In a cozy little corner of the home dugout, in a stadium that rests in a cozy little corner of the city, in the coziest little corner of the country, Sandy Alderson takes a seat with his back to the omnipresent sun and throws his right leg across his left knee, business-like. He is wearing a checkered dress shirt, neatly pressed khakis and loafers -- with socks. It is as dressed down as Alderson is capable of appearing. He is still learning how to be a San Diegan.
Then again, San Diego -- and specifically the San Diego Padres franchise -- is still learning what it means to have a little bit of New York injected into its perpetually laid-back dudeness. And no one seems to be quite sure yet if they like it.
Since leaving his high-ranking job in the commissioner's office on Park Avenue, where he was once considered a top candidate to be Bud Selig's successor when the moment came, to take over the Padres' operation as CEO on May 1, Alderson, 57, has served notice that things are no longer going to be so comfy around the comfiest little franchise in baseball.
"I'm a big believer in continuity and stability," Alderson said of a franchise that has come to define those words, "but I'm also a big believer in new ideas. . . . When someone new comes in, despite whatever assurances one might make, there is always some amount of trepidation. And the fact is, there will be changes of some sort. But from a philosophical standpoint, there's not a lot we'll have to change."
A mere day after speaking those words, Alderson wrapped up a two-year contract extension with Padres Manager Bruce Bochy, keeping intact the long-running tag-team partnership of Bochy and General Manager Kevin Towers, who have been together for nearly 10 years. But before giving Bochy his new deal, Alderson first made him prove himself worthy, leaving Bochy dangling as a lame duck for an uncomfortable couple of months.
"Sandy just wanted to see and observe," Bochy said. "And certainly, he should have taken his time. I fully understand why there was a delay."
It helped that the Padres reeled off their best stretch of baseball right around the time Alderson came on board. The Padres went 22-6 in May, the best record in baseball that month, to seize control of the tepid National League West, opening a lead that stood at four games over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks entering Wednesday's games.
But if anyone should be feeling the Southern California heat a little warmer on his neck these days it is Towers, the freewheeling, quick-dealing former scout who has been running the Padres' front office since the age of 34. Last season, the franchise's first in dazzling new Petco Park in the city's fabled Gaslamp District, marked the Padres' first winning season since the 1998 squad won the NL pennant.
While Alderson is a buttoned-down, straight-laced type, Towers, 43, is more likely to saunter into the Padres' clubhouse in a get-up like the one he wore one day last week: designer Western-style shirt, distressed designer jeans, loafers with no socks, pricey sunglasses.
But it is more than their antithetical fashion senses that makes the Alderson-Towers pairing an unlikely and potentially volatile one. All across baseball, the reaction to the news of Alderson's new gig with the Padres was the same: "Uh-oh." The prevailing view was that the arrangement simply could not work.
Alderson, see, is no mere New York stuffed suit -- he is a former general manager. And he is not merely a former GM -- he was the architect of the Oakland Athletics' championship teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the godfather, so to speak, of the "Moneyball" generation; he helped pioneer the use of statistical analysis in personnel decisions, along with his protege, current A's GM Billy Beane.
When he left the A's for MLB's headquarters in 1998 to serve as executive vice president of baseball operations, Alderson was immediately pegged as a possible heir apparent to Selig. However, Alderson confided to close friends that he was never satisfied with the duties of the job, which included overseeing things such as umpiring and draft-pick bonuses.
Although nothing would prevent Alderson from still ascending to baseball's throne from his present job, he signed a five-year deal with the Padres that included an ownership stake, and he says he is prepared to remain with the franchise for a long while.
"I took this job," Alderson said, "on its own merits."
In contrast to Alderson, Towers -- despite his relative youth -- is more of an old-school, scout's-honor type of talent evaluator, who freely admits he sometimes operates on pure instinct. He is also known as a straight shooter -- sometimes too straight, as in March, when he admitted to a reporter he looked the other way regarding Ken Caminiti's steroid use in the late 1990s.
Under Alderson's reign, Towers might be wise to clam up -- and to learn to use a calculator.
Many observers saw a glimpse of the Padres' new Moneyball bent in the team's draft choices earlier this month, when the team chose college players with each of its first 14 picks. A year ago, by contrast, the Padres chose high schoolers with their first three picks, including the No. 1 overall pick.
Alderson and Towers, naturally, dispute the notion that theirs is a marriage doomed to fail.
"Even though my background is on the scouting side, in the last five or six years, we've used a blend of statistical analysis as well," Towers said. "With [Alderson] being an innovator and a pioneer with that stuff, I think I can learn even more about that. And at the same time, he realizes that you still need the scout's eyes as well."
Alderson said: "Nothing is ever as dramatically black-and-white as people think. I'm certainly not wedded to a particular approach, nor is [Towers]. I think Kevin and I have worked pretty well together, although there haven't been lot of major decisions we've had to make yet, things like trades."
That day could be coming soon. The Padres are besieged by injuries -- with catcher Ramon Hernandez, first baseman Phil Nevin, second baseman Mark Loretta and number two starter Adam Eaton all on the disabled list -- and are in danger of being caught by both the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers, who are themselves dealing with an epidemic of strains, sprains and pulls.
"It's a pretty balanced division," third baseman Sean Burroughs said. "There's not one team that's going to run away with it. But we feel like, if we keep it together day-in and day-out, the division should be ours for the winning."
Perhaps in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the Padres can locate a player who satisfies both Towers's eyes and Alderson's calculator.
Perhaps also, in his role as the conduit between Towers and owner John Moores, Alderson can convince the latter to bump up the payroll a little bit, something Moores has been loath to do -- chafing many fans who recall promises supposedly made about spending big if the citizenry put up the money for the team's new digs.
Although the opening of Petco Park last year helped the team's bottom line, it is hard to get past the franchise's fundamental problem of having nowhere to grow. The Padres are boxed in geographically -- by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the desert to the east, Mexico to the south and two other franchises within two hours to the north. But people here like the isolation; the biggest civic hot-button issue is how to prevent more people from moving in.
Yes, it's still cozy down here in San Diego, still comfy at Petco Park. Just not as much as it was a couple of months ago.