DENVER — Who's the rookiest of all the Padre rookies?
It has to be Joey Cora, a 21-year-old second baseman who was tickled pink to be playing in front of 5,000 the other night in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and who might faint when he sees 50,000 in Candlestick Park for today's season opener at San Francisco.
Cora spent last season playing for Class AA Beaumont, and his typical trips were to El Paso, Midland and San Antonio. Today at 1:05 p.m., his age of innocence will end. He gets indoctrinated to the big leagues in San Francisco, where there's real grass, real sun, real wind and real havoc.
"I want to see what happens," said Cora, one of five Padre rookies. "I'm a little nervous. I mean, the first day, you have to face Mike Krukow, a 20-game winner. And you hear a lot about Candlestick. I've never been there."
He has visited San Diego only once. He came back with the team this past weekend and got his first glimpse of the stadium. Immediately, his friend and first base coach, Sandy Alomar, took him apartment hunting.
They walked into a complex near the stadium.
Alomar took charge.
"Do you know who this is?" Alomar said to the apartment manager.
"No," the manager said.
"Joey Cora, the new Padre second baseman.
"Oh," the manager said. "I've only been to two games in my life."
Anyway, Alomar figured name-dropping was the best way to get a good deal on the apartment.
Cora liked the place. He says the apartment is furnished, and the complex has two swimming pools and two Jacuzzis.
"Sandy was hustling big time, man," Cora said. "You should have seen him."
Cora has the widest eyes you'll ever see. The Padres came here to Denver to play two exhibition games, and Cora was wondering if he'd see John Elway, the Denver Bronco quarterback.
"Wow," Cora said. "This (Mile High Stadium) is where he throws all those touchdowns."
Padre Manager Larry Bowa--one of today's rookies, by the way--wishes Cora would calm down. Bowa was originally planning to hit Cora second in the batting order, but he'll hit him eighth against the Giants today.
"Cora's too uptight hitting second," Bowa said. "I would think once you've made the team, you wouldn't be uptight about anything. But ever since we've announced the team, he's put pressure on himself. I told him it's not important if he hits. He's so obsessed with hitting .300. He's not going to hit .300. I'm telling you right now. Not this year."
Rookies . . . can't live with them, but the Padres can't live without them.
Baseball America, a magazine for baseball gurus, says starting catcher Benito Santiago has a good chance to win Rookie of the Year honors.
"I'll go (and win the award)," Santiago said. "I thought Rafael Palmeiro (an outfielder for the Cubs) had a chance. He played with me in Puerto Rico, and he's pretty good. But he's down in Triple-A now. I can't think of anyone else. I'll go."
Asked if he'll be nervous today, Santiago laughed and said: "A lot!"
A reporter wrote down his answer.
"No, you're not writing that down, are you? Me, I won't be nervous. I'll be ready for a win. I'll just think about last year (when he was called up in September). My first game, it was against Mike Scott (the Cy Young Award winner from Houston). I went 2 for 4 with a double. Remember? I'll be all right."
Bowa thinks Santiago has had a fantastic spring, and Santiago whole-heartedly agrees.
"Because I put everything together," he said. "In Puerto Rico, you know, I had good defense and no hit on one day and good hit and no defense on the next day. Now, it's all together."
Santiago is sort of like an Elway, the Denver quarterback who tries threading his passes into double coverage a lot because of his strong arm. Santiago tries picking guys off second base and wants a shot at St. Louis' Vince Coleman.
"I'm ready," Santiago says.
Bowa walked up to Marvell Wynne Sunday, pointed at him and said: "You're in center field tomorrow."
Center fielder Stan Jefferson, sitting nearby, heard it.
And Bowa wanted him to hear it.
Jefferson, a rookie center fielder acquired from the Mets this winter, sprained his left ankle a week ago at Palm Springs. He was walking on the ankle soon thereafter, but he wasn't ready to play.
Then, on Saturday, Jefferson came to the ballpark and figured he was ready. He told one of the Padre coaches, and the coach told Bowa. Bowa put him in the lineup.
But then--20 minutes later--Jefferson felt some soreness and decided he couldn't go. He told the trainer, Dick Dent, who told Jefferson: "Go tell Bowa."
Jefferson went to Bowa to say: "Can't go." Bowa shook his head and said, "OK."
Jefferson may not have known it, but Bowa was angry. Bowa played 16 seasons in the big leagues because he was tough and because he ignored little setbacks such as sprained ankles.