Vets, prospects eager to play in China
Padres contingent set to leave Tuesday
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For as excited as he is about going to China on Tuesday, infielder Matt Antonelli feels a little bit guilty making the trip while many of his teammates remain behind to sweat out games in Arizona.
"We're gone for almost a week and we're only playing two games," Antonelli said. "I feel kind of bad. It's almost like a vacation."
Antonelli is one of 26 San Diego Padres who will depart Phoenix on Tuesday on a flight for Beijing where the Padres will play two games against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 15-16, the first Major League games ever played in China.
"I think we're all getting excited," Padres manager Bud Black said on Sunday. "I see the guys wearing the sweatshirts and the T-shirts. Guys are talking about it. It's going to be a great experience. It will be something guys will remember.
The Padres opted not to bring any of the starting pitchers who figure prominently in their plans for 2008 -- a group that includes Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, Greg Maddux and Chris Young -- so that the travel doesn't disrupt their preparation for the regular season.
The Padres traveling contingent includes players with substantial experience in the Major Leagues (closer Trevor Hoffman), up-and-coming regulars (Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff) and a host of players who will play in the Minor Leagues in 2008.
Many players like Antonelli view the trip to China as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and welcomed their inclusion on the trip, which will include a visit to the Great Wall as well as other tourists ventures in and around Beijing.
"It's pretty cool to be part of that, especially when you look back in a few years and say that you were the first to go over there," Antonelli said. "Especially a young guy like me, I think you've got to jump at the opportunity."
The Padres will arrive in Beijing on Wednesday night and will stay four nights in the city with games coming on the final two days at Wukesong Stadium, which was built for the explicit purpose of the Olympics in August.
"I don't really know what to expect and I don't know how the trip is going to affect sleep and that," first baseman Brian Myrow said. "It's the first professional game over there and they might end up doing it for years to come and it might be an extraordinary event."
That's why Hoffman, the elder statesman of the team, was quick to volunteer to go on the trip, instead of remaining behind in Arizona.
"It's a chance to see another part of the world," said Hoffman, the Major League leader in career saves. "I've been a part of a couple first series: the one in Monterrey [Mexico] and the Paradise Series we had in Hawaii against the Cardinals.
"They are landmark events and landmark events for the organization. And I wanted to be a part of that."
A year later, the Padres played the St. Louis Cardinals in the Paradise Series in Honolulu while renovations were made to the newly renamed Qualcomm Stadium.
The roster includes pitchers Paul Abraham, Heath Bell, Ernesto Frieri, Josh Geer, Justin Germano, Hoffman, Wilton Lopez, Edwin Moreno, Cesar Ramos, Jared Wells and Mauro Zarate.
Germano will start the first game with Ramos getting the nod in the second game.
Position players include catchers Nick Hundley and Jose Lobaton, infielders Antonelli, Brett Dowdy, Kyle Blanks, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Brian Myrow, Oscar Robles, Luis Rodriguez and Craig Stansberry and outfielders Mike Baxter, Scott Hairston, Drew Macias and Will Venable.
In addition to Black, coaches Darrel Akerfelds, Randy Ready and Rick Renteria and bullpen catcher Justin Hatcher will make the trip.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.