For those who absolutely could not wait to see what fun things can happen with the 1989 Padres . . . they didn’t have to.
Friday afternoon, first spring game, first inning: Pitcher Bruce Hurst retires the Angels 1-2-3 on eight pitches, Tony Gwynn triples into the right-field bullpen, Jack Clark singles to score him, and the Padres lead.
It wasn’t an inning, it was a season ticket brochure. Three hours later, the Padres had defeated the Angels, 10-6, and their best news was yet to come. An hour after the victory, Benito Santiago and Roberto Alomar agreed to contracts without the club automatically renewing them, a surprising settlement considering the parties were far apart just days ago.
Said Clark about the baseball: “For a first game, it was a helluva game.”
Said Santiago about the contract: “I feel good, my agent feels good, and the Padres feel good, everything is good.”
In keeping with baseball’s recent fixation, we’ll explain the contracts first, the game later. As has often happened recently with the open-walleted Padres, the winners in those negotiations seemed to be the players.
Santiago will play for $310,00, with incentives that could push him to $350,000, which is what he and agent Scott Boras were requesting in the first place. The Padres came up from an original offer of $275,000. This also will be the first time the Padres have given incentives--extra money for being an All-Star, winning the Gold Glove, or other such accomplishments--to a player with less than three years experience.
“I feel so great, I am so happy,” said Santiago, who reluctantly accepted $165,000 last year after being rookie of the year, and then pouted over it for much of the early season. Both the Padres and Boras were particularly worried about hitting Santiago with contract renewal, by which a club can force a player with less than three years experience to play at their figure.
Santiago admitted for the first time Friday that he was also fearful: “Sometimes when you renew, you worry what you will think about them, and what they will think about you,” he said. “I want a good relationship with those guys (Padres) and this is great for that.”
Alomar will play for $155,000, an increase of about $30,000 from the Padres’ original offer and close to what Santiago made last year, even though Alomar didn’t finish in the top three in the rookie of the year voting. On Thursday, Alomar’s brother, Sandy, agreed to a major league-minor league split contract that not only will make him one of baseball’s highest-paid rookies ($77,000) but also one of its highest paid contracted minor leaguers ($30,000).
“What I liked most about this was the process--the Padres actually listened to me,” Boras said. He met here for three hours Thursday with Tal Smith, acting general manager, and then finalized things today with Smith and interim President Dick Freeman in a 90-minute meeting.
“A lot of clubs with players of limited experience, they won’t listen,” Boras said. “Like the Yankees, they just say, ‘Here’s what you’re getting, take it or leave it.’ ”
Freeman said that’s not exactly how he wants the Padres to operate.
“It was all a matter of a little concessions here, a little there. They’d give up something, we’d give up something,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the way things worked out.”
Friday’s baseball game went just as smoothly for the Padres. Hurst’s three innings of one-run pitching impressed people nearly as much as his hitting. Yes, in his first at-bat since last spring (he hasn’t had an official at-bat since the 1986 World Series), he actually fouled off two pitches to ovations from the Desert Sun Stadium crowd of 4,491. But then Angel pitcher Mike Witt broke off a curve and Hurst weakly struck out, turning then to discuss it with home plate umpire Doug Harvey.
“I was telling the umpire that Witt shouldn’t have thrown me a curve, that it was cheating,” said Hurst, who models his batting stance after Boston star Wade Boggs.
People were more impressed with Hurst’s pitching. To wit:
Tony Gwynn: “Hurst was just dealing, putting the ball where he wanted. I haven’t seen that from a left-hander around here in a long time.”
Pitching coach Pat Dobson: “You can just tell, he knows how to pitch. He was locating everything, which this early in the spring is something.”
People were also awed by Hurst’s speed. He made the 3 1/2-hour drive to Phoenix in 2 1/2 hours Thursday afternoon to watch close friend Danny Ainge play for the Sacramento Kings in a game against the Phoenix Suns before returning to Yuma just as quickly that same night.
“Lot of lonely cactuses flying by out there,” Hurst said.
Dobson would not say he’s changing his unofficial choice for the Opening Day starting pitcher--it’s still Eric Show--but he will be watching Show closer, beginning with Show’s first spring start Sunday. If Show is not progressing, look for Hurst to sneak in for the regular season’s first start.
It took new announcer Rick Monday all of one Padre radio broadcast to catch a mouthful of foot. During the middle of his first play-by-play inning Friday, he was joined in the booth by Padre owner Joan Kroc and San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor. After interviewing Kroc, Monday was suddenly asked to introduce O’Connor, with whom he had yet to be introduced. He was slipped a piece of paper from fellow announcer Jerry Coleman reading, “Mayor,” so Monday promptly said, “We’d like to welcome the mayor of Yuma . . . " After his foul-up was immediately corrected, he rebounded with, “It’s really been nice working for you, Mrs. Kroc.” . . . In Friday’s morning B game, played in 25 m.p.h. winds that turned Desert Sun Stadium into a sandstorm, the Padres fell to the Angels, 4-2, in seven innings in a game that featured the pro debut of Jim Abbott, the Angels’ top draft choice who has one hand. In three innings he allowed no runs, two hits and no walks. He struck out four and earned the respect of the Padres. “At first you watch what he does with his glove, but then you learn to just watch where the ball is coming from,” Carmelo Martinez said. “If you don’t, he’s got you.” In that same game, Martinez was involved, for the second time this spring, in the Great Third Base Experiment. Once again, he made it look good. He made a good pickup of a slow roller for one out, made a good play on a rundown for another out, and then was in the middle of a double play on another rundown. Lest you think Martinez is winning a job at third, in his first A game today, he will be back in left field. “I don’t know what to say,” Martinez said, shrugging. “If I told you I felt comfortable out there, I would be lying, and I don’t lie. It’s going to take a lot more than this to make me comfortable. But better to learn now than the regular season.” Martinez admitted for the first time Friday that while learning third base, he must fight the urge to ignore his hitting, which would defeat the Padres’ purpose. “It’s what happened when I moved from first base to left field, I worried so much about fielding that I don’t think about hitting,” he said. “That hurt me. I can’t do that now.” He’s obviously not worrying too much yet, as he was the only Padre to have two hits in the B game. . . . With most of the off-the-field attention here still focused on Atlanta scout Wes Westrum, who is searching for Padre prospects worthy of a trade for Braves slugger Dale Murphy, few noticed Saturday’s appearance of Seattle Mariner scout Bob Harrison. But increasingly, there is a better chance of the Padres dealing catching prospect Sandy Alomar Jr. to the Mariners in a deal that might involve Mariner third baseman Jim Presley, outfielder Mickey Brantley and reliever Mike Schooler. There is even the chance that Mariner pitcher Mark Langston could be in the deal.