SAN DIEGO -- Kevin Towers is at ease in front of the television cameras now, as much as he is comfortable performing his job as general manager of the San Diego Padres. If nothing else, Towers has had 12 years to become acclimated to both, though it wasn't always that way for the 46-year-old who on Wednesday had his contract extended by the team through the 2010 season. "I can still remember my first press conference," Towers recalled Wednesday during a press conference at PETCO Park to announce his deal.
"I was scared to death. It was the first time I had ever done any public speaking or been in front of the camera. All I could think of was I was going to gag on ESPN or freeze up." He did neither, which partly explains why Towers is still in San Diego and why he is currently the longest-tenured general manager in the Major Leagues. "Sometimes," Towers said, standing nearly alone in a corner, far away from the cameras. "... I have to pinch myself that I'm still here." Working under often difficult financial constraints as well as fighting the public perception that he was always on his way out the door, especially after chief executive officer Sandy Alderson and later former Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta were hired, Towers kept producing. A former scout and scouting director, Towers has earned a reputation in the industry for being a perceptive evaluator of talent. He has plucked players from other teams' Minor League systems, been active in the Rule 5 draft and, more often than not, has made favorable trades since being hired in November 1995. "Personality has a lot to do with it," Alderson said. "He's always been direct, straightforward and fair. I think other general mangers have appreciated him personally. He's got a great reputation in baseball. He embraces new ideas. ... You don't always find that." In 2006 alone, Towers made two trades that formed the foundation for the 2006 playoff team and the one that won 89 games last season and came within a game of the postseason, adding Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young in a deal with Texas while later acquiring Josh Bard and Cla Meredith from Boston. "We've had to take some gambles on players and had to take some calculated risks with guys coming off injuries, players coming off down years," Towers said. "It's being very aggressive scouting other ballclubs, trying to identify players, a couple of players, not on that team's radar. Meredith was that guy." Towers, who several times Wednesday not only thanked Alderson but his staff that includes DePodesta, was quick to credit another factor for being able to land players who have enjoyed success with the Padres -- the city of San Diego itself. "The one thing we've always had going for us is our locale. A lot of Major League players want to play in San Diego," Towers said. "A lot of times we might end up with players on one-year deals for a little less money than other ballclubs." This offseason is a perfect example of this. Mark Prior, a San Diego native who still makes his offseason home here, chose the Padres over a handful of other teams and more money. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, another free agent, turned down more years and more money to sign with the Padres, citing his fondness for the city as an important factor. "It's not a tough sell," Towers said. Under Towers' watch, the Padres have won four National League West titles and also appeared in the 1998 World Series. The Padres have advanced to the postseason in two of the last three seasons. Not that any of it is particularly easy. No matter his track record, Towers acknowledges that his job is often a real bear to handle. There are trades, signings, hirings and, of course, firings. There is arbitration, dealing with agents. His BlackBerry has more or less become an extension of his hand. "It's a difficult job nowadays," Towers said. "There's a lot of pressure, a lot of stress involved in it. It's become almost a young man's position anymore. I think three of the best general managers in the game just left this past year: Walt Jocketty, John Schuerholz and Terry Ryan. ... It can wear you out." But, as Towers has discovered, the job certainly has its upsides. A former first-round pick of the Padres as a pitcher in 1982, Towers is very proud to say he's spent nearly his entire professional career as a Padre. This is where he wants to be. This is home. "It's one of the best jobs in the business," Towers said, smiling.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.