“I never thought they would do it. I was thinking they would try to keep me and try to rebuild the team with me in it. It caught me by surprise,” Soto said in the Padres’ clubhouse as he laced up the other cleat. The New York Mets were beating up on the Nationals on a television hanging a few yards away. “Deep in my heart, I was thinking they wouldn’t do it.”
That Soto found himself there, joking with friend and fellow young superstar Tatis, introducing himself to infielder Ha-Seong Kim with a “good to meet you” and talking Max Scherzer’s repertoire with catcher Austin Nola, is a transformative development for the team he left and the team he joined. It may prove transformative for Soto and Josh Bell, too.
Not 24 hours after they boarded a San Diego-bound private plane paid for by the Padres, Soto and Bell found themselves sandwiching superstar Manny Machado in a contending team’s lineup under the California sun.
“Go from a team that has no chance to come all the way here, it’s a great feeling,” Soto said. “It’s a new start for me. This year, it’s just a new start, a new feeling to go out there and give more that I have.”
Before either could worry about going out there at all, both were shuttled through Petco Park for social media shoots and introductory interviews, sitting alongside General Manager A.J. Preller and owner Peter Seidler.
Preller introduced Soto with a story about the time a Padres assistant general manager learned the young star was hitting in Point Loma, not far away. He had flown there after his successful rookie season to work with a hitting coach, “working on his craft,” Preller said. Preller remembered the team’s pursuit of Soto when he was a teenager in the Dominican Republic — a pursuit that ended, he joked, with Preller rating someone else ahead of him. But Preller pointed to that January hitting session as a moment when he decided his team would do its best to get him if it could.
The GM also joked that Bell — the slugging switch hitter with an .877 on-base-plus-slugging percentage entering Wednesday — was “not bad for a throw-in” before clarifying that Bell was far more than that. From then on, Soto’s smile stole the afternoon. He flashed it when asked about the Padres’ lineup, which is still waiting for Tatis to come back from injury and still waiting for Machado to get hot again.
“I wish good luck to the other pitchers,” Soto said with a chuckle.
Read More: Juan Soto makes his San Diego Padres debut