Padres hope Fernando Tatis Jr. brings energy, maturity when PED ban ends

Omar Ornelas/El Paso Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

SAN DIEGO — El Niño is coming.

It could be quite the storm.

In Arizona, Fernando Tatis Jr. will be announced as the leadoff hitter for the San Diego Padres and settle into a big league batter’s box for the first time since the last game of the 2021 season.

One of baseball’s most electrifying players will return from an 80-game PED suspension that shocked and angered his teammates and an entire fan base – and tempered his status as one of the sport’s most prominent and likable stars. If a jaw-dropping power display during a rehab stint at Triple-A El Paso is any indication, the Padres will be getting back the player who was an All-Star at shortstop in 2021, when he led the NL with 42 homers.

Perhaps equally important is the energy and swagger the 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic brings every time he steps on the field, whether it’s hitting tape-measure home runs and then dancing in the dugout, or baserunning exploits that sometimes defy physics.

With his troublesome left shoulder surgically repaired during his suspension, Tatis will play right field and could be the spark the Padres desperately need to overcome a slow start for a lineup that includes fellow superstars Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts, and has baseball’s third-highest payroll.

“It’s big, man,” said Bogaerts, who took Tatis’ spot at shortstop when he signed a 11-year, $280 million free agent contract in December. “Time heals a lot. What I’ve seen so far is someone who wants to come in and show everyone that he’s still the real deal and what he did was a mistake and he wants to show that he’s matured from that.”

Tatis’ maturity has been under a microscope since the then-22-year-old signed a 14-year, $330 million contract prior to the 2021 season, starting with an unusual scene that September when Machado screamed at Tatis that “it’s not about you!” during a dugout confrontation. He broke his left wrist the next offseason – reportedly in a motorcycle accident in his native Dominican Republic. He was on the cusp of returning from that when his PED suspension was announced on Aug. 12. He blamed his positive test on a cream he said he used for ringworm.

He ended up missing all of San Diego’s season, including a stirring run to the NL Championship Series.

Right-hander Joe Musgrove was one of the team leaders who called out Tatis at the time. Musgrove made a rehab start for El Paso last week and said Tatis “looks great. He’s anxious. His energy is really high, he’s being a good teammate down there, he’s engaged, all the things that you want to see from him.

“I know he’s extremely excited to get back and especially with us not coming out of the gates as hot as everyone might have expected, I know he’s itching to get back in there and try to make a difference.”

Tatis sent ripples through baseball when he hit three home runs and had eight RBIs while going 5 for 6 for El Paso. He was 17 of 33 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in eight rehab games, slashing .515/.590/1.212.

“For me personally, I’ve been waiting for this Tatis thing for a while,” said second-year manager Bob Melvin. “I’m really looking forward to that. I want to write his name in the lineup card and he wants to get back in the lineup, so it’s exciting.”

Melvin said he learned during spring training that Tatis absolutely belongs in the leadoff spot.

“He’s the type of guy who takes pressure off other guys. He’s a bright-lights guy,” the manager said. “There’s just an energy he brings. I hit him in different spots and then the first day he led off, it was like, there was just something different about it. I can’t explain it.”

Tatis grew up in the game at the feet of his father, who played 11 seasons in the big leagues, and his nickname, “El Niño,” means “little boy” in Spanish. It’s also the name of a weather pattern that brings rain. Tatis was back at Petco Park, raining long batting practice home runs from left field to straightaway center.

Tatis and his teammates know the superstar will be heckled.

Early in Tatis’ rehab stint, San Francisco Giants minor leaguer Kade McClure called him a “cheater” on Twitter after allowing a mammoth home run to the suspended player.

At FanFest in February, Tatis said he has already dealt with negative fan reaction on the road during his career “and I’m definitely looking forward to that challenge” in what he said would be both a fun and emotional season.

DH Nelson Cruz, 42, a fellow Dominican, has known Tatis since he was a kid. Cruz was suspended 50 games in August 2013 for his connection to the Biogenesis case and knows what Tatis will face.

“We’re here to support him, we’re here to embrace him, we’re going to show our love and we’re going to be behind him no matter what happens,” Cruz said.

Corey Stewart, a Padres fan for 40 years, said he was “shocked and furious” when Tatis was suspended, but has since forgiven the star, which is the overwhelming sentiment in San Diego. “All I want is a ring. I want a World Series and having him back and him being the exciting and insane player he is, will help them get that,” said Stewart, 52.

Owner Peter Seidler made a quick trip to Sacramento during Tatis’ rehab stint to have lunch with El Niño and watch him play. Seidler will be in Phoenix.

During spring training, Seidler said he expects “greatness” from Tatis. “I think his trajectory is really positive. I believe in the young man, period. He’s going to be, I think, an even better version of himself. It’s going to be fun.”

Bogaerts is looking forward to sharing in Tatis’ vibe.

