As the Padres close in on hiring a general manager, echoes of their present and of their past made a strong showing in Cooperstown on Induction Weekend.
First, the hard news: The Padres are expected to finalize their GM decision by the middle of next week, and sources say A.J. Preller, the assistant GM to Jon Daniels in Texas, has emerged as the favorite (with Billy Eppler, the Yankees’ assistant GM, running second).
Preller is described by those in the Rangers’ organization as a maniacal worker who is on the clock 24/7, and his imprint on Texas’ international scouting has been especially notable. The Rangers have a very strong farm system and an exceptional record in the international market, and Preller’s fingerprints are all over the acquisitions of everyone from Jurickson Profar to ace Yu Darvish.
For all who have watched the Padres take an oh-fer in international player development for what seems like every day since Carmelo Martinez’s departure, this could be the sort of rally-starting development as a batch of Tony Gwynn base knocks through the 5.5 hole.
Which brings me to Sunday, and Cooperstown.
Padres fans will be pleased to know that the Hall of Fame wasted no time in honoring Gwynn during Sunday’s ceremony. Right after the introduction of all of the Hall of Famers and some opening remarks, and well before the inductions of Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, Tony La Russa, Frank Thomas and Joe Torre, Board Chair Jane Forbes Clark launched into a touching tribute to Gwynn and Ralph Kiner, another Hall of Famer who passed during the year.
"Tony played all 20 of his years in a Padres uniform, and he was so adored," Clark said. "Fans referred to him as Mr. Padre."
She then asked for a moment of silence, "in honor of two of our baseball legends who we will miss very, very much."
The night before, at a private reception in the Museum for Hall of Famers, their families and other invited guests, Alicia Gwynn sparkled in an electric blue dress, with daughter Anisha, her husband and their child at her side.
It is one more classy touch in Cooperstown, how once you are welcomed into the "Hall of Fame family", as they refer to it, you are always welcome. And that extends to everyone. Gary Carter’s widow, Sandy, was warmly greeted throughout the weekend at the beautiful Otesaga Resort Hotel as well.
Meanwhile, just outside of the plaque room were large displays featuring the six new Hall of Famers. Prominent in the Maddux case was the No. 30 Padres jersey he was wearing on the night of his 350th win in May, 2008.
Jul 26, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Greg Maddux display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with his No. 30 Padres jersey seen on the left.
His time with the Padres was brief, just a season-and-a-half or so, a blink of an eye. But if you close those eyes and think back, what a treat it was to have him in Petco Park for even that long. On the nights he pitched, it was absolutely worth postponing that movie date, or skipping whatever other plans you had, to watch him pitch.
Granted, a legend like Maddux does not come around often. But seeing his Padres jersey in Cooperstown, it was one more reminder of where the club is today: Some way, somehow, they have got to acquire even one player who makes you snap to attention and want to rearrange plans to go to the ballpark.
Though Maddux signed with the Padres in 2007, already ticketed for the Hall of Fame, there was something else key that occurred during his 60 starts for San Diego, something he referenced in his speech.
… I learned more about throwing a changeup a better way from Darren Balsley. That was 24 years after first learning from Rick Kranitz.
Greg Maddux on his time with the Padres and pitching coach Darren Balsley
"At the end, I spent time with the Dodgers and the Padres and was treated great in both places," he said. "I love the California weather and being closer to Vegas [his home]. I enjoyed playing for both Joe Torre and Buddy Black, two great managers, and I learned more about throwing a changeup a better way from Darren Balsley. That was 24 years after first learning from Rick Kranitz."
Think about that for a minute. Those in the industry understand what more people in San Diego should: The Padres have a treasure in pitching coach Darren Balsley. He is quiet and stays out of the spotlight, but he is one of the very best in the game. For Maddux to arrive in San Diego at the age of 41, already ranking with the all-time pitching elite, and to still pick up something from Balsley? Wow.
"Just goes to show you that no matter how old you are, you’re still looking to get better," Maddux continued.
It was a great moment in a terrific speech: Who among us couldn’t improve ourselves in any aspect of our lives by not following those words?
"Billy Connors asked me a question one day," Maddux said of one of his first minor-league pitching coaches. "He asked, ‘Do you ever wonder how good you can be?’ Of course, I said no. And he said, ‘Why don’t you go out there and try to find out?’
"I’ve been trying to find the answer to that question every day since."
Again, a great lesson that extends far beyond baseball.
If you’ve never visited Cooperstown, it is every bit the magical step backwards into time that you’ve heard about. And who knows, if they hit it right with the new GM hire, maybe sometime in the near future the Padres again will develop someone who will follow Gwynn’s trail all the way to the Hall of Fame.
Longtime national baseball columnist Scott Miller is a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottMillerBbl.