Welcome to Cutdown Day, where the men are supposedly separated from the boys . . .
Shawn Abner, one of the newest Las Vegas Stars, loosened the cardboard nameplate hanging above his locker.
"Do I get to keep this?" he said with a giggle. "Do I get to send this home to Mom?"
Eventually, he just stuck the nameplate in his pocket and carried his bats, gloves, bubble gum and other important baseball gear over to the minor league locker room--some 30 feet away.
"Longest 10 yards I've ever walked," he said later with a wink.
Bip Roberts, another of the newest Stars, never made the walk Tuesday, although he was supposed to. Manager Larry Bowa told Roberts--the Padres' opening-day second baseman a year ago--that he was being sent down to Las Vegas, and quicker than you can say Triple-A, Roberts was out the door.
He left everything in his locker. The equipment manager was nice enough to remove the nameplate for him.
So it goes.
Bowa sent outfielder Abner, infielders Roberts and Ed Rodriguez and pitchers Ray Hayward, Ed Vosberg, Rusty Ford and Todd Simmons to their Triple-A camp, leaving just 29 players on the big league roster. The final five cuts will be announced Saturday, but it's no big secret who's on the hot seat.
According to Bowa and Jack McKeon, the Padre general manager, shortstop Gary Green will be sent down Saturday, as will catcher Mark Parent. That leaves three.
Pitchers Ed Wojna and Jimmy Jones are battling for the final spot in the starting rotation (Wojna had the edge as of Tuesday), and the loser will go to Las Vegas. That leaves two.
Greg Booker and Tom Gorman are battling for the 10th and final spot on the pitching staff (Booker has the edge). That leaves one.
It appears that outfielder James Steels has made the team, so the final outfield spot will go to rookie Shane Mack or Marvell Wynne (Wynne has the edge).
So, to say the least, there is tension around the Padre clubhouse. Second baseman Joey Cora appears to be a shoo-in to make the team, but he warned Tuesday: "Not yet. They have not told me yet."
Roberts, after getting word from Bowa, left without saying a word. He spent much of the afternoon sleeping in his hotel room.
But by Tuesday night, he was watching a movie on television and sounding very practical.
"I'm just watching a movie, not even thinking about it," he said. "I've been talking to my people, my family, and everything's OK. It was inevitable. I'm ready to play. It's something I have to accept."
He had conceded weeks ago that his chances were slim. He had seen how the Padres had taken him off the 40-man roster and had taken his number away (he wore No. 2 last season but received No. 18 this year). And he wasn't getting any starting assignments this spring. (He had two hits in only seven at-bats.) In an exhibition game Monday night, he had hit a double down the right-field line but forgot to step on first base and was called out. He slammed down his helmet. He said at the time that he knew what was coming next.
Bowa said they had a pleasant conversation Tuesday. He told Roberts to go down to Triple-A and learn how to steal bases better. He told Roberts, who is 23, to expect to be back to the big leagues.
"The problem with him is the mental part of the game," Bowa said. "And he's too young to be a utility player. But the tools are there. I mean, if he'd stayed with us this year (as a utility player), it'd be like two years of him not playing regularly (Roberts batted .253 in 101 games last season). And a kid like that can't sit out two years. Listen, if Joey (Cora) falls on his face, they could easily switch positions."
Jack Krol, the Padres' Triple-A manager, said Roberts is his second baseman.
At times this spring, Roberts had threatened to leave baseball and start a business with a friend in Oakland, his hometown. He recently told teammate Marvell Wynne that he was seriously thinking about leaving Yuma this week.
But Roberts was eager to begin working with Krol, who was the Padre third-base coach last season.
"It'll be good to be reunited with Jack," Roberts said.
Abner, 20, who was acquired from the Mets this winter, never had any false illusions. He figured he needed to hit many home runs to make the team, and he didn't hit any. His spring average was .190 (4 for 21).
