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Tuesday, September 5, 2006 | David Wells walked to the bullpen to warm-up for his first start Sunday with the Padres at a time when most fans were still on their way to their Petco Park seats. But enough of them arrived early to recognize and appreciate the moment.
‘I got a nice greeting,’ Wells said. ‘Players like to have support, and when you’re a hometown guy, that makes it that much more special. At some stadiums if you’re having a bad year, they’ll boo you. We like it when fans support us.’
There has never really been a month in San Diego baseball, especially with post-season anticipation, like the one that we’re about to see unfold before us now that the Padres have completed a September acquisition of Wells from the Boston Red Sox.
Wells, the 43-year-old lefty from Point Loma High, has been brought home to provide his hometown team with a boost it needs to defend its National League West title or advance to the playoffs as a wild-card entry.
He responded like the gamer that he has been throughout his 20 seasons in the big leagues, allowing only one run in six strong innings before handing over the game to the Padres’ deep bullpen.
‘I support San Diego 100 percent in every sport,’ Wells said. ‘To come home and be a part of a pennant race is a childhood dream. I remember going to all those Padres games as a kid and watching. Many of those years they weren’t successful, except for 1984, and I was here for ’84 and enjoyed every minute of it. I said then I’d love to be in that situation (with the Padres). I didn’t know it would be at age 43, but better late than never, I guess.’
Wells, who led Point Loma to a CIF San Diego Section title as a senior in 1982, is old enough that he’s from a generation of homegrown San Diego talent that looked upon the Padres with amusement.
When Dick Serrano, the retired legendary University High baseball coach, was coaching his team during a period of Padres’ futility in 1979, he barked at his players, ‘You’re playing like the Padres!’
The irony, of course, is big-league managers scold their players by saying they’re playing like a high school team.
Kids from Wells’ era didn’t grow up dreaming of playing for the Padres in their mustard-and-brown softball uniforms the way they do now in the Friars’ classy big-league threads and downtown crib. Kids went to the games, sure, but it was hard to picture the Padres in the World Series.
Alan Trammell, a Kearny High alumnus, once came home to San Diego for the 1984 World Series. But that was in a Detroit Tigers uniform when the Tigers beat the Padres 4 games to 1 and he was named the World Series MVP.
Heck, Wells himself came home to San Diego for the 1998 World Series wearing the uniform of his boyhood heroes, the New York Yankees. The boys of pinstripes swept the Padres with Wells’ help.
But in September, 2006, the Padres are a franchise with a sense of history, thanks to owner John Moores. He has presided over three National League West championship teams in 10 seasons.
He has built his own tradition and unearthed memorable moments and figures shoveled over in the past. Randy Jones, the 1976 Cy Young Award winner, is an accessible Padres icon beyond the retired No. 35 figure atop the Petco Park scoreboard with his ballpark barbecue and his Padres pregame radio work on Mighty XX.
Dave Winfield, the original Padres superstar and charitable athlete, was brought back home as a vice-president and Hall-of-Famer in Cooperstown.
With the Winfield and Jones retired numbers atop the scoreboard, Tony Gwynn’s No. 19 isn’t a lonely figure up there it otherwise would be next to the No. 6 for Steve Garvey and the No. 42 for Jackie Robinson.
The Padres hope Wells can pitch the way he did down the stretch last year in Boston to help the Red Sox, then the defending world champions, salvage a wild-card berth. Wells won his final three games, six of his last seven decisions and was 9-2 after the All-Star break.
‘When you’re in middle of pennant race, what a lot of guys don’t understand is this is fun,’ Wells said. ‘It’s up for grabs and you’ve got to grind every day. For the young guys, they need to put this in the archives so they know what it’s like later in their career. This is where you show what you’re made of.’
For the Red Sox, a wild-card berth was a step back last year, but in San Diego a wild-card berth in 2006 would mean the first back-to-back playoff trips in team history. Should the Padres earn some October dates, Wells is 10-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 26 playoff and World Series appearances.
‘He showed these guys (Sunday) the way he approaches the game and pitches and that’s going to help,’ manager Bruce Bochy said of his younger players. ‘He’s been there many times, and he’s not afraid to be a hero, which is what makes him so good.’
An 18-year-old David Wells dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees, but the 43-year-old Wells of today is happy to be here, hoping to help his hometown team add to its post-season history.
‘It would be a great feeling and a great honor to go forth into the post-season and try to get to the big show,’ Wells said. ‘That’s what it’s all about.’