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Jay Paris: Padres pack expectations for spring trip

After four years of heading south, is it really due east to spring training?

The Padres arrive in Arizona this week and four words come to mind when seeing them: Is that a mirage?

Dadgumit if the Padres don’t have proven major leaguers, depth in the rotation and a belief outside of Peoria that something special is brewing.

Now all manager Bud Black has to do is find some rope and yell, “ready, set, pull.’’

Getting those fresh faces on board is among Black’s biggest goals.

“You got to play together and you got to play for each other,’’ Black said.

Black used that line when talking recently to the San Dieguito Academy boys basketball team. But really, he was giving it a test drive for the Padres’ first team meeting.

It’s one thing to assemble talent. But getting players to perform as one isn’t as easy as getting sun in the desert.

But we’ll let the Padres shine and how long as it been since we wrote that?

It’s been four straight seasons of under .500 baseball and last summer was the ultimate bummer as the Padres couldn’t hit a lick.

Not only were they bad, they were boring and just how did the Padres get in such a pickle?

Easy — low payrolls, shoddy drafts and a minor-league system that spits out average instead of spectacular.

That changed in December, and where will the team put the A.J. Preller statue?

OK, that’s a stretch, but not if talking to patient Padres fans. This dedicated bunch, which usually rolls their eyes this time of year, now bats them toward Preller.

And why not?

He’s resurrected a franchise and he didn’t even use jumper cables.

He revamped a shoddy outfield by bringing in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers.

He kept pitcher James Shields’ commute from Rancho Santa Fe to within a half hour — well, the I-5/I-805 merge willing.

In Preller we trust and why wouldn’t you?

He just moved near Encinitas’ Moonlight Beach but it’s his shedding of light on the Padres that is keen.

But Black knows pennants aren’t won in the offseason. And if money were the solution, the Yankees would have many more than 27 championships.

Just ask last year’s Dodgers about buying their way into the World Series.

A roster is just that, with various parts seeking the right fit.

Mr. Black, have at it.

That Black enters his ninth season without a promise for a 10th is worth mentioning.

But Black knows the deal: win and get welcomed back — fall flat and don’t let the clubhouse door hit your backside.

Baseball being baseball, there are no guarantees. And there are enough Padres red flags flapping the Valley of the Sun breeze to get noticed.

+ Can Myers cover center field, in particular, and overall, the outfield defense isn’t of the Gold Glove variety.

+ Bating leadoff is…? Dave Roberts is the best option, but he’s the bench coach. Finding someone to get things going — Yangervis Solarte, maybe? — is on Black’s to-do list.

+ Shortstop? That question stands tall with the smallest Padre, Alexi Amarista, asked to play big. Can the Ninja Warrior last 162 games?

There are more mysteries — what of Carlos Quentin, Will Venable and Cameron Maybin? — which include determining the No. 5 starter and filling bullpen roles.

But that’s what spring is for, and this one, brings a welcoming sight for the Friar faithful.

After years of chasing mirages, the Padres seem real.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports and at