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Opening Day Arrives for Padre Rookies - Their Indoctrination Into Big Leagues Begins

TOM FRIEND, Times Staff Writer

Who’s the rookiest of all the Padre rookies?

It has to be Joey Cora, a 21-year-old second baseman who was tickled pink to be playing in front of 5,000 the other night in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and who might faint when he sees 50,000 in Candlestick Park for today’s season opener at San Francisco.

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Cora spent last season playing for Class AA Beaumont, and his typical trips were to El Paso, Midland and San Antonio. Today at 1:05 p.m., his age of innocence will end. He gets indoctrinated to the big leagues in San Francisco, where there’s real grass, real sun, real wind and real havoc.

“I want to see what happens,” said Cora, one of five Padre rookies. “I’m a little nervous. I mean, the first day, you have to face Mike Krukow, a 20-game winner. And you hear a lot about Candlestick. I’ve never been there.”

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He has visited San Diego only once. He came back with the team this past weekend and got his first glimpse of the stadium. Immediately, his friend and first base coach, Sandy Alomar, took him apartment hunting.

They walked into a complex near the stadium.

Alomar took charge.

“Do you know who this is?” Alomar said to the apartment manager.

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“No,” the manager said.

“Joey Cora, the new Padre second baseman.

“Oh,” the manager said. “I’ve only been to two games in my life.”

Anyway, Alomar figured name-dropping was the best way to get a good deal on the apartment.

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Cora liked the place. He says the apartment is furnished, and the complex has two swimming pools and two Jacuzzis.

“Sandy was hustling big time, man,” Cora said. “You should have seen him.”

Cora has the widest eyes you’ll ever see. The Padres came here to Denver to play two exhibition games, and Cora was wondering if he’d see John Elway, the Denver Bronco quarterback.

“Wow,” Cora said. “This (Mile High Stadium) is where he throws all those touchdowns.”

Padre Manager Larry Bowa--one of today’s rookies, by the way--wishes Cora would calm down. Bowa was originally planning to hit Cora second in the batting order, but he’ll hit him eighth against the Giants today.

“Cora’s too uptight hitting second,” Bowa said. “I would think once you’ve made the team, you wouldn’t be uptight about anything. But ever since we’ve announced the team, he’s put pressure on himself. I told him it’s not important if he hits. He’s so obsessed with hitting .300. He’s not going to hit .300. I’m telling you right now. Not this year.”

Rookies . . . can’t live with them, but the Padres can’t live without them.

THE COCKIEST

Baseball America, a magazine for baseball gurus, says starting catcher Benito Santiago has a good chance to win Rookie of the Year honors.

“I’ll go (and win the award),” Santiago said. “I thought Rafael Palmeiro (an outfielder for the Cubs) had a chance. He played with me in Puerto Rico, and he’s pretty good. But he’s down in Triple-A now. I can’t think of anyone else. I’ll go.”

Asked if he’ll be nervous today, Santiago laughed and said: “A lot!”

A reporter wrote down his answer.

“No, you’re not writing that down, are you? Me, I won’t be nervous. I’ll be ready for a win. I’ll just think about last year (when he was called up in September). My first game, it was against Mike Scott (the Cy Young Award winner from Houston). I went 2 for 4 with a double. Remember? I’ll be all right.”

Bowa thinks Santiago has had a fantastic spring, and Santiago whole-heartedly agrees.

“Because I put everything together,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, you know, I had good defense and no hit on one day and good hit and no defense on the next day. Now, it’s all together.”

Santiago is sort of like an Elway, the Denver quarterback who tries threading his passes into double coverage a lot because of his strong arm. Santiago tries picking guys off second base and wants a shot at St. Louis’ Vince Coleman.

“I’m ready,” Santiago says.

THE ANGRIEST

Bowa walked up to Marvell Wynne Sunday, pointed at him and said: “You’re in center field tomorrow.”

Center fielder Stan Jefferson, sitting nearby, heard it.

And Bowa wanted him to hear it.

Jefferson, a rookie center fielder acquired from the Mets this winter, sprained his left ankle a week ago at Palm Springs. He was walking on the ankle soon thereafter, but he wasn’t ready to play.

Then, on Saturday, Jefferson came to the ballpark and figured he was ready. He told one of the Padre coaches, and the coach told Bowa. Bowa put him in the lineup.

But then--20 minutes later--Jefferson felt some soreness and decided he couldn’t go. He told the trainer, Dick Dent, who told Jefferson: “Go tell Bowa.”

Jefferson went to Bowa to say: “Can’t go.” Bowa shook his head and said, “OK.”

