Thoughts on Padres' Opening Day

Thoughts on Padres' Opening Day

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

I love the Opening Day of the baseball season.

And this Opening Day ... well, thank you, A.J. Preller. I can't remember the last time I was this excited going into a Padres season. OK, maybe it was 1985. The Padres were coming off their first trip to the World Series with much the same roster they employed in '84. Expectations were high. Results turned out to be low.

But the dawn of the 2015 season is so different.

In his first offseason as the general manager, Preller not only overhauled San Diego's roster, he gave hope to a fan base that has spent much of the past 16 seasons wandering in baseball's outback.

Were this a normal Opening Day, Padres fans would be looking forward to seeing the new video board come to life as the biggest addition of the winter.

Preller -- with the backing of ownership -- changed all of that, capping a whirlwind offseason Sunday afternoon by acquiring All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. from the Atlanta Braves for Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin (two players who might not have made San Diego's Opening Day roster), plus pitching prospect Matt Wisler, a Draft pick and another Minor Leaguer.

Shields on starting Opening Day

Add Kimbrel to James Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Wil Myers and Will Middlebrooks, and you have the remaking of the franchise -- not just the on-the-field lineup, but the perception of the Padres to fans, as well.

Eleven of the players on San Diego's 25-man Opening Day roster were not with the club at the end of last season. This is not Padres baseball as usual.

Preller has turned up the heat and the expectations. Padres fans are energized. The debut of the second-largest video board in Major League Baseball has become a footnote, whereas in the past, it would have been a headline.

Look at the Padres. Everyone else in baseball is. This is my favorite Opening Day ever.

But it's just Opening Day. And Opening Days are blown out of proportion. A win -- or loss -- on Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles is no more meaningful than a win or loss at Dodger Stadium on May 23.

So enjoy the day. But know that it is the first day of 162.

NOTES FROM THE SCOREBOOK

• Kemp returns to Dodger Stadium today for the first time as a visitor. He finished Spring Training with a .370 batting average, a .393 on-base percentage and a .741 slugging percentage. Kemp went 20-for-54 with six doubles, a triple and four homers. The slugging percentage was the highest among National League hitters and his 11 extra-base hits tied for first. Kemp ranked second in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) at 1.134, fifth in batting average and ninth with 14 RBIs in 18 games.

Kemp's homer to left

• Shields was raised in Santa Clarita, Calif., and he made a number of trips to Dodger Stadium as a youth to see games. But today marked the first time the right-hander ever pitched in Dodger Stadium. From 2006-14, Shields pitched in 286 games -- with all but one as a starter. But this was his first game in the NL.

• Tuesday's starter Tyson Ross tied for the NL lead with 25 strikeouts in Spring Training. Shields was tied for third with 23. The Padres' starting rotation averaged 8.32 strikeouts per nine innings in spring -- the best mark in the NL and the second-best mark in the Major Leagues.

• As a team, San Diego hit .286 in Spring Training, with a .340 on-base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage. Among NL teams, the batting average ranked second, the on-base percentage ranked third and the slugging percentage ranked fifth. The Padres' 33 homers in 30 Cactus League games were tied for sixth in the Major Leagues and tied for fourth in the NL.

Bill Center is an employee of the San Diego Padres.