I like to think I’m pretty level headed and don’t get star struck.
Well, I suppose there was that one time I asked the Commissioner of Major League Baseball — Rob Manfred — a question and then proceeded to black out and miss the answer completely (True story, I had to watch the press conference back to see what he said in reply to my question).
So when my escort around Padres Spring Training camp said to me “Hey Tom, come meet Andy Green.” I was a little star struck. The very same star-struck-ness (That’s a word) happened later when Fernando Tatis Jr. was asked to come and chat to me.
It’s been a brilliant day.
The San Diego Padres were great at answering my initial e-mail, where I asked if it would be possible to visit the facility and maybe have a chat with some players and staff. They quickly agreed to the visit, but were unable to accommodate my request to chat with the players. I didn’t mind, I understood that it would be day three of Spring Training, I’m a random from Twitter who writes for a British website, the players probably just want to concentrate on shaking off the cobwebs. It was fine.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m in Peoria, awake way too early and excited to head over to the facility.
It all started at 9am, when I (accidentally) parked in the front office, players and coaching staff car park. I then proceeded to walk through a completely off-limits area of the facility (again by accident) and stumbled upon the lobby. The first thing I did was truly British.
The lady behind the counter was very kind and asked me not to go back that way again. Then she motioned to the chairs in front of me and said she would have my contact come to meet me.
My escorts for the day came out of a back office to welcome me to the Padres Spring Training complex and guide me around the facility. I went very British again and apologised for the trespassing. They were very kind and brushed over it, instead motioning me towards another corridor which eventually led to a backfield.
On the walk through the corridor, I had my first “Oh it’s…” moment. It was Luis Urias walking the opposite way. Star struck moment number 1 of 1,403 for Friday.
As we left the building there was a small media backdrop and a bunch of reporters waiting. I immediately recognised AJ Cassavell, Dennis Linn and realised the grey haired chap in front of me was Kevin Acee. All the guys I read to consume Padres baseball. Andy Green came out and the majority of questions were all along the lines of “Who’s playing third? Can Tatis play third? What are your options around the diamond?” – Andy was very diplomatic and stayed firm saying that Tatis is a shortstop and will remain a shortstop.
As the “scrum” was over, Andy Green was then beckoned over to myself and my escorts. He was introduced and we chatted for a few minutes. He was very pleasant and interested to hear all about the following of the game in the UK. He also mentioned that he had watched his first Rugby Union game earlier in the year at Twickenham and absolutely loved it — despite having no idea what was going on. As we shook hands, he departed to the practice fields with us following behind.
The players were already out and completing stretches before moving onto throwing. I could see all the faces I have been watching over the years on TV. Lucchesi, Hedges, Makita, Renfroe, Kirby Yates and many more. I talked with my escorts about the Padres organisation and life on the road with the Padres. I kept saying the day was “Cool” and “Really exciting”, they agreed. I was quick to mention that I understand if they didn’t want to admit that it was just a place of work and it had lost its “shine”, as I usually feel like that when showing people around an aircraft at work. For me, it is just my place of work, for others it’s incredibly special. They were great and said it’s still fun for them and they love doing what they do.
We watched pitchers and catchers work, the videos and motions I have watched on TV over so many years was now happening right in front of me. Literally 10-15 steps away. The fizz of the ball through the air and the slap against the leather in the catchers mitt. I stood, staring in amazement and couldn’t believe how quick the delivery was in real life. Especially Robert Stock. Wow.
As I stood watching Kirby Yates, Robert Stock and Joey Lucchesi throw strike after strike, I noticed a dark haired gentleman in darker coloured trousers and top. He had his arms crossed and was watching every pitch being thrown as he strolled by. He kept his gaze on those pitchers, watching their every delivery then quickly switching his gaze to see the movements the catchers had to make. A small black earpiece in his right ear and a integrated microphone hung by his neck.
I recognised him instantly, it was Padres GM – AJ Preller.
The mastermind who had collected the majority of players I was standing and watching right at that moment. He took his phone out of his pocket, flicked his thumb around the screen and dropped it back in before watching the pitchers again. Almost like one of us waiting for a text message from a loved one, a new flame or news on a new job. I imagined he was waiting for news from Manny Machado‘s or Bryce Harper‘s agent with a simple text saying “we agree”. I’m not sure how a signing works, but it’s how I wanted to imagine it at that moment.
During the morning he spent the whole time moving from field to field, the cages to the pitchers and catchers … shed? always monitoring the players, always watching, maybe inwardly calculating his next move.
The overall feeling during the morning from the players and coaching staff was “relaxed”. People were smiling, people were fresh, old faces catching up, new faces entering big league camp for only their second time. The rap was blasting out on the speakers all around the facility, I asked my escorts “Who picks the playlist?” They said “We’re not sure, but it seems to change every day. One day you might have country and western, the next it’s rock, then it’s rap/hip-hop…”. I like the idea that it’s the players picking it, taking turns each day to generate a playlist. I would probably be banned from doing this after my first go. I wouldn’t know why, who wouldn’t like Mr Blobby by Mr Blobby over and over again?
We returned to the start point as I was preparing to conduct my interviews with AJ Cassavell (MLB.com beat writer) and Jessie Aglar (Padres radio play-by-play announcer) when my escort said “Hey, do you want to see if you can chat to Fernando Tatis Jr.?
I nodded quickly, then stared at the baseball I had been given earlier.
“Does anyone have a pen??”
I was given one and then proceeded to tell Fernando that the UK baseball community has seen his antics from the winter leagues and loved his home runs and bat flips. He chuckled and said “Thats cool!”. I then proceeded to tell him that I can’t wait to see him up at the big leagues. He said he was very excited and couldn’t wait to get started. We shook hands, his 6’3″ gently wondered down to the weights room. I was stood holding my signed ball with a big stupid grin on my face.
After chatting with the excellent AJ Cassavell and Jessie Aglar, it was time for me to go, but not before finalising my Britishness and apologising one more time for the parking mishap. I collected my car, headed off for some Mexican food and haven’t stopped smiling since.
I want to thank Danny, Vanessa, Nicky and Gabby for making me feel so welcome at the San Diego Padres Spring Training facility in Peoria. They were incredibly accommodating and answered everything I asked of them whilst I was there. I also want to thank AJ Cassavell and Jesse Aglar for taking time out of their busy day to come and chat with me for the podcast. Finally, I want to thank everyone on Twitter who has followed the PadresUK account and made it what it is. Without you following, the Padres may not have taken my initial request seriously.