and Costello routine? Who knew who or what would be wherever.

It hardly seems like these guys today could really be the Padres.

Whatever happened to the days when the Padres represented a myriad of questions with almost no answers? This year, it is as if the Padres already have all the answers--and no questions remain.

Isn't Williams concerned about anything?

He hesitated, as if to say there must be something, but it sure wasn't on the tip of his tongue.

"Well," he said at last, "I'm trying to locate our fourth-place hitter."

Aha, I thought, I'm onto something. Is someone missing?

It turned out that what was missing was something rather than someone.

"We haven't shown any power yet," Williams said. "I guess Kevin McReynolds would be a logical No. 4 hitter, and so would Graig Nettles. I might go with Steve Garvey if Al Bumbry's going to play nearly every day."

And Bumbry might well be playing nearly every day, at least at the start of the season. Carmelo Martinez, the incumbent left fielder, may open the season on the disabled list because of his hand injury.

That's the way things are going for the Padres these days. They lose a starting outfielder and they just happen to have a veteran ready to step in and take his place.

Bumbry, in fact, is the central figure in the only shuffle Williams is contemplating this spring.

"When Bumbry's in the lineup, I'd like to bat him second and Tony Gwynn third," Williams said. "That's where your best hitter is supposed to be."

But, I protested, wouldn't it be difficult for Gwynn to jump back and forth between hitting second and third?

Williams laughed.

"Nothing bothers Tony," he said. "He can hit anywhere."

And nothing seemed to be bothering Williams. There might have been concern before training camp about the condition of the hand McReynolds broke during the National League playoffs last fall, but that's no longer a worry.

"He's swinging the bat with authority," Williams said. "His hand doesn't seem to be bothering him at all."

No problems, and only pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, the roster is so set that the most pleasant surprises will be laboring in places such as Las Vegas and Beaumont, Tex., come summer.

"A lot of our young pitchers have really impressed me," Williams said. "I'd never watched Jimmy Jones much, and I've found he has a lot more velocity than I thought. Kevin Kristan has been nothing short of sensational. Lance McCullers is another one to watch. I don't know where they're going to end up this spring, but I want them out pitching so they can be ready in case the other guys falter."

There were supposedly two spots on the pitching staff up for grabs, but those have now been virtually locked up by Luis DeLeon and Greg Booker. Neither has given up a run yet.

In fact, the entire roster looks set to me. The starting lineup is set. The starting rotation is set. The bullpen is set.

The Padres, thus, are left to go about their business with an air of quiet confidence.

"It's a quiet spring," Williams said, "but the guys are working hard."

Make it perfectly clear, he was suggesting, that this is not a complacent bunch.

The Padres had their best year in 1984, but they did not quite get it all done. They still talk of sitting helplessly on those buses outside Tiger Stadium while the mob celebrated their demise.

But its just another peaceful day in the desert. Do me a favor: Wake me up when the season starts.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World