It’s the beginning of the end for San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy and the beginning of what the San Diego Padres and their long-suffering fans hope is a return to relevance behind All-Star slugger Manny Machado and hotshot rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
Bochy begins his 25th and final season as a manager — his first 12 were with the Padres — when Madison Bumgarner and the Giants face Eric Lauer and the Padres in a matchup of left-handers Thursday at sold-out Petco Park.
It’s easily the most-anticipated opening day in San Diego since the downtown ballpark opened in 2004 because of the signing of Machado to a $300 million, 10-year contract and the addition of the 20-year-old Tatis Jr., the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball, to the roster.
It’ll be special for Bochy as well. He managed the Padres from 1995 until being pushed out after the Padres’ playoff loss to St. Louis in 2006. While the Padres haven’t been back to the postseason since then, Bochy was snapped up by the Giants and managed them to three World Series titles in five seasons starting in 2010.
“I have great memories there,” said Bochy, who announced during spring training that he’ll retire after this season. “It’s ironic that that’s where I’m starting this year. I hadn’t really thought about it . but I’m sure I’ll do some reflecting there, but more importantly, we’ll focus on trying to win some ballgames. I’ve made that drive to the ballpark quite a few times, so I look forward to getting the season going. I’ll probably have some moments there and think about some great times there, and also some battles we’ve had with them.”
Bochy played for the Padres when they made it to the World Series in 1984, losing in five games to Detroit, and was their manager in the World Series in 1998, when they were swept by the New York Yankees. That 1998 season was the impetus that helped get Petco Park built.
The Padres hope to return to the World Series sooner rather than later. They showed they are serious about moving from rebuilding to contending by signing Machado early in spring training and then adding Tatis Jr., the prized prospect in what’s generally considered baseball’s top farm system, to the big league roster.
What did the Padres learn about Machado in his first month with the team?
“Good person. Good teammate,” said manager Andy Green, who’s starting his fourth season with the Padres. “Fun to be around. Easy to talk to for all his teammates, staff, everybody. Very approachable. A good person. He’s a good baseball player too, but I already knew that.”
Green spoke glowingly about Tatis Jr. even before he was added to the opening day roster.
“He’s young obviously. He’s a special talent. Incredibly athletic,” Green said. “You watch him run the bases and you see real quickly there is real power there. Comes out in bursts at time where you’re blown away by it and there are times it’s just hustle beating other teams. I think that’s been really positive. His improvement on the defensive side is the best thing for me. From where he was last year in spring training to where he is this year, if he takes one more leap like that he has a chance to be one of the absolute best in the game at that position.”
Tatis’ father, who played in the major leagues, was ecstatic when his son called him with the news of his promotion.
“It’s awesome for him,” the senior Tatis said from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, where he was making arrangements for the rest of the family to travel to San Diego for Thursday’s game. “It’s going to be great because playing right next to Manny is going to be a big help for him. I believe it’s going to be a great combination, third and short. I don’t think many balls are going to go through third base and shortstop because of their range. The left side of the infield is going to be amazing.”
Bumgarner (6-7, 3.26 ERA in 2018) is coming off a second straight injury-shortened season. Lauer was 6-7 with a 4.34 ERA in his first big league season.