LAS VEGAS — These dreams.
"Fernando's gonna be out there screwballing, man. I'll step in. I'll step out. I'll spit. It'll be a fastball over the plate. . . . Ping!"
Bip Roberts wakes up this afternoon.
The season's first pitch comes this afternoon.
But until then, until Fernando Valenzuela rolls his eyeballs and throws for the first time, it's OK for any San Diego Padre to fantasize.
And especially Roberts. He's only 22. Last year, he played Double-A. And, today, he's leading off and playing second base in Dodger Stadium, where he's never been before.
His folks are flying in from Oakland. He's got four tickets, and that's not enough.
"As long as my mom and dad get in, that's all I care about," he said. "Shooot. My dad hasn't seen me play since high school. He won't recognize me."
And will we recognize the 1986 Padres? Which team will it be? The 1984 National League Champion version? Or the 1985 team that folded at midseason?
"Oh, there are a lot of players out in that clubhouse who have things to prove," said Manager Steve Boros. "The onus is on them to some extent because there's a new manager. Some players had poor seasons (in 1985) that were blamed on (Dick) Williams. Hey, those guys can't blame their shortcomings on Williams now. That, right there, puts a challenge to them.
"I think a lot of them have to be wondering: How good is this club? How much do we miss Alan Wiggins (who stole 70 bases in 1984, but was traded in '85)? Are we still a championship caliber team without Wiggins?"
Naturally, here on opening day, the only day when everybody's batting average is at triple-zero, there is eternal hope.
"I think we're a better team than in '84," Steve Garvey said. "We're more experienced, better depth with Marvell (Wynne, just acquired), more speed. We're just an overall stronger team than in 1984. (Andy) Hawkins has come into his own, as has Mark (Thurmond), Eric (Show) and Dave (Dravecky). Hopefully, LaMarr (Hoyt) can make it back. The bullpen is strong, and there's added experience for Carmelo (Martinez), Kevin (McReynolds) and Tony (Gwynn). Those things take time. You can't but that.
"And we've been critiqued in a good position--third place. Everybody picks us third. Well, it's a good drafting position. . . . It seems like every time you're picked third, you win. When you're picked first? Nah."
The Dodgers are picked first.
By the way, the Padres play them seven times in 10 days.
Somebody could get a big lead early.
"This is a very important first two weeks for us because we play Cincinnati and LA in 12 of the first 16 games," Garvey said. "I think it'd be a key for us to get off to a good start. It won't be the answer if we do or a detriment if we don't, but it's good to get--what's that term?--momentum."
What's that term? Speed? The Padres have more now, and Boros likes to steal bases, likes to use the hit-and-run play. The team had 34 stolen bases in spring training.
All of last season, they had 60.
The new Padres: On Sunday, with Kevin McReynolds on first and Tony Gwynn on third, Boros ordered a double steal. The Minnesota Twin catcher Tim Laudner threw to second and couldn't get McReynolds. Gwynn, meanwhile, stole home.
"That's us!" Gwynn said. "That's the Padres of 1984! We manufactured runs."
The Padres of '85 did not.
But check out this year's final spring batting averages.
Gwynn: .337.; Tim Flannery: .349; Garvey: .365; Terry Kennedy: .366; Martinez: .341; John Kruk: .465 and Jerry Royster: .306.
And check out these--Graig Nettles: .188; McReynolds .200.
Do spring stats mean anything, anyway? Are they a preview of things to come or of things not to come?
Regardless, the Padres will come today with starter Eric Show, who went 12-11 last season. Show is not San Diego's best pitcher, but he's in there because Hoyt had his bout with alcohol this spring and isn't ready to pitch. Besides, Boros said: "Eric can handle the hype."
Remember? Pete Rose had his record-breaking base hit off Show last season, and the people of Cincinnati and vicinity are eternally grateful.
Show received the following letter from a Cincinnati race track:
You are a hero -- at least here in the Greater Cincinnati area! So much so, in fact, that we'd like to have a night for you.
We know your beliefs lean toward the right with your association with the John Birch Society, but, don't worry. We'll also invite every right winger in the National Hockey League. And Barry Goldwater, too.
We look forward to hearing from you anytime.
P.S. Pete Rose will be here.
Show said this is the kind of treatment he's been getting over the years, and he has thus decided not to talk with the media for a while.
"I'm not saying it's forever," Show said Sunday. "And I don't have any rules. I just think it's better to lay low for now."
He also says he hopes his pitches stay low.
Boros, who took the rap for being too nice of a guy when he managed the Oakland A's in 1983 and 1984, is taking the low profile as well. Asked if he was enjoying his new job, he said yes. But he also said: "Ask me again in September. Ask me in September."
Bip Roberts, however, is high on life.
"I'll sleep all right tonight," he said Sunday. "This is just opening day. I won't think about it until morning. No reason to panic. I play best when I'm relaxed. Besides, I played some big games this spring.
"I've been talking to my folks every week or so, and they help me. She (his mother, Wilma) knows how hard I've worked. She tells me: 'Every day, think of the Lord.' And my praise goes straight to the Lord. I'm thankful that I've made it this far, but now I have to stay in the big leagues."
Right then, Roberts started fantasizing again:
"I'm on first base. And I know Fernando has a good move. He throws. . . . I'm out!"