Veterans like rookies who don't act as if they have experienced it all, youngsters who keep their eyes open and mouths shut.
Preferably, these rookies will be surprised that they don't have to wash their uniforms and shine their shoes and carry their luggage.
These rookies, the accepted ones, will be surprised that the showers have hot water and the hotels have room service.
Indeed, veterans like rookies who get to the park early, get dressed, and go out and play catch with the bat boys.
And, most of all, veterans \o7 love\f7 rookies who hustle as if a one-way ticket to Walla Walla, Wash., rests on their every move.
The Padres have just such a rookie.
His name is John Kruk, as in truck. More appropriately, he might be called Country John Kruk.
Country John, to be sure, has not seen it all. He is a 25-year-old from Keyser, W. Va., who admits that he would be working in the paper mill or the coal mine if he had not had the good fortune to make his way into professional baseball.
Kruk is one of these guys who gets to the ballpark five or six hours before game time, probably so that he can gaze at the tiers of empty seats and then pinch himself without getting razzed by the veterans. Those seats, when filled to capacity, hold more than eight times as many people as Keyser's city limits.
One of the veterans, Tim Flannery, has sort of adopted Kruk. Maybe he thought Kruk needed some direction after he watched the rookie pour half of a bottle of ketchup onto his steak during a booster dinner in spring training.
When Kruk made the club, Flannery found him a place to live and took him out to show him the spots. They ended up at one of those places where raw fish is a specialty. They did not have such delicacies back on the shores of the North Branch of the Potomac in Keyser.
"If my Dad ever saw me eating raw fish," Kruk told Flannery, "he'd come out here and get me out of California."
Ah, the raw rookie sampling raw fish. This rookie is as innocent as a crowd that would start a wave in the seventh inning of a no-hitter. The guy has eyes that squint like he's looking into bright lights for the first time, and a full-faced grin like he's finally seen his first bikini. Ah, the raw rookie.
However, John Kruk has not just fallen off the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
There is much more to him than that. That is why he is in the major leagues, and that is why he has gained acceptance among the veterans so quickly.
He may look like a puppy, but he plays like a bulldog. He plays baseball the way Hank Bauer played football, which is to say headfirst and body be damned.
"I love him," Flannery said. "The first time I saw him, a couple of years ago, he dived headfirst into a cement dugout. He did the same thing the first game this spring. I told him the people in San Diego were going to love him. He plays the way the game's supposed to be played. He might not always get a hit or make the best play, but people will know he's giving them their money's worth."
Kruk is the kind of guy who dives headfirst into second and gets up without bothering to brush off his uniform. Maybe that's because he finally realizes that someone else is going to wash it.
"He's like an old-time ballplayer," Flannery said.
Nothing nicer can be said about a rookie. For Kruk, it has earned him acceptance--even from such grizzled "rookie baiters" as Graig Nettles.
"And," Flannery said, "it's even hard for four- and five-year players to get the respect of Nettles."
Not that fellows such as Nettles, Garry Templeton and Rich Gossage refrain from getting after the rook. After all, a rookie is a rookie.
"They rag him all the time," Tony Gwynn said, "but he keeps his mouth shut. John is a guy from the country hills of West Virginia who has come across as down-to-earth. Nothing phony about him."
Obviously, Country Kruk came out of those hills with wisdom beyond his schooling.
"I wasn't much for school," Kruk said. "It wasn't that I wasn't smart enough, I was just more interested in playing ball."
Batting practice had been canceled on this particular day, so most of the Padres were relaxing around the clubhouse. Kruk was in uniform, ready to head down the ramp for yet another look at the ballpark.
It is almost unlikely that he should be here, despite the fact that he has hit above .300 virtually every place he has taken his bat. There seemed no openings for rookie outfielders on this team, even one who hit .351 last year in Las Vegas.
"They told me I could make the team if I came in and had a good spring," he said, "and I was lucky enough to have a good spring."
That is the smart way for a rookie to talk. He should play hard and talk about how he is lucky to be successful.
And this kid plays hard.
"I always admired Pete Rose when I was growing up," he said. "I always liked the way he plays. And my Dad told me, 'Play hard or don't play.' "
John Kruk has now played on the same field with Pete Rose but he has yet to meet his boyhood hero.
"Approaching someone I don't know is tough for me," he said.
Besides, what would the veterans say?