3 San Diego Padres

Mike Cameron provides a spark, but will that light a fire?
April 02, 2006

Mike Cameronjogged to centerfield for his first exhibition game as a Padre and went throughhis familiar routine. He checked the wind direction, noticed a slight breezeblowing out to right and made a mental note not to give up too early on ballshit to left-center because the wind would hold them up a bit longer. He checkedthe warning track to see how many strides he would have before he reached thewall on a deep fly. Finally, he looked to his right and left and saw a wideexpanse of green, ground that was his to cover. He was home.

Even thoughCameron is with a new team, his fourth in seven years, he feels a sense ofcomfort now that he's back in his beloved centerfield. Cameron, 33, doesn'tjust play center, he uses it as his personal canvas. "It's an art," hesays. "Centerfield is where my creativity comes out. I think that's whereI'm meant to play, and when I'm not there, it just feels unnatural." Histwo Gold Gloves at the position weren't enough to keep the Mets from shiftinghim to rightfield last season after signing free-agent centerfielder CarlosBeltran, who's four years younger than Cameron and has a seven-year, $119million contract.

Cameron's tenurein rightfield came to a painful end on Aug. 11 when he and Beltran--both imbuedwith the take-charge instincts of a centerfielder--knocked heads in a violentcollision while chasing a fly ball in, oddly enough, San Diego. Beltransuffered a broken cheekbone, but he was fortunate compared with Cameron, whosuffered multiple facial fractures that required surgery, a concussion,loosened teeth and two split lips. "It was like my face was a dinner plateand somebody hit it with a hammer," Cameron says. "It was justshattered. I can't even describe the pain. For weeks there was no part of myface or head that didn't hurt."

The injuriessidelined Cameron for the rest of the season, and it was while he was lying ina San Diego hospital bed that he vowed to find a way to return to centerfield."I felt like I had literally sacrificed my body and I deserved to go backand play the position I was best at," he says. Cameron says he didn'tdemand a trade, but he told Mets G.M. Omar Minaya how badly he wanted to returnto center, and the club accommodated him with the Nov. 18 deal that sent him tothe Padres for utilityman Xavier Nady.

His face is notonly fully healed--"I guess I was lucky it happened in Southern California,the capital of plastic surgery," he says--it has also been sporting a smilesince the trade. Cameron has instantly energized the Padres' clubhouse,high-fiving and joking with his new teammates from the moment he walks into theroom. "Mike Cameron is Mr. Happy," says lefty reliever Alan Embree.

San Diego ismore than happy to have landed a player of Cameron's defensive abilities topatrol Petco Park's spacious centerfield. "We've been looking the last twoto three years for an athlete like this to cover the vast expanse ofPetco," says G.M. Kevin Towers. "With Mike we have somebody who can dothat as well as give us a spark with his personality."

Although hestrikes out frequently--more than 130 times in each of his last six fullseasons--Cameron also has power. He had hit at least 18 home runs for sixstraight years before his injury-shortened 2005. Only four teams in the majorshit fewer than the Padres' 130 homers last year, but Cameron and two otheroff-season acquisitions, catcher Mike Piazza, another former Met, and thirdbaseman Vinny Castilla, late of the Nationals, should help San Diego improve onthat total.

Cameron hasalready cleared the psychological hurdle of having a ball come near his face atthe plate. He was brushed back by a high and tight pitch from the Angels' JeredWeaver early in spring training and came back to pull a hard single to left onthe next pitch. The big test will come when he takes the field again at Petco."I've thought about it, going back to the scene of the crime, so tospeak," he says. "I think once I get out there the first time and startthinking about where to play the first hitter, I'll be O.K."

He doesn'texpect to have any hesitancy the first time he has to converge on a fly ballwith a teammate. "It might be similar, but it won't be the same," hesays. "I'll be coming from centerfield. To me, that's a bigdifference."

IN FACT
Ryan Klesko's 18 home runs were the fewest to lead a team in 2005 and thelowest total to top the Padres in a full season since Carmelo Martinez's 18 in1988.

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

Despite his $10million salary and veteran status, Ryan Klesko, 34, is clogging things up--he'sa defensive liability in leftfield and at first base whose fading bat(career-low .248 last year) doesn't help matters. The Padres should sit thelefthanded Klesko in favor of another lefty, 23-year-old Adrian Gonzalez(right), who'll start the season at Triple A. His gap-to-gap power is bettersuited to spacious Petco Park than Klesko's pull stroke, and he's a superiordefender whose glove would be worth up to two more wins. Klesko would still bevaluable as a lefthanded bat off the bench and an occasional leftfielder,particularly on the road.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD82-80
first in NL West

MANAGER
Bruce Bochy
12th season with San Diego

BATTINGORDER

LF Roberts
CF Cameron
RF Giles
C Piazza
1B Klesko
SS Greene
3B Castilla
2B Barfield

MIKE CAMERON[New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 79
BA .273
HR 12
RBI 39
SB 13

DAVE ROBERTS
B-T L
PVR 163
BA .275
HR 8
RBI 38
SB 23

KHALIL GREENE
B-T R
PVR 112
BA .250
HR 15
RBI 70
SB 5

VINNYCASTILLA
B-T R
PVR 214
BA .253
HR 12
RBI 66
SB 4

MIKE PIAZZA [Newacquisition]
B-T R
PVR 100
BA .251
HR 19
RBI 62
SB 0

RYAN KLESKO
B-T L
PVR 182
BA .248
HR 18
RBI 58
SB 3

JOSH BARFIELD(R)*
B-T R
PVR 178
BA .308
HR 15
RBI 72
SB 19

BRIAN GILES
B-T L
PVR 70
BA .301
HR 15
RBI 83
SB 13

BENCH

GEOFF BLUM [Newacquisition]
B-T S-R
PVR 296
BA .229
HR 6
RBI 25
SB 3

ERIC YOUNG
B-T R
PVR 279
BA .275
HR 2
RBI 12
SB 7

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Jake Peavy 5 13 7 216 1.04 2.88
RH Chris Young
[New acquisition]
60 12 7 137 1.26 4.26
LH Shawn Estes
[New acquisition]
125 7 8 63 1.43 4.80
RH Dewon Brazelton
[New acquisition]
191 1 8 43 2.07 7.61
RH Chan Ho Park 137 12 8 113 1.67 5.74

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
RH Trevor Hoffman 27 1 6 43 1.11 2.97
RH Scott Linebrink 162 8 1 1 1.06 1.83
RH Clay Hensley 285 1 1 0 1.05 1.70

 

Newacquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer ...

The 18th pick ofthe 2005 draft, 6'3", 177-pound righty Cesar Carrillo has outstandingvelocity and control, getting batters out with a mid-90s fastball plus apolished curveball and a changeup. He had 35 strikeouts and seven walks in302/3 innings at Double A Mobile last season. The Padres' rotation has lots ofquestion marks after Jake Peavy, and the 21-year-old Carrillo, a collegestandout at Miami, could get the call if any of San Diego's startersfalter.

PHOTOCHARLIE RIEDEL/AP FULLCOVERAGE
The Padres like Cameron's power at the plate and ability to handle Petco'sspacious centerfield.
TWO PHOTOSBRAD MANGIN (GONZALEZ); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (CARRILLO) ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)