The Scoop With Bill Knight: OPENING DAY IS A TIP TOE AWAY

El Paso Chihuahuas vs the Salt Lake Bees on Opening Night at Southwest University Park, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Chihuahuas (Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

April 9, 2019 12:17 PM

Opening day is tip-toeing in, that special time, that special moment, that beginning of a season filled with joy and fun and hope.

Hope floats through ball parks all across the country.

Of course, the Major Leagues have already had their special moment, their magical moment that is opening day.

Now it is the beginning for the minor leagues and hope fills the air in parks like beautiful Southwest University Park. Everything is new again. Anything is possible. Everyone is undefeated.

There is reason for hope at Southwest University Park, the showcase minor league baseball stadium in this gentle city by the border.

"Just look at our left field wall," said relief pitcher Eric Yardley.

The Chihuahuas began their dance in Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2014. They have championship banners on the left field wall as PCL Pacific South Division champions in 2015, 2016, 2017 and last year in 2018. They have two Pacific Conference championships and they have that Pacific Coast League Championship in 2016.

"For the second year in a row the San Diego Padres have been voted the top minor league system in baseball," said new Chihuahua manager Edwin Rodriguez. "And 80 percent of our guys spent time in big league camp.

"We have plenty of depth in (Double A)," said Rodriguez, who is beginning his 40th season in professional baseball. "If we get call-ups here, we have talented players there. We've got guys in Double-A who should be here. There's just no room."

What a nice problem.

Rodriguez sat in the Chihuahua third base dugout, looking out over the field that will soon be humming with the activities of the boys of summer.

Francisco Mejia , the gifted catcher, remained with the Major League Padres as the back-up to former Chihuahua Austin Hedges. But talented second baseman Luis Urias returned to El Paso at the 11th hour.

"Hopefully, I can see him, at some point, going back up to the big leagues," Rodriguez said. "He is very talented, he is very young (21) and he is very smart. Sure, he is frustrated. But that was for 24 hours. He knows he just has to pay attention to details and, that way, when he goes back to the big leagues he won't be coming back."

In the meantime, the Chihuahuas will enjoy his talented bat and gifted glove and Chihuahua fans will enjoy watching yet another future Major Leaguer for as long as possible.

And there will be so much more talent out on that pristinely groomed playing field.

"Josh Naylor will be a talented player in left field … sometimes in right field. He had a very good year in San Antonio last year," Rodriguez said.

Naylor, just 21, was the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft.

"Austin Allen is a good catcher, a power hitter who hit 22 home runs last year in San Antonio," Rodriguez said. "Of course, we have Luis (Urias).

"Ty France is such a talented athlete, Rodriguez said. "He will play third base, first base, he played some second base in spring training and we may try him at catcher. You might even see him in the outfield. He will definitely hit. He will hit for average, he will hit for power and he's a hard-nosed player."

France said, "I can't wait, can't wait to get the season started. This place has such a great atmosphere and the fans are amazing and the whole environment is great. This was my first big league camp and it was fun. Now we are all looking forward to this season. Our lineup is stacked. We'll have a powerful lineup - one through seven, one through eight."

The Chihuahuas have hit their way to championships in the past and they will be capable of hitting again this season.

"It's a hitter's league and this is a hitter's park," Rodriguez said. "We will play accordingly."

But El Paso has had strong defense and the club has had more than its share of good pitching in its series of championship runs.

Rodriguez said this year's starting staff might be the strongest yet.

"Logan Allen, Jerry Keel, Cal Quantrill, Luis Pedromo," Rodriguez reeled off. "I think these guys will not only play in the big leagues but will be making an impact in the big leagues."

Allen, just 21, was the Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year last season. Keel, 25, joined El Paso at mid-season last year. Quantrill, 24, was the eighth overall pick in the draft out of Stanford in 2016. And Pedromo, 25, spent time with the Padres in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Quantrill looked around Southwest University Park and said, "I had a ton of fun last year. I love it here. Love the food, love the people, love the culture."

Opening day will be here Thursday night and it will be like all opening nights. It will be a bit magical.

Wide-eyed children with big smiles and bigger dreams will come and wide-eyed adults who are still children at heart will be all through this beautiful ball park.

It will be something special, just a little magical, just like every opening night.

THE ONE WHO DID NOT COME

Most El Paso baseball fans were looking forward to seeing shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., the number one ranked prospect in all of minor league baseball.

But the gifted 20-year-old jumped all the way from Double-A San Antonio to a starting job on the grandest stage, the Major League San Diego Padres. He was that good this spring.

Tatis Jr. has been sensational in the field in the first few Padre games. He has not quite settled in at the plate but did get his first Major League home run.

In fact, Tatiis Jr. was the second youngest player in San Diego Padre history to homer. Roberto Alomar was 20- years, 85 days old. Tatis was 20-years, 89 days old.

Smiling, Rodriguez recalled Tatis and his journey to a Major League starting job this spring.

"I would be sitting in the dugout and he would come by, sit down every day and say 'what do you think, what do you think.'. I told him to just play your game."

Obviously, his game is good … very, very good.

Pausing, Rodriguez smiled again and added, "He's a good ball player and he's a good person. He's a good young man."

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