PEORIA, Ariz. — He was out of the game but still in uniform. Manny Machado, one of baseball’s new $300 million men, had taken his first two at-bats of spring training and now was so preoccupied, first with interviews for the media and then with autographs for pleading fans, that he still hadn’t gone to the clubhouse to change.
Machado has been a member of the San Diego Padres for a week and a half, taking batting practice on the back fields of the complex west of Phoenix that the Padres share with the Seattle Mariners, virtually out of sight. But certainly not out of mind.
Finally on this Saturday that went from a brief late-morning rain to afternoon sun, Machado — who along with Bryce Harper had been one of the game’s two prime free agents (Harper went to the Phillies for $330 million) — got his official swings and the sporting world got its first look.
Just the introduction of Machado when the public address announcer gave the Padres’ starting lineup brought a huge cheer from the crowd of 5,836 at Peoria Stadium. Their wait was over.
So was Machado’s.
“That was awesome,” Machado said of the fans’ response. “I finally come out here and they showed me some love. The support is awesome. We feel this team is going to have a special year.”
Machado, batting second, popped up to second in his first at-bat, walked in his second and was finished.
Asked what he thought about when he entered the batter’s box in a game for the first time since October, when he was with the Dodgers in the World Series, Machado said, “Everything that led to this.”
Meaning both the .282 career batting average in his seven major-league seasons, most of them with the Orioles, and the weeks of negotiations before the Padres became his surprise destination.
Machado said that despite the workouts of the past 10 days, nothing can replicate game experience.
“I just missed that first pitch,” he said of the pop fly. “It was exciting getting in there. My legs need to get stronger. I’m not going about it any differently than I usually do. I’m looking forward to the next at-bats.”
He will need another 60 or so to feel comfortable. He already feels elated.
Machado played third base for his three innings, stepping aside from shortstop, where he has spent most — but not all — of his time on defense. The Padres’ plan is to have Fernando Tatis Jr., one of the top prospects in the game, play short — if he’s ready.
“He’s a baller,” Machado said of Tatis. “I don’t want to put it on him too much, but we’re a better team when he’s in there. He’s a special kid.”
For $300 million, the term “special’’ also would seem to apply to Manny Machado.
In uniform or out.