Wells excited at new opportunity

Updated: January 2, 2004, 4:50 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- David Wells is certain of this much: He doesn't expect to be talking to George Steinbrenner any time soon.

Wells spurned the New York Yankees earlier in the week, agreeing to a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres.

"I'm sure now I won't hear from him ever again," the 40-year-old left-hander said Friday in his first comments since the deal.

With the exception of a few words of pregame encouragement, Wells hasn't talked to the Yankees' owner since March. Steinbrenner did leave a message on Wells' cell phone before the deal was completed.

"He's been good to me in a lot of ways. And in other ways, he's been very stubborn. That's George Steinbrenner."

Wells' deal, which could be worth up to $7 million if he reaches all his incentives, is the latest blow to the Yankees, who lost left-hander Andy Pettitte to the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens to retirement. With Jeff Weaver's trade to Los Angeles and Wells' departure, the Yankees head into next season without four pitchers who made 120 of the team's 163 starts last season.

"They lost a lot of guys at once and I think they're in shock," Wells said in a conference call.

Wells described pitching for his home team as a dream, but tempered the expectations of leading the rotation in the team's new $458 million downtown ballpark.

"Every kid dreams to play for their own home team," Wells said. "I'm no savior. I just go out and do what I've been doing for 17 years. My goal is just to go out there and be David Wells."

Wells graduated in 1982 from Point Loma High, the same school that produced Don Larsen. Larsen pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Wells pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against Minnesota on May 17, 1998.

Also in 1998, Wells beat the Padres in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Wells underwent arthroscopic back surgery in early December, and said he will begin physical therapy in a few days and should be ready to pitch by March 1.

"I'm not guaranteeing anything," he said. "I'm going to go in there ... and try to get in the best shape I can. I've dropped a ton of weight from the surgery, so it's going to make it a lot easier for me."

Wells went 15-7 with a 4.14 ERA last season, raising his career record to 200-128. But he left Game 5 of the World Series against Florida after one inning because of back spasms.

Wells wouldn't say whether he would retire at the end of the 2004 season.

"The door's going to be open," he said. "I just to take it one step at a time. I'll address that after the season."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press