Friday, April 22, 2005 | Last night, the San Diego Padres honored the late Ken Caminiti, the former San Diego and Houston third baseman who died last year of a cocaine-related heart attack. Caminiti wore No. 21 when he played for the Padres from 1995 to 1998.

There’s one surefire way to raise the energy level at any San Diego Padres game – show the play. A hard-hit shot up the third baseline to then-Padres third baseman Ken Caminiti, who caught the ball, knocked himself off balance, and made a surgical, laser-like throw to first base, while falling solidly on his backside and in time to get the batter out. The ease and raw grace Caminiti demonstrated in the play belied how fragile his body and spirit really were.

“He had physical talent: strong, fast, great fielder, great hands, great instincts,” longtime Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner said. “He played the game really hard so fans could identify with that blue collar ethic.”

“My most poignant memory is the game in 1996 played in Mexico,” said Marcia Mengel, a longtime Padres watcher and instant Caminiti fan. “With only an IV and a Snickers bar to recover from a debilitating illness, he hit a home run from each side of the plate to help the Padres win.”

“He seemed to have conquered [his drinking problem] and I always thought that was why he played so much better here than before,” says Mengel. “However, his repeated falling down during the ’98 World Series led me to believe he was drinking again. That is the only substance abuse I ever suspected.”

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