There is a wonderful simplicity of youth and experience this year to the San Diego Padres, who are off to the best start in the team's 16-year history. Optimism is so high that almost everyone connected with the Padres seems convinced that the current National League West leaders are still going to own first place come October.
That would mean beating out three teams (Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston) that finished ahead of San Diego in 1983. It would also mean a reversal of last year's chief problem of losing 22 games after leading in the seventh inning.
''I can't be sure at this point if our personnel is better than those other three clubs or not,'' responded Padres' Manager Dick Williams to a reporter's question. ''But I do know this is the best team I've had since coming here in 1982. We've got more balance, we've got more run power, and by signing Goose Gossage we've added intimidation to our bullpen.''
Goose is the hard-throwing, free-agent right-handed relief specialist, sought by several teams over the winter, who in the past six years has been credited with 150 saves with the New York Yankees.
''I can't wait to bring Goose out of the bullpen sometime and watch his first warmup pitch sail over the catcher's head and land halfway up the backstop,'' Williams grinned. ''It's sort of like a message to opposing hitters that maybe they shouldn't dig in at the plate.
''But there is more to Gossage than just his speed, which is consistently in the high 90s,'' Dick continued. ''A lot of successful pitchers disturb hitters by moving the ball in and out on them. But with the Goose you always get a pitch that is going to sink or dart or ride up on the hitter. And because he hides the ball so well, he is just as tough against left-handers as he is against right-handers.''
Asked how often he could employ the Goose without risking golden-egg burnout, Williams replied: ''My plans before the season started were never to use Gossage before the eighth or ninth innings and then only if we were tied or had a lead. I've already broken that promise to myself a couple of times because of pressure situations where I felt he was the only answer. But believe me when I say I won't do that very often.''
Except for third base, where Williams has been platooning former Yankee Graig Nettles and Luis Salazar, the Padres will go with a set infield of Steve Garvey at first, Alan Wiggins (66 stolen bases last year) at second, and Garry Templeton at shortstop.
Garvey was hitting .294 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs when a thumb injury on July 29 sidelined him for the rest of last season. Although Steve is off to a slow start this year, the consistency that has produced six 200-hit seasons is expected to surface again. More offense is also expected from Templeton, who came back from injuries last year to raise his batting average 16 points to .263 .
The jury is still out on the shift of Wiggins from the outfield to second base. Even though Williams says he is satisfied with Alan's infield progress to date, his early inconsistency indicates the position may require continued evaluation.
The reason Wiggins was given a new address was to accommodate the power bat of outfielder Carmelo Martinez, who had six homers in 29 at bats in a trial with the Chicago Cubs late last season.
Williams, whose team hit only 93 homers in 1983 while giving up 144, hopes Carmelo's power added to that of Nettles, rookie Kevin McReynolds, and catcher Terry Kennedy will reverse that figure.
Right-hander Eric Show and southpaw Tim Lollar head the starting rotation, while Gossage, Sid Monge, and former starter Dave Dravecky form the nucleus of what looks like a solid bullpen.
Although five NL clubs had better ERAs in 1983 than San Diego, that was before Mr. Gossage arrived on the scene.
Williams obviously feels that the Goose can be the difference between fourth and first place - an estimate that would not be considered exaggerated by Gossage's former opponents!