We walked into Surprise Stadium just a couple of minutes after the game started. I blame the absurdly crowded Arizona gas station off the 10 that cost us about 30 minutes on the trip from the left coast. As soon as we could see the field, I saw Chase Headley standing on third base, Jedd Gyorko on first, and the scoreboard said 1-0 Padres, with two down. Before finding our seats, I figured we’d better wait and see what Xavier Nady did in this AB, and I’m glad we did. He blasted a double, scoring both Headley and Gyorko, 3-0 Friars. Not one to mess around with a good thing, we stayed standing, and watched Kyle Blanks boom another RBI double, and Yasmani Grandal a run-scoring single. So it was 5-0 nothing San Diego before we found our seats. I think I’m going to like Spring Training.
Yes, here I am at the start of my sixth decade (no, that doesn’t mean I’m sixty, try again). I’ve probably been to 500 big league games in my life, but this was my first time going to a game in the Grapefruit or Cactus circuit. For the record, it happened on March 23, 2014, at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. I just love that town name.
It’s close enough to the regular season that the teams are fielding most of their regulars, so it’s a good time to see the regulars play and get a feel for the upcoming season. We sat in the fourth row behind the San Diego Padres dugout, and saw Padres stars Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable and other Padres up close. From those seats we also got a good view of Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, which was a treat, as he’s a real showman. Not flashy, just quietly stylish. We also saw plenty of Padres rounding third base on their way to score. Now that’s my idea of a good time.
With Josh Johnson down for 4-5 weeks with a forearm strain, Bud Black started Matt Wisler. Wisler is a top prospect for the Padres, but at 21 years old, and splitting last season between high A Lake Elsinore and AA San Antonio, the team was certainly hoping not to plunk him in the middle of the starting rotation this early. But things happen, and here we are a week before the season needing a replacement for one of our starters. Corey Brock of mlb.com says that Wisler is one of two candidates to replace Johnson. So, kid, let’s see what you’ve got.
Wisler looked up to the task in the first inning, jamming Shin-Soo Choo into a slow one-hopper to second base, inducing a comebacker from Josh Wilson, and coming back from a 3-1 count to strike out Prince Fielder, making Grandal’s mitt pop with a 93-mph fastball or two. 5-0 good guys after one.
The hitters weren’t done teeing off on Rangers starter and ex-Diamondback Joe Saunders. After Everth Cabrera worked a leadoff walk and Venable advanced him to second on a groundout, Headley ripped his second RBI-double in two innings. Gotta love that. Please, oh please, oh please be the 2012 Chase Headley. Please, oh please, oh please! And since Carlos Quentin is healthy, he did what the healthy Carlos Quentin does. He blasted a 2-run shot over the wall in left. 8-0 Padres with one down in the second inning. Now, I’m a big fan of the pitchers’ duel, but after watching 10 years of pitchers’ duels at Petco Park, I could stand to see some high-scoring games. This (mostly) healthy Padres lineup looks like they can put some points on the board.
Cue Jedd Gyorko and X Nady. Sharply-hit single, RBI double, and it’s 9-0 and the end of a very long short outing for Joe Saunders. After the game, he complained of a dead arm. Who could blame him?
Well, Wisler didn’t throw a perfect game. He ran into some trouble in both the second and third against a tough Rangers lineup, and departed after 2.2 innings having allowed 5 hits, 3 runs, and leaving a few men on base who scored when reliever Alex Torres gave up a double. Interesting play on that double – Quentin to Cabrera on a nice relay throw to catch the runner at home, saving a run. But our new friend instant replay was called into play, and the call was reversed, making the score 10-5, with all runs charged to Wisler.
Skip this paragraph to avoid a lesson in manners. There was a guy in the seat next to me. Probably in his early 20s. Sat slumped in his seat with his legs spread wide and his arm firmly planted on the narrow armrest. So I’ve got his leg pressed against mine and no place to put my arm. Ok, that’s normal stuff, mildly annoying, but hey, that’s life in America. But after this replay call, dude gets up and starts shouting at the umpire “You suck. Yeah, you! Suuuuck!” Remember, we’re in the fourth row of a small ballpark that holds about 15,000 people. The umpire was about 30 feet away. And Junior is shouting at the top of his lungs. The umpire looked directly at him. In the row in front of us was a family – Dad, Mom, and two boys about 7 and 4. The boys are looking up at this young man, eyes wide open, and the 4-year old has a big smile on his face. This is the most exciting thing that has happened all day for him, a grownup yelling wildly at another grownup. And the other grownup was simply a man doing his job, who had just taken extra steps to make sure his job was being done as well as he possibly could. And then faced a string of verbal abuse from a complete stranger for doing so. Butthead turned to his friend a minute later and says “Yeah, I think I got his attention, too”. “You got his attention, too,” I said, pointing at the small boy in front of him. The young man did not respond, and I was not disappointed when he and his friend left an inning later.
Back on the field, Will Venable boomed a massive homer to straightaway center field, well up the hill behind the 400 foot mark. Please oh please oh please, be the Will Venable that you were in 2013! Later in the game, he laid down this beautiful sacrifice bunt, advancing two runners to second and third, allowing one to score on Chase Headley’s ground ball to the right side. So these Padres can play small ball as well as stringing together extra base hits. At least on this day they could. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
The pitching settled down in the later innings, and the scored stayed at 11-6 for a while. Padres reliever Tony Sipp pitched out of trouble after a leadoff walk to Beltre and an unlucky bounce double by Leonys Martin, retiring Michael Choice and J.P. Arencibia on strikeouts. Donn Roach continued his excellent Spring, pitching a 1-2-3 eighth on three easy ground balls.
Although the Rangers put a run on the board in the ninth, this one was really over long before that. The Padres offense, and some good relief pitching, put one in the win column. They’re 1-0 since I showed up. Yup, I think I like Spring Training. Tonight, Eric Stults goes against the Cubs. Go Padres!