Hosting day for kids has special meaning for Alonso
Youth from local Boys & Girls Club get clinic, lunch at Petco Park
Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso didn't want Wednesday to end.
Alonso gave most of his day to a group of about 25 to 30 from the 4S Ranch branch of the Greater San Diego Boys & Girls Club, whom he hosted at Petco Park for a baseball clinic, lunch and a stadium tour. It reminded Alonso of his youth. His family moved from Cuba to the Miami area when he was 10, and the Boys & Girls Club visits from Major Leaguers such as Rey Ordonez, Luis Castillo, Alex Rodriguez, Marco Scutaro and Derek Jeter were some of his fondest memories.
"It definitely brought back memories to my days growing up, and it gave me an understanding of what it takes not only to be a role model but to really understand that you can do a lot and give a lot when you're hanging out for four or five hours," Alonso said by phone after the event. "It was a fun day.
"The best part for me is just hanging out with the kids. They're mostly kids like myself that didn't have a lot of opportunities. For me it was giving back. How many kids get to go to a Major League Baseball field and hang out with a player, get to know him a little bit? It's an easy thing to do and we had a great time."
Alonso brought the children to the field for exercises and throwing and took them to the batting cage for some hitting, in addition to providing meals and the tour.
Even that wasn't enough time for Alonso, who turns 27 on April 8 and is heading into his third season as the Padres' primary first baseman.
Last season, Alonso suffered a debilitating right hand injury and didn't have an at-bat after Aug. 30. He made appearances on Sept. 28 and 29 but just as a pinch-runner. But Alonso said Wednesday he was cleared two or three weeks ago to begin training for 2014. So after the children had left, Alonso stayed at Petco Park for a weight-room workout.
Alonso said the hand feels "100 percent." He has been taking dry swings (not hitting a baseball) and should begin his hitting program "in the next week or so."
Alonso's was one of many injuries that scuttled a promising Padres season. The Padres were one game out of first place in the National League West on June 17 and 2 1/2 games out on June 28, but a depleted roster finished in third place, 16 games behind the champion Dodgers. Alonso had solid numbers -- a .281 batting average and .341 on-base percentage, with six home runs and 45 RBIs in 375 plate appearances over 97 games.
But with outfielder Carlos Quentin expected to be ready in Spring Training after knee surgery, center fielder Cameron Maybin back from knee and hand injuries, catcher Yasmani Grandal due back from knee surgery at some point, and the Padres having signed pitcher Josh Johnson and traded for outfielder Seth Smith, Alonso is ready to put an unlucky '13 in the past.
"We had a lot of opportunity last year, but those are the things that we got better from," Alonso said. "It's a new year. We can be a very good team that's definitely going to be explosive and fun. I'm very happy to be healthy, and I can't wait for Spring Training to start."