LAS VEGAS — The plane taking him to his new job departed West Palm Beach, Fla., at 7 a.m. Friday.
Two time zones and 14 hours later, Mike Aldrete paused in the tunnel leading into the Padre dugout to check out the local dress code.
He was wearing his new blue Padre warm-up jersey and carrying his new white Padre home jersey. It was about an hour before the Padres-Seattle exhibition game--won by Seattle, 7-2, in front of 7,246--and Aldrete was confused. Merv Rettenmund, Padre batting coach, happened to be passing by.
"We take infield in our whites or blues?" Aldrete asked.
It's that time of year. Fringe players wonder about their uniforms . . . and in some cases, which team's uniform they will be wearing.
Aldrete, claimed off waivers Thursday afternoon by the Padres and signed to a one-year contract, flew west Friday as Greg Gross, a nonroster outfielder let go by the Padres Thursday, flew east. Gross, who thought he had made the team, was flying home to Philadelphia.
"It was not a negative or positive situation," Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, said. "We had an opportunity to take a player we thought could do a little more. Greg did a good job. If Aldrete was not here, (Gross) makes the team."
Aldrete, who is 30 and plays both the outfield and first base, was released by Montreal last Saturday.
Once, he was one of the hottest prospects in the San Francisco organization. The Giants traded away Jeffrey Leonard to make room for the left-handed hitter. In 1987, he played in 126 games and batted .325. But he dropped to .267 the next year and was traded to Montreal after the season. He has never been able to recapture his old form--he hit .242 in Montreal last season.
"I can't say I went to Montreal and tore the cover off the ball," Aldrete said. "There's not a whole lot I can say."
No. Aldrete was batting .095 this spring--two for 21--a single and a double--with one run-batted in.
Gross batted .250 during his time in the Padres' camp, but his age--38--worked against him. In signing Aldrete, the Padres were able to save eight years and match lefty for lefty on the bench.
As a pinch-hitter last season, Aldrete batted .250. His career average as a pinch-hitter is .288, which ranks sixth among active players with at least 100 pinch at-bats.
And with two unproven players in the Padre outfield--Jerald Clark and Shawn Abner--who knows?
"I don't expect to come in here and take someone's job," Aldrete said. "But the guys who earned spots are not five- or 10-year veterans who are inked in every day."
Aldrete started as the designated hitter for the Padres and went zero for two, with a walk.
The player who was sorriest to see Gross go was pitcher Larry Anderson, a teammate of Gross for three seasons in Philadelphia and one in Houston.
"We went to dinner (Thursday night) and talked quite awhile," Anderson said. "I felt bad. He's (eight) pinch-hits away from the major league record. I would like to see him have the chance to do it."
Anderson and Gross lived together for a season in Houston.
"We were Oscar and Felix," Anderson said. "He was always picking up after me and making sure I got here and there on time. . . .
"He was somebody I could talk to. You get close to someone, you can spill your guts to them. You know it's safe and not going anywhere. You need to do that over the course of 162 games.
"I told him, 'Good luck and take care.' "
In other moves Friday, the Padres put pitchers Dennis Rasmussen and Atlee Hammaker on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 31. Both are eligible to come off of the disabled list April 15, but the Padres don't expect either one to be ready.
Rasmussen said he will try to throw batting practice today.
"(Manager) Greg (Riddoch) told me to stay with the team and throw simulated games to get myself ready," Rasmussen said.
When he does come off the disabled list, Rasmussen told Riddoch he likely will need a two- or three-game rehabilitation assignment.