“Give me some. Especially on days that you don’t feel good, I’ll be like, ’Ignite me!” the shortstop said with a smile

MLB, WNBA postpone games due to smoke from Canadian wildfires

mlb canadian wildfires
1 Comment

NEW YORK — With the stench of smoke permeating Yankee Stadium and wafting through its walkways, Major League Baseball postponed games in New York and Philadelphia on Wednesday night because of poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires.

A National Women’s Soccer League game in New Jersey and an indoor WNBA game set for Brooklyn were also called off Wednesday amid hazy conditions that have raised alarms from health authorities.

The New York Yankees’ game against the Chicago White Sox was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader starting at 4:05 p.m. on Thursday, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ game against the Detroit Tigers was reset for 6:05 p.m. on Thursday, originally a day off for both teams.

“These postponements were determined following conversations throughout the day with medical and weather experts and all of the impacted clubs regarding clearly hazardous air quality conditions in both cities,” MLB said in a statement.

The National Weather Service issued an air quality alert for New York City, saying: “the New York State Department of Health recommends that individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects.” In Philadelphia, the NWS issued a Code Red.

The Yankees and White Sox played through a lesser haze on Tuesday night. A day later, stadium workers and fans arriving early to the ballpark wore face masks for protection in a scene reminiscent of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was business as usual for me coming in. I got in around 12, 12:30, and didn’t really think too much of it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I actually walked outside about 2 o’clock and was like – like everyone else, like – whoa.”

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol thought MLB made the right decision postponing the game.

“These are health issues, right? So this has got to be it. We’ve been through everything – snow, rain, hail. I don’t think I’ve been through something like this,” he said. “Today at one point, it was pretty bad out there. We walked out of the dugout and it was kind of orange. They did the right thing. They got all the information.

“I’m assuming if Major League Baseball is comfortable setting up a doubleheader tomorrow, they have some type of information that it should be better than what it is today, or at least safe.”

In Philadelphia, the Phillies beat the Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday night in a game played in hazy conditions with the smell of smoke in the air. Afterward, manager Rob Thomson and his Phillies players said the conditions didn’t affect them.

About a half-hour before Wednesday’s postponement, Thomson said he thought the game would be played. But the Philadelphia skyline could not be seen from the ballpark in the afternoon, and the smoky smell remained.

Minor league teams nearby also changed plans. The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, and the Mets’ top farm club in Syracuse, New York, postponed their games for the second consecutive night.

The Mets’ High-A affiliate in Brooklyn completed a game Wednesday against Greenville that began at 11 a.m.

The WNBA called off a game between the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty, saying the decision was made to “protect the health and safety of our fans, teams and community.” A makeup date wasn’t immediately announced.

Even inside Barclays Center at the morning shootaround, reporters could smell smoke in the arena.

The NWSL postponed Orlando’s match at Gotham in Harrison, New Jersey, from Wednesday night to Aug. 9.

“The match could not be safely conducted based on the projected air quality index,” the NWSL said.

At nearby Belmont Park, the New York Racing Association said training went on as planned Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s Triple Crown horse race. However, NYRA canceled training Thursday morning at Belmont and Saratoga Race Course upstate “due to poor air quality conditions forecast to impact New York State overnight and into Thursday morning.”

NYRA said a decision about Thursday’s live racing program, scheduled to begin at 3:05 p.m., will be made Thursday morning “following a review of the air quality conditions and forecast.”

“NYRA utilizes external weather services and advanced on-site equipment to monitor weather conditions and air quality in and around Belmont Park,” spokesman Patrick McKenna said Wednesday. “Training was conducted normally today, and NYRA will continue to assess the overall environment to ensure the safety of training and racing throughout the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.”

New York’s NFL teams, the Giants and Jets, both had Wednesday off from offseason workouts. The Giants had been planning to practice inside Thursday, and the Jets said they are also likely to work out indoors Thursday.

Youth sports in the area were also affected, with parents quick to voice concern about their children’s safety outdoors.

In a statement Wednesday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said schools should understand that all schedules were subject to change.

“NJSIAA is closely monitoring air quality data across New Jersey and local/state health advisories. As start times for athletic events draw near, we will make decisions for each venue and sport based on currently available information,” the organization said.

It’s not the first time in recent years that wildfires forced changes to the MLB schedule. A two-game series in Seattle between the Mariners and Giants was moved to San Francisco in September 2020 because of poor air quality caused by West Coast wildfires.

About an hour after Wednesday night’s game at Yankee Stadium was postponed, two fans visiting on vacation from Vancouver, British Columbia, were still lingering outside the ballpark.

“It’s just circumstances. What do I say? It makes me disappointed because this is one of the highlights of the trip,” said Malcolm, who was in town with his daughter and didn’t want to give his last name.

“I have a heart condition. That’s the only reason I’m wearing two masks and whatever. And my personal thought is that, why wasn’t it canceled two days ago? Because we knew about all this two days ago. But having said that, I don’t want the players running around and putting out in this, too. It can’t be good for them.”