PEORIA, Ariz. — For professional athletes, playing for the hometown team can be a special thing. It comes with the chance to play in front of family and friends in a familiar setting.
But it also opens the door to distractions such as ticket requests and obligations to entertain ballpark visitors.
Carlos Quentin isn’t concerned about those responsibilities. After being traded to his hometown San Diego Padres this winter, the slugging outfielder is embracing the homecoming and worrying little about any of the pressure that might come with it.
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“I think for any professional athlete, getting the opportunity to play in their hometown is something that they embrace and can only dream of,” Quentin said. “It’s a rare opportunity to receive, and I’m excited about it.”
Quentin has spent most of his professional offseasons in San Diego, where he starred at University of San Diego High School. He wasn’t far from home when he was coming up through the Arizona Diamondbacks system but spent the past four seasons with the Chicago White Sox, who never traveled to San Diego for interleague play during that stint.
The Padres acquired Quentin from Chicago this offseason in exchange for two pitching prospects, and the 29-year-old slugger is slated to hit cleanup this season. The righty should add some much-needed pop to a Padres offense that scored the third-fewest runs in the majors last season, though he might tally fewer home runs in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park after hitting at least 21 in each of the last four years.
Quentin said the trade to San Diego was a little jarring at first but added that relocating is just part of a professional athlete’s life. Quentin saw the trade coming, as the White Sox dipped their toes in the rebuilding waters, but it still created a bevy of questions.
“All kinds of thoughts rush into your mind,” Quentin said. “Some are trivial, you know, like ‘How am I going to get stuff out to other places?’ and whatnot. And then you think about the teammates you’ve played with for the last four years. Some are good friends.
“Then you look at other things that pop in your head. You get to be near your friends and family, you get to be in a city you love, and you get the chance to be there year-round.”
Quentin is excited that friends and family will get to watch him nightly, be it in person or on TV, but playing in front of them comes with its challenges as well. Veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay, who signed for a second turn with the Padres this offseason, is also coming home this year but still knows the distractions that can manifest.
Kotsay didn’t settle in San Diego until after the 2003 season, his last with the Padres the first time around. He had played college ball at Cal State-Fullerton, less than two hours north of San Diego, and is a native of nearby Whittier, Calif., so he’s still somewhat familiar with the hometown dynamic.
“I think it’s harder when you’re younger and early in your career to deal with the distractions of family, passes, tickets, entertaining,” Kotsay said. “When you get older, you actually learn that the word ‘no’ actually is useful and helpful.”
Those kinds of distractions might present some challenges for Quentin, but there’s one thing he’s not worried about: pressure. Some players might feel an extra burden to perform in front of hometown crowd, but Quentin said that’s not a factor for him.
“Pressure usually comes from the person themselves,” Quentin said. “I’ll focus on coming to the ballpark and doing what I need to do to be prepared to play in games.”
Kotsay had a similar sentiment.
“The only amount of pressure is whether you perform to your capabilities for your team,” Kotsay said. “If you’re trying to perform for other people, you’re obviously not playing the game for the right reasons.”
More than anything, playing at home can offer a greater comfort level. Manager Bud Black, who played two years at San Diego State, said he hasn’t talked to Quentin about the homecoming but is excited for him to get the opportunity.
“I think it’s a pretty cool thing to come back to where you were raised, where you’re from, went to high school and get to play,” Black said. “It’s a big-league team where you grew up. How can that not be cool? Ask David Freese.”
Freese, the Cardinals’ third baseman, grew up in the St. Louis area as a Cardinals fan and last season was the World Series MVP. Black also cited current Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, who thrived in 12 seasons with his hometown Detroit Tigers.
As for whether or not playing at home will help or hurt Quentin on the field, Black isn’t sure.
“I think every player is different in that regard,” Black said. “Some guys really thrive on it and embrace it. Other guys, it can be a little disrupting coming back home. But for the most part, I’ve found most guys like it, and I think it’s a benefit.”
To that end, only time will tell. Quentin believes the Padres have a good mix to compete right away if they remain focused and energetic. Some say the Padres are a year or two away. Either way, Quentin is happy to be part of it.
“I’m excited about the environment I’ll be in, and I think a lot of positive will come out of it. I love San Diego.”