Padres 3-day Caravan signals spring is here

Single-game ticket sales open as equipment truck leaves for Arizona

Padres 3-day Caravan signals spring is here

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

Thursday morning was a turning point for 4-year-old Alexis Starr of Santee.

As she rode on father Trent's shoulders as he walked past the semi packed with the Padres' Spring Training gear, Alexis probably didn't know the turning point awaiting her at the ticket office at Petco Park.

Trent Starr was there to purchase tickets for the April 4 season opener against the Dodgers at Petco Park. In the past, that meant buying two tickets. But this time he was buying three tickets.

"Alexis is no longer small enough to sit in our laps for free," said Starr. "She now needs her own ticket. This is her first ticket. We'll probably put it in a scrapbook. She's been a Padres fan since the day she was born."

Alexis might not have been into the value of her "first" ticket. But she was certainly taking in the events at Petco Park as the Padres hosted a pep rally in front of the Petco Park ticket office on Park Boulevard to celebrate three things:

• At precisely 10 a.m., the semi-trailer carrying the Padres' equipment pulled away from the curb and headed in the direction of the Padres' Spring Training camp in Peoria, Ariz. Forget groundhogs, the first sign of spring around this nation is the sight of equipment trucks setting out for Major League training camps.

• Padres single-game tickets also went on sale Thursday morning. And three hours after the windows opened, there was still a line outside Petco Park.

• And Thursday kicked off three days of Padres caravans -- events that take players and club officials to sites throughout the county and Tijuana.

"I'm here because I wanted to get the feel of baseball being just around the corner," said Don Strobble of San Diego. Well, that's not totally the truth. He works in a nearby building.

"A buddy told me there were a couple players, the Pad Squad, free donuts and coffee over here," said Strobble. "Here I am."

Actually, the line for tickets grew longer after the equipment truck departed for Arizona and players boarded buses headed for various stops on the Padres Caravan tour.

One of the first stops was Pacific Trails Middle School, where homegrown outfielder Alex Dickerson and Padres icon Randy Jones addressed the students and signed the toss-balls distributed by Pad Squaders.

Dickerson connected with the kids, talking about growing up not that far from the north San Diego campus.

At the same time, pitchers Andrew Cashner and Brandon Maurer were participating in the refurbishing of a youth field in Tijuana.

At noon, half the Caravan -- including Cashner, Cory Spangenberg, Austin Hedges, Travis Jankowski and Maurer -- was at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot serving lunch to Marines and their families before sitting down with the group. The other half -- including Dickerson, Jones and Nick Vincent -- were having lunch with members of the Poway Kiwanis Club.

Later, there were stops at North Island (and a visit to the carrier Theodore Roosevelt) and Rady Children's Hospital, where players met informally with young patients. The day concluded with a Town Hall session at the Fox Sports San Diego studios.

On Friday, the Padres Caravan will visit Sunset Hills and Del Sur elementary schools, while Tyson Ross, Maurer and Spangenberg lead a group helping to refurbish the baseball diamond at Sunshine Berardini Field Park. Later Friday afternoon, members of the Caravan will be signing autographs at the Sycuan Casino.

The Caravan concludes with more stops Saturday.