Caminiti deserves his spot in Padres Hall of Fame

He changed how the Padres played baseball

Caminiti deserves his spot in Padres Hall of Fame

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

It was not unusual between the years of 1996 and 1998 for Bruce Bochy to be tardy posting the Padres' lineup card.

The card would still be sitting on his desk as the Padres manager met with the media. There'd be three or four blank spaces on the card starting with the third or fourth spots in the batting order.

Then a hulk of a man would poke his head through the open door and say: "I can go."

Bochy would look at the imposing figure with question marks in his eyes. Sometimes he would ask, "Are you sure?" Other times he would just shrug in disbelief.

Bochy would then complete the Padres lineup card.

The first name he'd write down would be "Ken Caminiti," who moments earlier had been standing in his doorway. There were times when Caminiti stood there in pain. I remember once when he honestly couldn't stand straight up.

But his response was always the same at the door to Bochy's office: "I can go."

I have been around baseball at a variety of levels for six decades. I have never known a player who threw more of himself - mentally and physically - into every game than Ken Caminiti.

Yes, we know demons ate at Caminiti. We know his career was tainted by PEDs. We know because he admitted his indiscretions.

Were his name still on the ballot for the National Hall of Fame, I would not vote for Caminiti.

But I wholeheartedly backed his induction into the Padres Hall of Fame last week. And it has less to do with the numbers -- that may or may not have been enhanced -- than with the player who day after day stood at Bochy's doorway saying "I can go."

Caminiti arrived in San Diego just after the Padres were rising from the ashes of the "fire sale."

And, yes, the Padres already had a leader when Caminiti arrived. Tony Gwynn was - and always will be - Mr. Padre.

Caminiti had an attitude. Winning games wasn't enough. You had to give everything you had every day of the season. There was no excuse to take an at-bat, a play or a day off. And he led by example.

He not only played games when he shouldn't have, he made game-changing contributions - Mexico being a prime example -- on days when he should have been resting an injury ravaged body.

I know there were days when Caminiti dodged the trainer's room for treatment because he didn't want the medical staff how bad he was hurting. Former teammates have told me Caminiti's introduction to drugs was the pain killers he needed to play baseball.

I've heard people call Caminiti a warrior. He wasn't. Warriors by definition place their lives on the line.

But he came as close as an athlete can. Caminiti was willing to risk all for his team and teammates.

I saw up-close the evolution of the Padres attitude with Caminiti in the clubhouse. Even veteran players were taken aback by the man's drive for the team to succeed.

Fans never heard Caminiti complain about his injuries and pain. Neither did his teammates. On days when he did take himself out of the lineup, his teammates knew he was really hurting - because he hurt most days he played.

Caminiti gave everything he had to the Padres.

He was driven. And that statement deserves a line of exclamation points.

I admired the man for his drive and dedication. Few have played any game harder.

I once asked Caminiti how he was feeling after he had slammed into the low fence behind third chasing a foul pop fly the night before. The bruise across his stomach was a bright red line.

He glowered at me and said: "I'm playing . . . anything else."

As I walked away, I could see the grin on Greg Vaughn's face. He knew I has just walked into a buzzsaw.

"Dumb question," said Vaughn as I walked past. But I already knew that.
 
Ken Caminiti drove himself to extremes to make the Padres better. Bottom line.