"I expected it, but it's always a disappointment," Abner said. "I didn't have as good a spring as I did last year (he was 7 for 16 with the Mets last spring), and I needed to have one this year. I guess I did all right. I mean, it was an average spring, but I didn't do what I did last year."
Bowa still likes Abner, and his way of saying goodby to Abner was telling him: "See you in a month!"
Because if Abner gets hot at Triple-A, he could be back with the Padres in midseason.
"This is a good organization," Abner said. "They made me feel welcome here. They're great guys, much more team-oriented than the Mets. Everyone pulls for each other here, and you didn't always see that with the Mets.
"He (Bowa) wants me to play every day, and I told him that too. The (big league) money is fine, but I'd rather play than make 60 grand and sit around (on the bench). I'd go nuts. The more you play, the better you get."
Hayward and Vosberg--both left-handers--will also both be starters at Las Vegas.
Hayward--the Padres' first choice in the 1983 June draft--was 1-0 with a 6.43 earned-run average in seven innings this spring and had no qualms about being sent down. He had arm problems a year ago and says his throwing mechanics "were all screwed up." So his goal this spring was to solve his problems and regain velocity on his fastball.
He says he has done that.
"Now, I just need innings," Hayward said. ". . . I know I didn't pitch good. . . . I told Larry, 'I'll show you I can pitch one of these days.' It may be in 10 years and it may not be here (with the Padres), but I will."
Vosberg (1-0, 4.00 ERA in nine innings) never had a real highlight this spring. His lowlight, however, came last weekend when he entered in relief with no outs and a man on first. He got the batter to ground into a double play, but he walked off the mound as if the inning was over.
"Larry got upset," Vosberg said. "There was one out to go. He said I wasn't concentrating. I think that was a bad time for it to happen. It was kind of the icing, really."
Vosberg is disappointed because he had a chance to make the team. A year ago, he may have had the best spring of any Padre pitcher, but there wasn't an opening (Tim Stoddard, for instance, had a guaranteed contract).
"There was one spot open, and I'd have settled for it," he said. "There's so much difference between the minors and the majors. It's night and day. Just the way people look upon you. It's the money, because money is important when you're young. It's a status thing. An ego thing."
Rodriguez (0 for 2), Ford (two innings pitched) and Simmons (4.05 ERA in 6 innings) never really had a chance. Rodriguez was basically an extra body for "B" games, and Ford and Simmons--both relievers--weren't talented enough to supplant Lance McCullers or Goose Gossage from the bullpen, Bowa said.
But Abner, Roberts, Vosberg and Hayward could each be seen again soon. Especially Vosberg and Hayward, because the Padre pitching staff has people trying to return from injuries (Eric Show and Dave Dravecky), and there's no guarantee they can come back.
Bowa tried to make Cutdown Day upbeat. "See you in a month," he kept saying to them, so the 30-foot walk might be a little more bearable.
Starting today, Manager Larry Bowa will fine players $100 for missing any sign. On Tuesday, center fielder Stan Jefferson not only was given the steal sign, but first base coach Sandy Alomar whispered, "Go." And Jefferson didn't run. Bowa, fed up, announced that he's ready to make the players pay. . . . The Padres lost to the Giants, 5-4, in 10 innings Tuesday. Carmelo Martinez was a pinch-hitter with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th. He struck out. "That was a game-winning situation right there," Bowa said. "That's going to be his (Martinez's) role. He's got to do it." . . . Bowa on whether he should keep Shane Mack over Marvell Wynne for the final outfield spot: "I'm leaning that way (to sending Mack down). It might be better for Shane if he were playing every day. I think he'd help me more as an extra guy (on the roster), but I don't know if it'd do him any good." . . . Bowa said reliever Joe Bitker, cut Monday, might have the best attitude in camp. Bitker told Bowa in a private meeting: "I'll be back in a month." And Bitker said later: "I mean it. I will be back."