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PADRE NOTEBOOK : Cora’s Return Is No Big Surprise to Him

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre infielder Joey Cora, who is expected to win a spot on the roster as a utility player, already has proven to be the biggest surprise in training camp simply by his presence.

This is a guy who suffered a fractured left leg during winter ball in a collision at first base. This is a guy who needed three screws placed into his leg to help mend the fracture because it wasn’t healing properly. This is a guy Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, predicted might not be ready before June.

“I don’t know why everyone’s so surprised,” Cora said, “I knew I’d be here all along. I was actually disappointed I couldn’t return to winter ball.

“But there was no way I was going to miss camp. I know I’ve got a good shot to make this team, and I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity.”

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Cora, 25, the Padres’ opening day second baseman in 1987, realizes just what is at stake. He split last season between the big leagues and Triple-A, batting .351 in Las Vegas and .270 with the Padres. Yet, he openly wondered whether it would beneficial if he were traded.

His whole outlook changed, however, on the afternoon of Dec. 5, when McIlvaine traded away second baseman Roberto Alomar, who was expected to be entrenched at the position for the next 15 years.

The move created a vacancy at second base. Although Marty Barrett still is the leading candidate for the job and Bip Roberts could find his way back to that position, Cora finally has the opportunity to win a starting job once again.

“I know if I keep working hard, good things will happen,” Cora said. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself just because I have this chance. But I want to be a part of this team so bad.

“People keep saying we’re not going to be good, but that’s what they said about Cincinnati, didn’t they?”

And although it might be early, with the first workout scheduled today for position players, Cora certainly made an impression.

He not only arrived two weeks early to participate in the mini-camp, he is working out in the morning with the big-league players and in the afternoon with the minor leaguers.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am with him,” said Ed Lynch, the Padre farm director. “He’s the first here every day and the last to leave. I mean, talk about setting an example for the young guys. You hope good things come to him.”

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Said Cora: “Hey, it’s nothing. I haven’t played organized baseball since November. It was the longest I ever went without playing. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“It’s no big deal, but it’s nice to hear they think so.”

Padre center fielder Shawn Abner, who was hoping to impress the front-office with his early arrival, instead has spent the past two days fighting off the flu. The only solid food he has been able to eat the past 48 hours was crackers.

“I usually don’t even get sick,” Abner said, “unless I’ve been drinking. But it figures, huh? I try to get a little extra work in, and look what it gets me.”

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Abner, however, still figures to be ahead of the game. He worked out with Merv Rettenmund, Padre hitting coach, during the winter, and has shortened his swing.

“The difference has been like night and day,” Abner said, “but, of course, anyone can look good in batting practice.”

Padre Notes

Padre starter Dennis Rasmussen met privately with Manager Greg Riddoch to discuss his situation on the team. Although Riddoch said that Rasmussen likely is the leading candidate to be the fifth starter, he explained to him that others still will be given the opportunity to win the job. Rasmussen, who is scheduled to earn $805,000 this season, does not have a guaranteed contract and can be cut during spring training with the Padres obligated to pay only $161,000. . . . The Padres have sent Ronquito Garcia, one of their scouts from Puerto Rico, to the Dominican Republic to assist pitcher Rafael Valdez in obtaining his visa. . . . Riddoch, when asked if he expects Benito Santiago’s contract woes to trouble him this season: “Not if you guys don’t mess his head up.” . . . The Padres’ workout was shortened by rain Thursday. As the drops pounded on the clubhouse roof, reliever Larry Andersen sat back in his cubicle and said, “Oh darn. I really wanted to go out there and work out. Shucks.” . . . Second baseman Marty Barrett arrived a day early for workouts and had one complaint: “How can anyone in the world find this place? It’s unbelievable.” . . . Padre first baseman Fred McGriff also reported. He only shook his head and laughed after teammate Bip Roberts yelled: “Welcome to Yuma.” . . . The Padres signed pitcher Ricky Bones to a contract Thursday, leaving 11 players still unsigned. . . . The Padres will begin selling tickets for their 12 spring training games in Yuma at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium on Monday. The tickets will be sold until 48 hours before game time. . . . The Padres have added a new affiliate, thanks to Riddoch. A station out of Riddoch’s hometown of Greeley, Colo., KFKA, is planning to air all of the Padres’ games this season. . . . Riddoch on the fact that the Padres’ first 16 games of the regular season happen to be against NL West powers Cincinnati, San Francisco and the Dodgers: “Everyone says, ‘Wow, look at that schedule.’ Actually, I like it. You get a chance to play the best teams right off the bat before their phenoms can get their act together.” . . . Padre third baseman Jim Presley and his wife Pam are parents of a nine-pound, five-ounce baby girl. It’s their second baby in the past 18 months.

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