A conversation with Padre pitcher Mark Grant these days is unusual in that it is not unusual. The first thing out of his mouth is not a silly joke. It is not an imitation of an umpire. He does not even attempt to ignite your shoes.
He will get this serious look and say, “Besides the fact that I am going to save 20 games this year, what else do you want to know?”
For openers, where’s the old Mark Grant?
“Something finally hit me this winter,” said Grant, 25, who along with Greg Booker is one of the Padres’ two hopes for right-handed short relief help. “I’m past the stage where they can say, ‘Well, he’s young, there’s still time to learn.’ I’ve lost that excuse. I realized I better get serious. My time is now.”
And his place is the bullpen, where the former starter was relegated in the middle of last season in an attempt to take advantage of his hyperactive mind, which when it wasn’t devising pranks, was worrying too much about hitters.
“Mark needed some place where he didn’t have time to think,” pitching coach Pat Dobson said.
The bullpen proved perfect, and in 19 appearances there, Grant worked in a 10 1/3 innings scoreless streak that helped him to an overall 3.69 earned-run average while allowing only 97 hits in 97 2/3 innings. It was enough to inspire him to spend his most strenuous off-season yet, as he worked on weights four times a week for nearly 3 hours a day, finding muscles never before seen on his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame. As if that wasn’t enough to discipline him, he was also married, to Mary Meyer of San Diego.
He reported to camp looking strong and, according to him, thinking straight. It suddenly seemed like more than three seasons ago when he reported to the San Francisco Giants camp simply fat (222 pounds), and was later demoted to triple A, causing General Manager Al Rosen to say, “He ate his way off the team.”
“I want to crack the reputation of being a joker. I don’t want to be a clown anymore,” said Grant, who last year made video highlight shows when cameras caught him lighting Marvell Wynne’s shoes on fire in the dugout in the middle of a game in Philadelphia. “After that hot-foot, Jack (McKeon) told me that there was a time and place for everything, and really made me think, if I keep going on like this, something really bad is going to happen.”
The way Grant figures it, such a thought is often a preface for something good.
He hasn’t even been with the club a week, but Jack Clark has already made a move toward cementing his identity as a Padre.
A photographer was setting up shop in front of Clark’s locker at the Kroc Complex clubhouse Monday, preparing for some sort of cover picture. The photographer, hoping for his photo to contrast Clark’s past and present, pulled out a New York Yankee uniform and hung it on the outside of Clark’s locker.
Clark, watching this from across the room, hit the roof.
“What’s that doing on there, get that out of here!” he shouted to the photographer. “I wasn’t asked about doing that!’
Needless to say, the Yankees were not part of the picture.
The pitchers have been announced for this weekend’s opening exhibition series at Desert Sun Stadium here against the Angels. On Friday at 1:05 p.m., the Padres’ Bruce Hurst will start and pitch three innings against Mike Witt. On Saturday at 1:05 p.m., Dennis Rasmussen will start against Chuck Finley. On Sunday at 1:05 p.m., Eric Show will start against Bert Blyleven.
The Padres will play a simulated game this morning featuring reliever Dave Leiper against reliever Mark Davis, with the teams loosely divided between starters and subs. The only difference will be the absence of an ailing John Kruk, who Monday became the sixth Padre to miss a workout with the flu. Shawn Abner will replace him in right field for the starters. Carmelo Martinez will play left field, and Randy Ready will be at third base.