Since the Manny Machado news broke Tuesday, Padres players have had the wide eyes and giddy hop-steps of kids told on Christmas Eve that Santa and his reindeer were spotted flying low over the rooftops.
And these Padres kids are ready to become men.
This rite of passage has been long envisioned inside the organization, and the anticipation is that Manny Machado’s presence will accelerate its implementation.
“We need a little fire in the clubhouse,” outfielder Travis Jankowski said.
And on the field, where losses have piled up and the Padres feel they have too often gone down meekly.
“We could use some edge and start bullying some people around — as we’ve been bullied for a long time,” Austin Hedges said. “… You can feel it when you face teams that have an edge. We haven’t had it, but I think now we just might.”
What the Padres acknowledge they might have characterized as “dirty” before this week is viewed as “edge” now. Pure blood-pumping edge.
This altered view is not a surprise. Happens all the time.
Machado is among the game’s best players and its most controversial — the kind of player that, in Jankowski’s words, “you hate playing against but you absolutely love him when he’s on your team. A lot of great players are like that.”
The Padres not only have been absent a great player for a long time, they haven’t had the kind of player at which the Red Sox throw six pitches in a week.
Truth be told, the Padres have known for a couple years that they are too nice.
That they have lost a bunch of games is mostly because they’ve lacked enough talent. But it is something else they felt they lacked that would make it difficult to stop the losing.
On the topic of Machado coming in with a reputation in the minds of some for being a dirty player, one uniformed member of the organization said, “We needed a little more ‘(expletive) you’ on the team. The whole vibe of San Diego, laid back. When is the last time we had a little of that ‘(expletive) you’ on the team?”
The acquisition of Eric Hosmer last spring, which Padres brass acknowledged came at least a year before they expected to be truly competitive, was about a World Series champion and natural leader helping lay the foundation of a winning culture.
Signing 13-year veteran Ian Kinsler this offseason was as much about allowing his intensity to seep into the fabric of the clubhouse and blood flow of his new young teammates as it was acquiring his still-Gold Glove at second base.
In his strongest comments to date on the topic, even as he continued to dodge questions about the then-still-not-officially signed Machado, manager Andy Green on Thursday addressed what was clearly a question about Machado’s perceived style of play.
“Everybody sees the game a little differently,” Green said. “We’re going to play with edge. If people look at us and think we play dirty because we play with edge, I really don’t care. We need more edge in the clubhouse. We brought it in. We brought in Ian Kinsler this year. That doesn’t mean he’s a dirty player. He just plays with edge. He plays with intensity. I think our team can really grow from having more edge on the baseball field.”
Kinsler and Hosmer are the only Padres players with World Series rings. Between them and Machado, they have six World Series appearances between them.
And yes, Hosmer agreed, having an intensity that some might deem a bad attitude is requisite.
He often recalls for teammates facets of the growing process for the Royals, as they grew from a young, perennial also-ran to a team that won the second of its two successive World Series appearances. Among his recollections was that they weren’t the most popular team.
“A lot of teams didn’t like how the Royals handled their business,” he said. “But we’re trying to make a statement we’re here and we’re for real.”
Hosmer, like Machado, is from the Miami area and has known Machado for more than a decade. As he did to Padres management when they sought his feedback, Hosmer has defended Machado this week when asked about the “dirty” label.
Hosmer has explained the passion with which players from Miami tend to play and suggested there might be back stories to some of the incidents in which Machado has been singled out.
The list of ways Machado has upset the sensibilities of fans and opponents includes his clipping the foot of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the NLCS in October, several aggressive slides into second base, a shouting match with Josh Donaldson after the then-Oakland third baseman tagged him and multiple bench-clearing brawls after Machado was thrown at and/or hit by a pitch.
Asked Friday at his introductory press conference what type of player he was, Machado said: “I’m a winner. I’m a gamer. I like to play the game. Since I was a little boy, that’s all I’ve done. I love every time I put on the uniform and go out on the field. … Just go out there and have fun. Have a smile on my face every day. That will be there.”
And right behind him, no matter what, will be his new teammates.
“He’s a Padre now,” Hedges said. “And whatever he ends up doing, if it pisses off the other team, we’ve got his back.”