YUMA, Ariz. — Minor leaguers were the major event at the Ray A. Kroc baseball complex here Saturday morning.
While Steve Garvey, Tony Gwynn and the rest of the big league Padres were getting their physicals in San Diego, pitchers Ulises Sierra and Jeffrey Childers were among the prospects practicing in Yuma.
The minor leaguers have been working out from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. But Saturday, they were saved by the wind.
Practice was cut short around noon when 33 m.p.h. winds gusted through Yuma, kicking up dust in the infield and knocking over a batting cage.
The minor leaguers headed back to their motel with instructions to practice their deliveries and stances in front of the mirror.
Coaches sat around the weight room talking about the first-class training facilities in Yuma and about some of the future Padres.
"I'm really impressed with the staff and the fields and weight rooms here," said Steve Boros, former Oakland A's manager who became the Padres coordinator of minor league instruction this season.
"It doesn't surprise me that they have such a good program over here," Boros added. "I know Jack McKeon, and I know his philosophy toward building a team through the minor leagues."
Boros said he is impressed with the talent in camp and thinks the Padres have a very strong group of young pitchers.
Norm Sherry, who was fired as the Padre pitching coach after last season and is now their minor league pitching and catching instructor, said there are at least six or seven "major league" pitchers among the 16 young pitchers he has worked with this week.
Sherry's top young pitching prospects:
- Right-hander Ulises Sierra, 17, who compiled an 11-4 record with a 3.72 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 135 innings at Reno in the California League last season;
- Right-hander Jeffrey Childers, 20, who went 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA and four saves at Miami in the Florida State League last season;
- Right-hander Joseph Bitker, 21, who was 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA and struck out 60 in 87 innings at Spokane in the Northwest League last season
- and right-hander Michael Gildehaus, 23, who went 2-2 with a 2.27 ERA and struck out 44 in 47 innings at Spokane last season.
For the first time since he managed the Angels' Triple-A farm team at Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League in 1975, Norm Sherry is back working with minor leaguers.
After three seasons as pitching coach for the Padres, Sherry was fired after the collapse of the Padre starting pitchers in last year's National League Championship Series and World Series.
"I was surprised when I was fired," Sherry said on Saturday. "When you win, you don't expect to lose your job. But that's the way baseball goes.
After spring training, Sherry will work with the Charleston Rainbows, a Class-A team in the South Atlantic League. Throughout the season, he will travel to all the Padres' minor league clubs.
Will spring training be any different now that the Padres are National League champions?
"The only real difference between this year and last is that we're pretty well set this year," Manager Dick Williams said. "The only real questions are whether we keep nine or 10 pitchers, two or three catchers, and whether we carry an extra outfielder."
"The pitching is stronger, and we gained that winning experience. This year, I feel they have to come after us."
Being at the helm of a team that everyone else guns for is not a new feeling for Williams. He led the Oakland A's to three consecutive American League West titles from 1971-73, and World Series wins in 1972 and 1973.
"But I tell you that it's tougher to repeat today," Williams said. "People can hop from club to club now, and that's what broke up the A's dynasty. They would have continued to win if they could have kept those players."
Padre players, in San Diego for their physicals, started trickling into Yuma late Saturday afternoon.
On the eve of the first workout for the entire team, the National Weather Service forecasts cool and windy conditions.
There is a 20% chance of rain, winds are expected to be 15 to 20 miles per hour and the high temperature is expected to be around 60 degrees.
Today's practice begins at 9 a.m. Daily workouts will continue at 9 a.m. through March 12, when the Padres open their exhibition season against the Cubs in Mesa.