By John Philip Wyllie
For Padres fans it was a night to cheer on their heroes at Petco Park after a long, six- month hiatus. For the young, Aztec players it was a rare opportunity to get a taste of Major League baseball. And for Padres veterans such as newly acquired pitcher, Dennys Reyes, it was perhaps a final opportunity to impress his new coaches before the 2005 season begins in earnest.
A crowd of 15,077 turned out Wednesday night to witness what has become a great tradition in America’s Finest City, the San Diego Padres-San Diego State Aztecs exhibition baseball game. And while the left field scoreboard read Padres 6 Aztecs 0 this was clearly a night in which both teams won.
The Mexican-born Reyes, a left-hander acquired in the off-season from the Kansas City Royals did nothing to hurt his chances of gaining the still unsettled fifth starter’s role when he came on in relief of starter Woody Williams in the sixth inning. He retired the side in order and demonstrated a nifty pick-off move to nail the Aztecs Kasey Perry at first base.
“This was just like any other game for us. We are just trying to get ready for the season. That was our main focus,” Reyes said. While he has been occasionally mentioned as a contender for the fifth starter’s job, Reyes seems agreeable for whatever role the Padres have in store for him.
“One of the things that I love to do is to pitch,” Reyes said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be both a starter and a reliever, but I am here to do my best for the team. Whatever they need me to do, I will do it. If they want me to start, I will start and if they want me in the bullpen, I’ll do that. I’m comfortable doing either.”
Reyes is thrilled to be a part of the pennant-contending Padres after enduring a 58-104 season with the cellar-dwelling Royals in 2004.
“There is a lot of difference (in the atmosphere here compared to that in Kansas City),” Reyes said. “This is a winning team. We have got some really good players and people here. There is a lot of harmony on this team and every time we go out on to the field we try to win.”
Another major difference is in the number of Hispanic fans that will come out to see Reyes play.
“I was surprised to find a lot of Mexicans living in Kansas City, but it is nothing compared to the number here in San Diego. There are a lot of people from my town (Higuera de Zaragoza ) living in Tijuana. I know that they can’t wait to come out and see some games, so I am excited about that.”
The large Hispanic market here will no doubt place Reyes and former Mexican League teammate Miguel Ojeda in constant demand as the team further develops its fan base south of the border. Both players will be part of a small April 1 entourage visiting Tijuana’s Hospital Infantil from 11:30 to 1:00 p.m. The players are scheduled to sign autographs there and visit with the patients. It will mark the first of what will no doubt be many such promotional visits for Reyes.
“Whatever I can do in the community, I will do,” he said.