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Boomer and The Professor

The San Diego Padres are relying on a couple of 20-year veteran starting pitchers better known to teammates as ...

March 18, 2007|From the Associated Press

PEORIA, ARIZ. — The left-hander is big and loud, enjoys being in the middle of the action and answers to "Boomer."

The right-hander is quiet and cerebral, having earned the nickname "The Professor," and is content sitting in the corner of the clubhouse working on a crossword puzzle.

Polar opposites in practically every way, David "Boomer" Wells and Greg "The Professor" Maddux bring a sort of living, and often lively, history to the back end of the San Diego Padres' rotation.

They've got a combined 563 wins, four Cy Young awards, three World Series rings, a perfect game and 16 Gold Gloves between them.

Yes, they're getting old and don't have the same stuff they did in their heydays. Wells is 43 and Maddux turns 41 on April 14.

But they just can't tear themselves away from baseball. Really, why should they?

"It's a free roll. House money," said Maddux, who lives in Las Vegas in the off-season. "As long as I'm good enough to wear a jersey and I still enjoy the game, obviously I want to do that."

Wells figures there's no sense in fibbing and saying this is going to be his last year. If teams keep offering him contracts, he's going to sign, even if they are largely incentive based.

"I guess I'll just go until they rip the uniform off me," he said. "I guess that's the best way of putting it, right?"

Maddux and Wells seem to have been pitching forever.

Maddux's first big league start was on Sept. 7, 1986, a win over the Cincinnati Reds and their player-manager, Pete Rose.

Wells made his big league debut the following June, as a reliever with Toronto.

Fast forward two decades, and the 15 victories Maddux had last year with the Chicago Cubs and Dodgers -- as well as the 210 innings pitched -- would have led the Padres, who barely held off the Dodgers to win their second straight NL West title.

It was the 18th time Maddux won at least 15 games, and he won his record-tying 16th Gold Glove.

Maddux, who won four straight NL Cy Young Awards in the 1990s and helped pitch the Atlanta Braves to the 1995 World Series title, pushed his career victory total to 333.

Wells hasn't done badly himself, winning 230 games and earning World Series rings with Toronto in 1992 and the New York Yankees in 1998, when they swept the Padres. He also threw a perfect game for New York that season.

"That's what happens when you're around 20 years," Wells said. "We outrank a lot of people in a lot of categories, combined. He does well on his own. I'm just a squirrel in his world trying to get a nut."

Wells calls it a "blessing" that the Padres signed Maddux: "I think he has a lot to offer for the young guys. I'm sure I can learn a lot from him and vice versa."

Of course, it might be best if Maddux doesn't learn some of the nocturnal habits Wells has developed as one of baseball's noted midnight ramblers.

"I'm looking forward to it, just because I've always respected how he's pitched over the years," Maddux said. "You usually see a lot more when you aren't sitting in the other dugout. You get to see his pre-game and post-game and four days in between. Maybe you might learn a better way to do something."

Wells, who won 19 games as recently as 2002 with the Yankees, knows it's not getting any easier.

"We don't throw as hard as we used to," he said. "The thing is, you've just got to go out there and be a smart pitcher."

New Padres Manager Bud Black, a former big league pitcher who also owns a World Series ring, says Maddux has "good mojo."

"There's a presence to him that I think exudes that feel of positive things happening to this guy," Black said. "I think when he's on the team, when he's on the mound, when he's on your side, I think it just feels better."

Wells agrees, saying: "Just his presence on the mound can intimidate a lot of people. That's something you can teach these guys, if you're consistent and pitch well, you get that same respect."

With Maddux on staff, "We'll be a lot smarter," right fielder Brian Giles joked.

"Both those guys are going to help our bullpen, get us into the fifth, sixth, seventh innings, and we like our chances," Giles said.

Maddux, who's always relied on his control, said he felt fine last year. He knows his stuff isn't what it was, "but hopefully it's still good enough to get 200 innings."

Having accomplished all he has, Maddux could retire at any time and enjoy his passion for golf full time.

But after pitching 4,616 1/3 innings and appearing in 677 games in more than 20 big league seasons, he still loves the game's unique twists.

"Watching somebody throw their first shutout is kind of cool," he said. "It's baseball. It's the game. Whether it's a pickup game or scrimmage or sold out in the postseason, the game's the same. That's the beauty of it."

And then there's Boomer. Wells went on a three-week African safari in November and easily could spend the rest of his life hunting and surfing. But he's not ready to walk away from baseball, either.

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