Matt Kemp cleared his throat and everyone beat a path to his locker.
The Padres’ new slugger was arranging his camp gear at Peoria. But first came banter with the media, and one guy going rogue.
“Hey Matt, what kind of year do you think you’ll have?’’ he said, thrusting his recorder over the scrum.
His mug with the beard and voice were familiar. But what outlet is he with again?
Kemp smiled and laughed and so did teammate James Shields.
Shields exited but not before revealing what makes him special.
The Padres’ fresh ace isn’t wasting time working the room, building connections and forming a bond that he hopes last, well, until October.
It was a Padres team built on the fly by general manager A.J. Presser and now we’ll see if it sticks.
“We got a long way to go here in spring training,’’ said Shields, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “But I like our team and the moves A.J. did this offseason. It’s going to be a good squad, I think.’’
Not much to ponder, is there?
The outfield was reworked with Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Kemp. Plus there’s catcher Derek Norris, an all-star last year.
Shields leads a staff which already showed two pitchers, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, that could lead a rotation.
“The one thing we do have is pitching depth,’’ said Shields, who was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA last year. “You can never have too much. I don’t remember one season I played in where all five of the starters pitched the whole entire season, so you got to have pitching depth. I’m excited to see what we have.’’
So let’s get these pesky spring drills done and it’s straight to the Fall Classic, right?
The Padres are spouting all the right things after management did all the right things. But that, and $3, will get you a pricey cup of Joe.
“It doesn’t matter if a team says they’re all in or not,’’ Shields said. “I’m all in every year and guys are saying that here.’’
Talk is one thing, but Shields, in his short exposure to his teammates, is encouraged.
“We got guys that are hungry, that want to win and are working real hard to get there,’’ he said. “But we’ll see how it goes, how spring training goes and building some chemistry here.’’
This chemistry doesn’t require beakers and white lab coats.
Few athletes spend more time together than baseball players — 162 games in 181 days and that doesn’t include six weeks of spring tune-ups.
Shields believes how well a team performs on the field is related to how it gets along off it.
“Everybody has their own opinion,’’ said Shields, an eight-year pro whose been in two World Series. “I think any baseball player of any kind, or someone who has been a baseball player, knows that chemistry is a big intangible.’’
It seems money can’t buy you love, friendship or pennants.
“You can have the biggest payroll in the world and it doesn’t matter,’’ Shields stressed. “I remember when the Yankees had a $200-million payroll and we had a $40-million payroll in Tampa and we went to playoffs and they didn’t.’’
The Padres long for the postseason. But just because Preller went all swap-meet crazy during the winter guarantees absolutely nothing. Shields said there’s more to it than assembling players with impressive resumes.
“I think chemistry has a lot to do with it,’’ he said. “Obviously you have to have talent, no doubt about that. But you have to click together and play as a team.’’
While the season is a grind, don’t forget to grin.
“Since we grew up playing baseball in Little League it was all about having fun,’’ Shields said. “And that is what we’re going to have to do this year.’’
It’s a season that can’t start soon enough. But this spring Shields is bent on building camaraderie as much as arm strength.
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports and at mighty1090.com.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports