Juan Soto makes his San Diego Padres debut

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SAN DIEGO – Juan Soto sat on a rolling chair with the San Diego Padres logo with his leg raised high enough that Fernando Tatis Jr. could see his red and white cleats a few lockers away from his chair.

“look at these!” Soto said on Wednesday, and Tatis quipped at the combination of red and white with Soto’s fresh brown socks. Brown-and-gold cleats are expected soon. But the first day of the rest of Juan Soto’s career will be reminiscent of all those other days spent in Washington, a baseball world away,

“I never thought they would do that. I was thinking they would try to keep me and try to rebuild the team with me in it. It took me by surprise,” Soto said at the Padres’ clubhouse , because he grabbed the second cleat. New York Mets were beating up the citizens On the television hanging a few yards away. “Deep in my heart, I was thinking they wouldn’t do it.”

Soto finds himself there, joking with friend and fellow young superstar Tatis, introducing himself to fielder Ha-seong Kim with “Nice to see you” and talking Max Scherzer’s repertoire with catcher Austin Nola. , is a transformative development for the team. And the team he joined. It could prove transformative for Soto and Josh Bell as well.

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No 24 hours after boarding a private plane to San Diego Paid by the Padres, Soto and Bell find themselves sandwiching superstar Manny Machado in a competitive team’s lineup under the California sun.

“It’s a great feeling to go from a team that doesn’t have a chance to be here,” Soto said. “It’s a new beginning for me. This year, it’s just a new beginning, a new feeling of going out there and giving what I have.”

Before anyone even bothered to go there, the two were stopped through Petco Park for a social media shoot and introductory interview, sitting together General Manager AJ Preler and owner Peter Seidler.

Preller introduced Soto to the story when a Padres assistant general manager learned that the young star was hitting at Point Loma, not far away. He was there after his successful rookie season to work with the hitting coach, “while working on his craft,” Preller said. Preler recalls discovering Soto’s team when he was a teenager in the Dominican Republic—a chase that ended, he joked, with Preler rating someone else ahead of him. But Preller pointed to that January hitting session as a moment when he decided his team would do its best to get him.

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GM also joked that Bell — the slugging switch hitter with a .877 on-base-plus-slugging percentage entering Wednesday — was “not bad for a throw-in” at first. making it clear that Bell was much more than that, From then on Soto’s smile stole the afternoon. He flashed it when asked about the Padres lineup, which is still waiting for Tatis to come back from injury and Machado to warm up again.

“I wish the best of luck to the other pitchers,” said Soto with a laugh.

He flashed it again when he explained that pitcher Nick Martinez, who had worn the number 22 with the Padres until a few hours earlier, asked him for a fishing boat in exchange for the number.

“They really surprised me. I had never seen anything like this. I saw some people trying to get the number and what they had given. But when he asked me for the boat, I was really shocked and surprised. Gone,” Soto said. “I thought it was too much, but I tried to convince him that I would try to get him a really good watch and he accepted.”

After a calendar year of being the primary focus of each opponent’s game plan, the implications of Soto finding himself in this lineup could add up to more than a few smiles. their new manager, bob melvinSaid said he’s not positive in which order he’ll hit Soto, Machado and Bell – but he expected Soto and Bell to immediately feel a difference, not only because of the bats around them but because of Petco Park’s energy. Reason too.

“I’ll keep taking my walk. I will not try to be a superhero,” Soto said. “But of course it’s going to be more exciting. It’s going to be more opportunities to bring people home. I’ll have more chances to win matches.”

A person close to Soto said he was getting discouraged at times with the Nationals, worried that a disappointing first half (he was hitting .246 at trade time – about 50 points shy of his career average) was only more disappointing. Would happen if Washington traded everyone else but kept it. After the trade, he expressed excitement about the opportunity to play “real baseball” again, the person said.

Soto’s swagger never wavered at all. But here, with the talent and energy all around him, it can grow again.

“We talked about it when I was talking to these guys: They’re going to feel the excitement in this ballpark,” Melvin said. “It’s always exciting, but maybe it’s being taken to another level today. We’ll all feel it.”

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Soto has never played for a major league manager not named Dave Martinez, and he would notice that too. He admitted that saying goodbye to Martinez just before leaving the National Park on Tuesday was one of the hardest parts of a long day, beginning with waking up to a call from his agent, Scott Boras, in which he explained that This time a trade is likely. National General Manager Mike Rizzo also called him, saying nothing was official but that some work was going on. He said he was still shocked when this happened, even though Boras had explained the rationale for a deal to him, even though he had come to understand over the past few months that no one was safe from the business of baseball.

“I don’t have any hard feelings for those guys. I still love what they did for me. They’re the first team, my first team, the team that makes me a professional player,” Soto said. Told. He said, ‘He gave me a chance to get into the big league. He made me a big leaguer. I will be forever grateful for this. There is no hard feeling to all of this. ,

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Soto expects some brown-and-gold cleats to arrive soon. Meanwhile, he pounded around the clubhouse in those red and white guys, shaking hands with new teammates. At one point he stopped and, looking to his right, he saw Bell’s new locker in the clubhouse.

“JB!” He said that as he walked, he was taking a slightly more winding route to get back to his own locker, probably a week from now.

When he first ran on the grounds of Petco Park, he pointed to the fans in the stands, as he used to do in National Park. He was a little hesitant. So he did. But on four pitches in his Padres career, he was safely at first base. Five batsmen had scored one run in their Padres career. After all, to Soto, the home is a major league batsman’s box, whatever color his cleats are, as they walk through the dirt.

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