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Garth Brooks Plays Padre for a Day

By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) -- Garth Brooks traded in his cowboy hat for a baseball Garth Brooks takes a practice swing
uniform on Sunday. The scouting report: good leather, so-so wood. And wouldn't you know it, his major league moment ended in a double play.

The country music superstar joined the San Diego Padres for two days of workouts at their spring training complex, causing quite a stir both in the clubhouse, where there was a run on baseballs to be autographed, and among the fans.

A few hours later, Brooks found himself in the Padres' exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, pinch-running for Wally Joyner. He originally was going to watch the game from a luxury box, but sat with manager Bruce Bochy and the coaching staff at the front of the dugout. Brooks was easy to pick out -- the pale one who hasn't been out in the Arizona sun the last month.

``They asked if I was nervous, and I said I was too busy thinking, `I can't believe where I was,''' said Brooks, a big baseball fan. ``It was great. It was a piece of Americana going right down my throat.''

Bochy told Brooks he was going in as soon as someone got on in the sixth. Joyner hit a leadoff single and was slated to come out anyway. Then Brooks, the guy who sings about Friends in Low Places, found himself in one, on his stomach diving back into first on left-hander Ben VanRyn's pickoff throw.

VanRyn, a non-roster invitee trying to make the club, smiled. He said later that he's not a country music fan.

Umpire Ed Montague appeared to be generous with his call. After a second pickoff throw, Brooks hugged Montague.

Greg Vaughn then grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Brooks made a popup slide into second base, way too late, then hustled off the field.

``What a cool thing -- this hasn't soaked in yet,'' Brooks said. He added that it was his second-biggest moment in sports, behind winning a medal at the Kansas Relays as a javelin thrower for Oklahoma State.

Joyner said the next time he's at a Brooks concert, he wants to get up on stage and help sing, provided he knows what the song's going to be.

It wasn't the first time an entertainer had a spring training appearance with a big-league club. Musician Bruce Hornsby once pinch-ran for the Angels, and actor Tom Selleck struck out for the Detroit Tigers.

Brooks, who just turned 36, said he'd always wanted to work out with a big-league club. He got his chance with the Padres because the team's vice president of marketing, Don Johnson, is a friend of one of Brooks' closest friends.

Brooks seems to have distant dreams of playing minor league ball, a la Michael Jordan. But he also realizes he's pretty good at his day job, in which he's sold more than 62 million albums.

Earlier Sunday, Brooks got personal attention from batting coach Merv Rettenmund and former Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, a Padres broadcaster and part-time minor-league instructor.

The switch-hitting Brooks showed some decent pop from the right side, but might want to leave the left-handed hitting to Tony Gwynn.

Brooks said the biggest thing he learned was the importance of the mental side of baseball, ``especially from Merv, that hitting guy.''

That hitting guy, by the way, played in four World Series and coached in three.

Bench coach Rob Picciolo asked Brooks how his hands were after the first round of BP. When asked again later, Brooks said: ``Trust me. You can ask this question to a million guys in America, they'll answer the same way -- who gives a ...? It feels great to be out here.''

Brooks showed a decent arm while catching fly balls on a side field and made a nice sliding catch.

Brooks was grateful for the reception he got from the team.

``The guys were very sweet,'' he said. ``They even had a drawing of me up there.''

Not everyone was caught up in the excitement.

``You know, I don't know anything about him,'' admitted Padres catcher Carlos Hernandez, who's from Venezuela and likes salsa music. ``I'd appreciate it if he gave me a CD. I'd listen.''

 


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