New Nest Pleases Old Jays : Baseball: New Padres Fernandez, McGriff are adjusting to life after Toronto.
The clubhouse door opened at 9 in the morning. Tony Fernandez took a peek, looked around and began walking amid strangers into his new home.
He looked confused at first. When you’ve been used to the same spring-training complex for the past 12 years and are wandering into some forsaken place in Arizona, it’s understandable.
Fernandez, breaking into a slow, expansive grin, started walking down the row of lockers, introducing himself to his new teammates, until he finally found the locker with his nameplate.
He began emptying his duffel bag when a familiar face finally emerged. Fred McGriff, his Toronto Blue Jays’ teammate for the past four years, broke into laughter. Here they are, in a city they’ve never seen, in a league in which they’ve never played, in a room full of teammates they don’t know.
“It’s going to be different, very different,” Fernandez said. “But that’s good. I needed a change. I need to have peace again. It’s like a new beginning, and I needed it.”
Fernandez, the three-time All-Star shortstop who was labeled moody and sullen by the Toronto media, he said, is starting over, trying to change his image. He also wanted to make it clear on the first day to San Diego reporters that if they too interpret him incorrectly, he will stop talking just as quickly.
“Just because I don’t smile doesn’t mean I’m not happy,” Fernandez said. “Just because I walk with my head down, doesn’t mean I’m mad. Let me be me.”
Fernandez, who underwent therapy during the winter to rehabilitate his chronic shoulder and knee injuries, likely won’t have to worry about being the focus of attention in San Diego. Oh, he’s a fine shortstop all right, owning a career .289 batting average with four Gold Gloves in his trophy case. And he is the reason why the Padres were willing to trade second baseman Roberto Alomar.
But the man in the spotlight this season figures to be his buddy, McGriff.
It’s McGriff who just signed the largest contract in Padre history, guaranteed $15.2 million over the next four years. It’s McGriff who hits homers that disappear from sight, averaging 35 each of the past three seasons. And it’s McGriff who’s supposed to be one making up for the absence of Joe Carter and Jack Clark.
“I’m kind of used to it from days in Toronto,” McGriff said. “When you’re playing there, you have 50,000 people a night watching, and reporters who keep saying you’re going to hit 40 homers.
“But I know there’ll be expectations. I’m going to be batting fourth, and will be expected to drive in runs. In Toronto, I was the one protecting everyone else.
“Really, the only thing I’ll be trying to do is hit .300. That’s my goal. I want to be a complete ballplayer, not just a home run hitter. So what if you hit 30 to 40 home runs and bat .220?”
Although McGriff did not share the same urgency as Fernandez to leave Toronto, he is eager to get situated. The winter, he said, was the most hectic of his life.
The frenzy began Dec. 5 when he was traded to the Padres. A week later, he and his wife, Veronica, had their first child, Erick. Then, Erick contracted a virus and was hospitalized for five days. McGriff signed a contract that he said he’ll soon use to purchase a new home and car for his parents. For the first time in his career, he had to pack his suitcases for spring training. Toronto’s spring camp was in Dunedin, Fla., only 30 minutes away from his Tampa home. He spent the past few days looking for a house to rent in San Diego. And now, he finds himself in Yuma.
“This is a winter I’ll never forget,” he said.
The Padres, with the addition of their Canadian imports, hope they can say the same about their season.
Although it still remains a mystery exactly what position Bip Roberts will play this year, Padre Manager Greg Riddoch made the picture much more clear Friday.
Roberts will be in the infield, Riddoch said, and most likely, will be playing second base.
“I really want to keep him in the infield,” Riddoch said. “I could see him playing at second. But we’ll see. I just told him, ‘You’re my leadoff hitter, I just don’t know where you’ll be playing.’ ”
Said Roberts, who last played second base on a regular basis in the big leagues in 1987: “That’s fine by me. I know I need some extra work there, especially going to my right.
“But I’m not going to disrupt camp by demanding where I want to play. There is one thing, though, I’d like to play a different position in each inning during a spring-training game.
“Now, that would be something.”
Riddoch, in a state-of-the-team address to players, told them that he’s not about to endure another season of name-calling and back-stabbing among the players.
“He told us if you have something to say, tell that player directly, don’t go to the newspapers,” said one player, requesting anonymity. “ ‘Say what you have to say, and get it over. I don’t want to see it in the newspapers.’ ”
Center fielder Shawn Abner was relieved to find out that the Padre media guide corrected his biography, saying that 2-year-old Jordan is his son, not his daughter. Thanks to the error, the information also wound up on his 1990 baseball card.
“The company apologized,” Abner said. “They sent me 500 of my baseball cards.
“I said, ‘If you really want to make me happy, send me 500 of Tony Gwynn’s cards.’ ”
Padre first baseman Phil Stephenson arrived in camp Friday with a broken bone in his right knee, and understandably is quite skeptical about his chances of making the team.
“I’m going to test it and see how it feels,” Stephenson said, “but right now my lateral movement is nil. . . . You know, they kept saying nothing was wrong with my knee last year, but I knew something had to be. So they finally looked at it again, and there it was, a broken bone in my kneecap. I don’t know what I can do.”
Reliever Larry Andersen, when asked about the craziest thing he has ever witnessed in baseball: “When I signed my contract (two years, $4.35 million). I still can’t believe somebody would give me that.”
Reliever Mike Dunne, wondering when teammate Rafael Valdez’s visa problems will end so he can leave the Dominican Republic, confessed that he once had a visa problem: “Mine were so bad that I just tore up the paperwork. I went to MasterCard.”
The Padres’ workout was rained out for only the second time since coming to Yuma in 1969. So how did the Padres amuse themselves? Well, they gave Bip Roberts the old hot-foot treatment, they hung coach Rob Picciolo’s bat on the ceiling and a few card games broke out. . . . Padre pitcher Atlee Hammaker is expected to be out of action for at least another two weeks with his broken finger, and likely could begin the season on rehabilitation assignment in the Padres’ minor-league system.