Stillwell Means a Crowd for Three Padres : Baseball: Free agent has the job at second base locked up. Now Craig Shipley, Paul Faries and Jeff Gardner must battle for one roster spot.


He arrives today at the Padres’ spring-training camp. He’ll be the guy wearing No. 15 on his back. He’s the one who won’t be worrying about winning a job, sauntering over to second base to stay.

But although Kurt Stillwell, the newest member of the Padres, might be a welcome sight to their front office and coaching staff, there will be three players who frankly wish he never showed up.

Say hello to Craig Shipley, Paul Faries and Jeff Gardner.

The trio spent the winter preparing to replace Bip Roberts as the Padres’ starting second baseman. Each thought he had a realistic chance to win the job. Each thought it was possible for at least two of them to make the team.


The situation changed last Friday afternoon when Stillwell signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Padres. Instead of competing for the starting job, Shipley, Faries and Gardner realize that beginning today they will be vying for a utility spot.

“I think we all got our hopes up a little bit,” Faries said. “But deep inside, we kind of had a feeling they would try to fill the hole before we got here. They didn’t want to just hand one of us the job.

“I guess you can’t blame them.”

Faries, the youngest of the trio, perhaps made the biggest sacrifice to win the job. He went to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, to play in the winter leagues for the first time in his career. He left Oct. 28 and didn’t return until three months later, missing all of the holidays.

He was impressive during his stay, batting .306 with 24 RBIs and a league-high 20 stolen bases. He received more at-bats in one winter than he had during his two major league stints. It was a winter he’ll never forget.

“Let’s just say it was different there,” Faries said. “They have liberal interpretations of the driving laws. You know, like you don’t have to stop at red lights after 11 o’clock so you don’t get mugged.

“I did learn some Spanish, though.”


“Yeah, when I went out to eat, I learned how to say, ‘ Whopper con queso .’ And ‘ McNuggets de pollo .’ Stuff like that.”

Faries, who batted .307 in Triple-A Las Vegas but only .177 in 57 games with the Padres, hopes that the time spent in Puerto Rico will give him an early advantage for the utility job. If not, it’s back to Las Vegas for the third time.


“I really want to make the team, but if I have to go Las Vegas, I’m prepared. I learned a lot last year. I learned how to handle adversity. Now, I just have to prove it.”

The favorite to join veteran Tim Teufel as the second utility infielder is Craig Shipley. His claim to fame is that he was the first Australian in 91 years to play in the major leagues. Joe Quinn was the last, in 1901.

Shipley, 29, is the most experienced of the trio. He has spent seven years in professional baseball, including brief stops with the Dodgers, New York Mets and Padres. Yet he has never made the major leagues out of spring training.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Shipley said, “but I have a good feeling about my chances. It would have been nice to go for that starting job at second, but I’ve been around long enough to know that it was pretty unlikely they wouldn’t come to camp without somebody. The longer Stillwell was out there, the more I thought he would sign.

“If he had a better offer out there, he would have taken it, right?”

If Shipley had a distinct advantage over Faries and Gardner entering camp, it even widened this week when he let Padre Manager Greg Riddoch on a little secret. He was a catcher for 10 years in youth leagues and high school and can fill in as the emergency catcher if needed.

“I know I can handle it,” Shipley said. “The only reason I gave it up before is that I weighed 155 pounds. I didn’t want to get killed.”


Shipley, who was signed as a six-year minor league free agent in 1990, made a formidable showing during his two month-stint with the Padres last season. He batted .275 with six RBIs, and proved he can fill in nicely at shortstop, as well as second. He also has been taking ground balls at third each day in camp, and the coaching staff believes he might even be a better third baseman than second baseman.

“I want to make a good impression,” Shipley said. “They know what I can do, and I just have to play up to my abilities. I think I can be an asset.”

The longshot of the group is Gardner, 28, who was acquired during the winter from the Mets in exchange for pitcher Steve Rosenberg. A native of Newport Beach, Gardner has spent the past seven years in the Mets’ organization, including the last three at triple-A Tidewater.

Gardner has spent only 31 days in the major leagues, and this is the first time he has even been in a major-league camp. The meal money alone has been a nice bonus.

After all, he waited tables and parked cars during the past few off-seasons.

“I’ve always told myself that as long as I have a chance to play in the big leagues,” Gardner said, “I’m going to keep playing. When I feel I no longer have a chance, I’ll quit.

“I’m in the best situation I’ve ever been in, so there’s no sense to be upset about Stillwell coming in. Sure, I was disappointed. Any chance of playing every day, or at least playing a lot, went out the window.


“But at least I’m in a major league camp. Who knows? Maybe someone will see something they like.”