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Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006 | Maybe the Padres can take a page from Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros and extend the career of San Diego’s aging-like-fine-wine hometown kid on the mound, David Wells.
The Padres, as you know, are one game from elimination in the National League Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals after dropping two games at Petco Park in the best-of-five series that resumes Saturday at Busch Stadium along the Mississippi River.
Wells, 43 years old and 24 years removed from pitching Point Loma High to a CIF San Diego Section 2A baseball title as a senior in 1982 at the Padres’ former Mission Valley stadium, did his job against the Cardinals. He pitched five innings, leaving the game for a pinch-hitter while trailing 2-0. But in reality the score should have been 1-0 since the Padres let Albert Pujols, who knocked in the first run, escape a rundown between first and second before later scoring the Cards’ second and final run.
Wells, with 230 career victories, a perfect game and a World Series championship ring to present as Hall-of-Fame credentials, has been talking about retirement all season. He reaffirmed his intentions when the Padres acquired him from the Boston Red Sox for the stretch run in September. He did his job for the Padres, too, helping the franchise win a second straight National League West title by one game over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Most baseball observers believe Wells can be easily talked into returning because he’s been coming back for so long. But it’s easier to believe he’s planning on retiring if you know his offseason plans.
He mentioned a hunting trip to Alaska in November. And there is his ranch in Michigan next door to a ranch owned by Kirk Gibson, Wells’ teammate with the Detroit Tigers who got a surfer from Ocean Beach into hunting.
But here’s the strongest evidence to believe Wells doesn’t expect to return in 2007: He plans a trip for March to Fiji. Any trip a surfer plans to Fiji in the middle of spring training isn’t going to be a short stay in the South Pacific.
Wells says unless “some stupid offer came along” he plans to retire to his new home in Rancho Santa Fe with his wife, Nina, and two sons, Brandon and Lars.
It was once considered stupid to think the Astros would allow Clemens to come out of retirement by pitching only at home so he could be with his kids as they grew up and played youth sports in the Houston area. But once the Astros extended the offer to Clemens in 2004 and it paid off with Clemens continuing to rank among the game’s best pitchers, including helping the Astros to the World Series in 2005, it wasn’t so stupid anymore.
The Astros made a third “stupid offer” in 2006 when they brought Clemens back two months after the season began. He continued to command presence as one of the best pitchers in the National League. Clemens turned 44 in August; Wells turns 44 in May.
Boomer – or “The Big Boy” as Padres ace Jake Peavy called him after Peavy’s first-game loss to the Cardinals while he spoke optimistically of the Padres bouncing back with Wells’ big-game experience in the second game – can still perform as one of baseball’s top pitchers. When the team’s ace refers to Wells as “The Big Boy,” well, his teammates still have confidence in him.
Wells is a left-hander with one of those arms you wind up like an old-fashioned watch and it works year after year. He only winds up for about six innings nowadays before running down, but in baseball today that’s all teams expect from a starter.
One of the Wells’ dreams, which dates back to watching the Padres as a kid in the 1970s and returning home from his second minor league season to watch the Tigers and Padres in the 1984 series, is to pitch for his hometown team in a championship season.
He did it for one month in 2006 for a division championship. Maybe the Padres should make him a “stupid offer” to bring him back part-time in 2007 for another championship run.