Padres, Royals attempt to start anew at spring training, fall down

Note: This column appears in the 3/6 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/7 issue of the Peoria Times

During the Cactus League Breakfast last Tuesday morning, Padres’ general manager Kevin Towers acknowledged the excruciating fashion in which the 2007 season ended for his team (see: above), saying it was the most difficult situation he could recall as GM. On that same dais, Kansas City Royals’ assistant general manager Dean Taylor talked about his team, although I wasn’t paying much attention, because I was distracted by the deliciousness of my corn muffin, and because he was talking about the Royals.

A few days later on Friday, the Padres and Royals officially kicked off spring training at the Peoria Sports Complex (the Padres and Mariners had played a charity game the previous day). While it may be a clichĂ© to view spring training as a form of renewed hope for franchises and their fans, in this case, San Diego was embarking on its quest the shed the devastation of last season’s conclusion. The Royals began spring, once again, with the hopes that this season could provide the first step towards one day experiencing the devastations that can only occur when your team is playing for something come fall.

Not only did this game serve as a new beginning for two major league teams -- it was also the first spring training game I have ever attended. And it was just how I always imagined it, with Shawn Estes pitching to Alberto Callaspo! (Speaking of Estes, I found it interesting that a man best known for trying to beam Roger Clemens -- and missing -- made his spring training start around the same time that Clemens was trying to dodge the heat from Congress. I imagine the federal government will be more successful at nailing Clemens than Estes was. Okay, that tangent is over.)

Also speaking of Estes -- who is battling for the fifth spot in the rotation -- he, ummm, wasn’t very good. He lasted 2/3 of an inning, gave up six runs, including a two-run shot by Ross Gload, and also managed to drop a routine throwback from the catcher. The good news is that the guy sitting in the row next to me was living and dying with every Estes’ pitch as if it were the seventh game of the World Series (rationally labeling Estes’ outing as “a disaster”), and after the first inning, was ready to throw in the towel for the remainder of the San Diego Padres’ season. So that guy had a good grasp on what spring training is all about, which was nice to see.

Unfortunately for the Padres, Estes wasn’t the only one having trouble. Newly acquired Jim Edmonds tripped and fell in center field trying to track a fly ball, and compounded his error by staring at the field afterwards, thus making the crowd acutely aware that it was the field’s fault. Tony Clark misplayed the first live ball of the game and later failed to convert a double-play, San Diego pitching walked eight batters, and in the fifth inning the Padres were victimized by a 2nd and home double-steal that is normally only successfully executed in Little League. (The PA announcer showed restraint by not playing Benny Hill’s theme music.) The Padres lost 13-9.

After the game, at the behest of the man sitting one row away from me, the Padres seriously considered canceling the remainder of the season, and firing GM Kevin Towers. But then they luckily remembered that it was only spring training, and decided to stick with it, even winning an 11-10 thriller the following afternoon over the Mariners. Let the healing begin.

As far as the Royals are concerned, the man sitting one row away from me has them penciled in as the clear favorites to take the AL Central this season. Of course, I am kidding. They did look good, though…I think. I wasn’t really paying attention.