Jefferson may not have known it, but Bowa was angry. Bowa played 16 seasons in the big leagues because he was tough and because he ignored little setbacks such as sprained ankles.

“He tells one guy he’s ready, then he comes up to me and says he can’t play,” Bowa said Sunday. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on. I have no idea. All you can do is go by what a guy says. You can’t baby him. You can’t beg him to play. If he doesn’t want to play, he’s not going to play. Or if his ankle hurts, it hurts. I can’t say his ankle isn’t hurting. I’m sure it is hurting. (But) if I were a young kid, I’d want to be in the opening-day lineup, my first year in the big leagues.”

Jefferson says he does want to play.

“Opening day only comes once a year,” he said.

But it has become a communication problem. A couple players--shortstop Garry Templeton was one--told Jefferson he should never have gone up to Bowa to take himself out of the lineup. They told him Bowa likes tough guys. And they also told him to tell the trainer when he’s ready to play, not Bowa.

So there’s the problem. Bowa keeps waiting for Jefferson to come to him, and Jefferson has no plans of going to him. He’ll go through the trainer instead. Dent, the trainer, says: “I don’t want to get in the middle of it.”

Jefferson says he’s ready to play. That’s what makes him angry. And Jack McKeon, the Padre general manager, had been riding him too, and Jefferson doesn’t like that either.

McKeon has nicknamed Jefferson “Johnson and Johnson” because of all the tape on his ankle.

McKeon saw him in the trainer’s room and asked him: “Think you’ll be ready by the All-Star break?”

Jefferson sat silent.

McKeon asked him: “Think you’ll be ready by the home opener in a week?”

Jefferson sat silent.

“I was hoping I’d light a fire,” McKeon said later.

“I’m in a bad mood,” Jefferson said later.

In the meantime, Wynne will start today.

THE HAPPIEST

James Steels, who could get into today’s game as a pinch-hitter, doesn’t even care if he strikes out.

“There can’t be a bad scenario,” Steels said. “I’ll still be around the next day if I do something bad. He (Bowa) told me I won’t get a hit every time I pinch-hit. So I can’t see anything bad coming out of it. Even if I strike out with the bases loaded and we’re down a run.”

The best possible scenario?

“Bases drunk . . . Three and two count . . . Down by three . . . Hanging curveball . . . I hit it into next week . . . Odds are against it, though.”

Steels starts grinning.

“I’ll just be glad to be there. I just want to see how many people they can cram in there (at Candlestick). The most I’ve seen in a ballpark is 12,000. It was in (Las) Vegas. Opening Day, 1983. But 50,000? I just want to see it. I’m still trying to figure out what to do in my first at-bat. Should I bunt or swing for the downs? I don’t want to strike out, of course, but--shoot--I just hope I can walk to the plate without dropping my bat.”

THE BOSSIEST

It’s Bowa.

This is his managerial debut, and his buddy John Vukovich--a coach with the Cubs--has started a pool as to when Bowa will be ejected for the first time.

“Vukovich says I’ll get tossed on opening day,” Bowa said. “Nah, it won’t be. I hope it ain’t. Why? That wouldn’t be a very good start, would it?”

Bowa grew up in nearby Sacramento, and he’ll need about 20 tickets for his folks and friends.

“Am I nervous? Not yet,” Bowa said. “I’m more concerned about how we’re playing, which isn’t good. Right now, I’m not looking forward to opening day, just because of how we’re playing.”

If Bowa has one rookie tendency, it’s his wayward mouth.

After his team’s eighth straight spring training loss Sunday, he said: “Judging from what we’ve seen, I’d say we need another month of spring training. . . . We’re making ridiculous mistakes.”

Of his team’s lack of intensity, he said: “That’s what ceases to amaze me right now. If you’re going to go through the motions, come up to me and say ‘Hey, I don’t want to play today.’ We’ll put someone else in. . . . There’s not too many guys out there who can say they busted their rears and played hard. There’s a few, but not too many. And if they tell you they are, then they’re lying. They’re lying to themselves. We’ve had two weeks of bad games.”

On whether he’ll hold a team meeting, he said: “Nope. I told them my philosophy all spring. So what do you do during the season? You keep changing from player to player until you find a unit that plays together and wants to win. That’s all. We might have 50,000 different lineups. We’ll keep switching until we find one. There’s too many guys concerned about individual averages instead of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

On whether a pep talk is necessary, he said: “If you’ve got to start the 1987 season with a pep talk, it’ll be a long year. I’ve never heard of that before.”

Rookies make it interesting.


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