A riding lawn mower had already descended upon the outfield grass on Field 3. The coaches had departed for the clubhouse more than a half-hour earlier. If Freddy Galvis noticed the dozen or so autograph-seekers drawn to the chain-link fencing along the third-base line, he didn’t let on.
He was entirely engaged.
Pivots. Footwork. Swing paths.
Whatever his audience — young Carlos Asuaje and Luis Urias — wanted was fair game for discussion even on Galvis’ second day in Padres camp.
“It started with one question,” Asuaje said, “and one thing led to another and another and another.”
It’s the sort of investment that the Padres were banking on when they swapped a minor league pitching prospect for the 28-year-old Galvis, the new anchor in the middle of the infield and one of several veterans in camp who are eager to pass on knowledge that could very well extend past their stays in San Diego.
In the last year of his contract, Galvis could become a free agent as soon as November. The same goes for returning third baseman Chase Headley, while catcher A.J. Ellis and pitchers Tyson Ross and Chris Young are in camp on minor league deals. While Job No. 1 for that group is to prepare for 2018, all have a locker in the Padres’ spring training complex because of a willingness to share what they’ve learned throughout their ascents to the majors.
“The No. 1 priority is to make the club,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “Play well. Perform. Do what you have to do to get yourself ready. On top of that, let me throw something else on your plate because I think you’re this type of individual. Go out there, and when you see stuff, be willing to help those guys.
“All of those guys are wired that way.”
Green has been inclined to invite those sorts of veterans since he was hired before the start of the 2016 season.
This year’s first base coach, Skip Schumaker, joined the Padres on a minor league deal during Green’s first spring, retired early that camp and remained in the organization as a front office assistant available to position players, from Fort Wayne all the way to San Diego. Green had an eye on that sort of impact when Clayton Richard re-joined the Padres later that summer and those type of players have become a point of emphasis when determining which veterans to add to a big league camp that’s increasingly youthful with each passing season.
It’s not all about the players, either.
Insights from someone as well-traveled as Young — who is 38 and attempting a 14th season in the majors — is as valuable to the coaching staff as it is to nearly a dozen pitching prospects in big league camp this spring for the first time.
“I was talking to Chris Young over the phone this offseason,” Green recalled. “ … I know every manager tells you the door is open. I’m going to grab you and pull you in to pull out of you what you think we should do different. He’s game for those things and appreciative of that level of respect and deference that he’s earned for what he’s done in his career.”
Green added: “We’re always of the mindset that what we do (as an organization) could get better. If we don’t model that as a coaching staff, how can you ask your players to get 1 percent better every day if you yourself say, ‘This is the way we do things. Sorry Chris Young, I’m not going to listen to your input?’
“Then you don’t get better.”
With that mindset underlining much of the organization’s blueprinting, the front office jumped at the opportunity to send pitching prospects Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi to Lafayette, Ind., this offeason when Richard extended an open-ended invitation upon signing his extension last September.
That trip was about two young left-handers seeing how an established veteran prepares for the season. Witnessing the 36-year-old Ellis’ first-guy-in, last-guy-out approach to his battle for a backup job is also as invaluable to the youngsters in camp as anything the veteran catcher might tell a young hurler about the way Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke attacked a hitter.
Like Richard, Ellis is all about leading by example, too. The conversations in between the work start by making himself an available persona in a crowded clubhouse.
“Be a sounding board; just partner with them,” Ellis said. “It’s not about anything I know. I don’t have any secret formulas or any secret messages to deliver. It’s kind of being someone they can communicate with them on a daily basis.”
Headley, now 33, was a similar beneficiary while sharing a clubhouse with Adrian Gonzalez, Brian Giles and David Eckstein — “Eckstein, more than anybody else,” he said — early in his first stint in San Diego. After playing in two postseasons over the last four years in New York, Headley’s willingness to pay forward the things he’s learned in 11 big league seasons was a prominent topic during a four-hour dinner with Green this offseason.
As far as a mentor figure, Headley is all in.
“Hopefully, some experiences, some things I’ve learned will be applicable to those guys,” Headley said. “Hopefully I can perform well, but there’s some things I can pass on because I was at their stage not too long ago.
“As you grow, you learn things and hopefully you’re able to pass those along.”
The Padres’ extensive homework tells them to expect the same things from Eric Hosmer, an investment that could cost as much as $144 million if the 28-year-old first baseman remains in San Diego for the duration of his eight-year contract.
Galvis’ situation is quite different.
He could bolt as soon as next winter. If he opts to re-sign, he could be moved off shortstop to accommodate any of the young players he’s taken under his wing early in camp.
None of it keeps Galvis from pulling 22-year-old Javier Guerra into the video room hours after arriving in camp last week. Or working overtime with Asuaje and Urias on his second day in Peoria. Or committing his expertise to top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.’s development this spring the way Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard helped bring Galvis along in Philadelphia all those years ago.
It’s the only way he knows how to be.
“You put your team first,” Galvis said. “As soon as you put your team first, everything comes easier for everybody. You have to know your teammates. You have to work with those guys. You have to try to make it easier and that’s what I’m trying to do now, trying to know my teammates and talk to those guys.”
[email protected]; Twitter: @sdutSanders