03/25/12 5:38 PM ET
Kotsay leading by example in Padres' clubhouse
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
With bat in hand, the 24-year-old Alonso, a promising first baseman short on Major League service time, plopped himself down on a stool next to Kotsay, who is neither short on years (36 of them) or big league experience (15 years and counting).
For 10 minutes, Alonso and Kotsay -- who were strangers only a month ago when camp opened -- talked baseball, talked hitting and who knows what else. From across the room, it appeared Kotsay did most of the chatting, with Alonso seemingly hanging on his every word.
"I've already told him I'm going to be his shadow," Alonso said later. "I can lean on him because he is a left-handed hitter and he knows the league and he can help with my approach against a guy like this or that.
"He's someone who will come up to me and not beat around the bush -- but actually go into the bush."
Kotsay, an outfielder who broke into the big leagues in 1997 and is now on his second tour of duty with the Padres, was the first move general manager Josh Byrnes made during a frenzied offseason.
And while he might not have been the sexiest move of the winter, Kotsay might very well end up being one of the most important additions to the team for 2012.
"Put it this way, I talked to [Brewers manager] Ron Roenicke in the winter. He called me the second he heard that Kotsay signed and goes, 'Man, that was quick.' I said we were on him," Padres manager Bud Black said.
"He [Roenicke] said they wanted him back and that he was 'Great for us, clubhouse, played well ... you are going to love him.'"
Make no mistake, the Padres didn't sign Kotsay to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million so that he can stand atop a table in the Padres clubhouse, far away from the eyes of reporters, beat his chest and say, "Do as I do."
That's not the kind of leader Kotsay is. That's not how he was taught. That's not who he is.
"Watching him ... he's doing what I heard he can do," Black said. "He's a great personality and he knows the game. He talks the game. Guys do gravitate to him because of the personality. And what he says has substance to it. What he says ... the players get."
Take Alonso, who is in his first camp with the team this spring. He will likely start on Opening Day, though he's nowhere near a finished product. He doesn't have much of a database of opposing pitchers to work on, either.
Enter Kotsay, who has just about seen and done it all during a career that has seen him play for seven different teams, including three that advanced to the postseason.
"I watched a lot of guys over my career and when guys struggle, it's sometimes better to hear it from a player instead of a coach or manager because you know what they're going through," Kotsay said. "We all try to figure things out on our own, but it's good if you can see something and offer advice."
Kotsay doesn't have to think too far back to remember when veteran players did the same for him. He talks about his first season in the big leagues, a 14-game stint with the Marlins in 1997, the same team that went on to win the World Series.
"I remember my first camp and my locker was next to Jim Eisenreich," Kotsay said. "A left-handed hitter and one of the top pinch-hitters in the game. He was a guy I talked to as a rookie about how to go about the process. There were other guys I learned from, watching their work ethic -- Jeff Conine, Bobby Bonilla. It was mainly paying attention to how they went about the process."
In addition to providing a left-handed bat off the bench and possibly seeing time in the outfield or even first base, Kotsay's role with this team is to lead by example. This is certainly a far different role that he steps into than when he first joined the Padres in 2001 after being traded from the Marlins.
"My first go with the Padres, I was thrown into a mix of veteran guys, free agent guys," he said. "So it's nice to be part of something from the beginning.
"It's definitely nice to end up back here. I have always felt like San Diego was home. I am thrilled to be back here and be a part of this. I believe in this organization and the direction it's going with the young players."
While Kotsay would like nothing more than to help the Padres -- who lost 91 games a year ago -- climb out from the cellar of the National League West and amass a bunch of at-bats and meaningful hits in doing so, he realizes that this is the time when he can have an impact on other players.
"The respect from my peers is pretty much the only reason I play the game," Kotsay said. "It's not about personal accomplishments anymore. I would still love to win a World Series. You want to be remembered for playing the game the right way, playing it hard, giving it all you had."
To that end, and in a clubhouse full of young players like Alonso, Kotsay -- who had two hits on Sunday to raise his average to .364 -- is already leaving an indelible impression on his new teammates, and even the coaching staff, by simply being himself.
"When you look back on your career, other players aren't going to remember how many home runs he got, how many pinch-hits he got, what his lifetime batting average is," Black said. "What they are going to remember is that he was a good teammate and a good guy.
"That's a huge compliment. That's how you want to be remembered."