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After 9 Years in the Majors, Season-Opening Start Is a First for Flannery

On the first day of the 10th big league season of Tim Flannery’s 31st year, Padre Manager Jack McKeon arrived at the ballpark at 1 p.m. and answered one of the few remaining questions regarding these 1989 Padres.

He filled out the lineup card and Flannery was his third baseman. For a night, at least.

“I just decided to go that way,” McKeon said. “He had a great spring, he’s in a groove, and he’s never started a season opener.”

No other Padre has been with the club longer than Flannery, the only player remaining from before 1980 on the roster. And even two guys in Giants uniforms Monday had started more season openers as Padres than had Flannery: Terry Kennedy, who was behind the plate for six season openers in San Diego, and third baseman Kevin Mitchell, who started in 1987.

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“I’m excited,” Flannery said. “I’ve started two home openers, which I consider pretty much the same as a season opener. It’s always a thrill.”

Opening night is a time of renewal, particularly for Flannery. The problem with being a utility player is that his job is never guaranteed. To top that, Flannery ripped up an ankle so bad in 1987 that it bothered him throughout 1988. He still ices it twice a day--before and after games.

But Monday was the first time he iced it before starting a season opener.

McKeon swore he didn’t pick his opening-night third baseman until Monday afternoon. But Sunday night, he was thinking of Flannery--based on Flannery’s good spring (.381 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage). McKeon’s decision was also based on the fact that the left-handed Flannery would be facing right-hander Rick Reuschel.

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Then the third-base situation became the talk of the McKeon house Sunday evening. Carol McKeon told her husband that Flannery had never started a season opener.

“I didn’t know he hadn’t started a season opener until then,” McKeon said. “Here’s a guy who has been here nine years. How many more chances will he get to start opening day? He understands his role as a utility player, he’s a good pinch-hitter, and he had a good spring. He’s busted his tail for the San Diego Padres. I thought it was very appropriate that he get the start.”

Said Flannery: “I don’t expect anything. Hopefully, I’ll do good enough tonight to get in the lineup tomorrow. I take it one day at a time.”

Which is the way the third-base situation has been all spring, and it’s the way it will likely be for the next few weeks.

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“Last year, we used three guys at third base, and it might be the same thing this year,” McKeon said. “That’s fine. That gives me an avenue to get more people into the game.

“If someone emerges this season and takes the bull by the horns, it might be a different story.”

Waiting in the wings are Randy Ready and Luis Salazar.

“There are 161 games to play after tonight,” Ready said. “I’m not concerned about playing time. It’s going to take 24 guys to compete if we’re going to be in the hunt for the division title.

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“Every dog has its day, and there are 24 guys in here who have a little dog in them to play this game.”


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