Just hours after confetti fell on the NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in Glendale, Arizona, the sports spotlight shifted to pitchers and catchers who began reporting to spring training complexes Monday ahead of the World Baseball Classic
A few miles up the freeway from Glendale, San Diego Padres skipper Bob Melvin spoke about managing expectations with his star-laden club, which has its long-suffering fans whipped into a frenzy after a stirring run to the NL Championship Series last fall.
Once Fernando Tatis Jr. rejoins the active roster on April 20 following a drug suspension, Melvin will roll out a lineup that figures to include Manny Machado, who finished second in NL MVP voting; Juan Soto, who came over in a blockbuster trade with Washington on Aug. 2; and Xander Bogaerts, who signed a $280 million, 11-year deal on Dec. 8.
“We have a lot of star players here. We seem to bring another one in every few weeks or so,” Melvin quipped. “It’s been neat to see because the fanbase has really followed it and embraced it. When you have this many household names, it just adds to the excitement coming into spring training.”
Padres owner Peter Seidler hasn’t been afraid to add hefty contracts, and many fans expect nothing less than the franchise’s first World Series title. The team estimated 48,000 people turned out for FanFest on Feb. 4, waiting in long lines, sometimes for hours, for autographs and photos, and jamming a grassy knoll beyond the center field fence to hear players speak.
“You have to embrace it,” Melvin said. “It’s going to be there regardless. You have to understand that’s the position we’ve put ourselves in. That’s a good thing, right? … I think everybody here understands what the expectations are.”
Position players headed for the WBC aren’t due in camp until Thursday, but Bogaerts already was taking swings on Monday. He'll play for the Netherlands before returning to the Padres to play shortstop, with Tatis slated to play in the outfield. Right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed a $108 million, six-year contract on Thursday, flew to Japan on Sunday for his country’s pre-WBC camp.
Tatis posted a brief video on his Instagram story showing a locker full of Nike cleats and trainers. Adidas ended its deal with Tatis after MLB suspended him for 80 games on Aug. 12 after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Neither Nike nor Tatis’ agent returned messages seeking comment. Tatis hasn’t played since 2021. He was on the cusp of returning from surgery on his broken left wrist when he was suspended. The video also shows a Rawlings glove. Rawlings is owned by Seidler Equity Partners and MLB Properties. Peter Seidler is founder and managing partner of Seidler Equity Properties.
Veteran reliever Adam Ottavino, who re-signed with the New York Mets for $14.5 million over two years, is looking forward to pitching for the U.S. in the WBC.
“It’s going to be cool,” he said in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “I played in ’09 for Italy and I always wanted another opportunity to play in it again. It was a really fun tournament for me that first time and I also knew that I wasn’t going to play for anybody but, you know, USA if I got the chance. It’s always been a kind of a dream. So excited to join the team and see if we can bring it home.”
Also in camp was outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who was re-signed at $162 million over eight years. “My work ethic doesn’t change. Who I am doesn’t change. What I expect out of myself doesn’t change,” Nimmo said. “I just get to focus on baseball and winning. And I’m really, really happy to be able to do that.”
The Mets, who won 101 games last season, were eliminated in the wild-card round by the Padres.
CORTES OUT OF WBC
New York Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes will miss the WBC due to a strained right hamstring but hasn’t ruled out being ready for the start of the regular season.
“Came in on Wednesday and told the staff I was a little banged up,” Cortes said at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Florida. “After long talks, obviously, the best interest was to stay out of it. The biggest goal right here is to get healthy and be ready for the start of the season. I think it’s something that’s definitely doable to start the season off healthy and in the rotation.”
GHOST RUNNERS HERE TO STAY
Starting extra innings with a runner on second base during the regular season is now permanent after being unanimously adopted by MLB’s 11-person competition committee on Monday. Used for the last three seasons during the coronavirus pandemic, the rule is known by some as “Ghost Runner” and by others as the “Manfred Man” after Commissioner Rob Manfred.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and AP freelance writers Chuck King and Mark Didtler contributed to this report.
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