As with any player, Cameron Maybin's ultimate goal each year is to still be playing meaningful games come September and well into October. Yet for the Padres outfielder, some of the most special games of his career will always come in the season's opening month.
For the first few weeks of each season, Maybin brings his family along to wherever San Diego's schedule takes them. Following the Padres' 11-2 Opening Day loss to the Mets at Citi Field on Monday, Maybin -- accompanied by his father, Rudy -- spent part of Tuesday's off-day interacting with fans via a live video stream in a 15-minute question-and-answer session inside the Chatting Cage.
"He's been instrumental to everything I've been able to do and accomplish along the way," Maybin said of his father, whom he deemed the greatest influence on his life. "He's instilled a lot of great things in me."
For Rudy -- who still resides in North Carolina, where Cameron was raised -- spending the first month of the season traveling with his son is one of the highlights of each and every year. On average, he attends approximately 25-30 games in person each year, while catching as many others as possible -- upwards of 130-140 -- on television.
"It's always exciting," Rudy said. "[Cameron's] so passionate about baseball, and the offseason always seems to be really extended and kind of a drag for us. We always look forward to getting back to the season. Opening Day is like a holiday for our family when it finally comes."
This season, that holiday includes the season-opening series in New York followed by a three-game set in Colorado this weekend before returning to San Diego for the club's April 9 home opener.
Maybin is hoping his father will be treated to not only some improved play from himself, but from the entire Padres team. After hitting just .243 with 26 stolen bases in 147 games last year, Maybin is looking to regain his 2011 form, with which he hit .264 and stole 40 bases, despite playing in 10 fewer games.
Along with stepping up his own game, Maybin is confident the rest of his teammates will help San Diego improve on its 76-86 record and fourth-place finish in the National League West a year ago. Though the Padres are widely considered an afterthought in the division behind the defending champion Giants and free-spending Dodgers, Maybin doesn't believe his club should be counted out just yet.
"We're really high on what we have," Maybin said. "We kind of shored up our starting rotation, our bullpen is coming together and we're really excited about the chemistry we have in the clubhouse. Look for us to definitely go out there and compete hard, and hopefully give the fans of San Diego a really, really special year this year."
While Maybin's focus remains on the team element, the speedy center fielder didn't shy away from talking about his individual goals for the new season. Though often asked about his potential to reach the 50-stolen base plateau, Maybin admitted the true honor for him would be earning some hardware with his glove.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense, and I've been fortunate enough to work with [first-base coach and former Major League outfielder] Dave Roberts, one of the greatest guys I've had an opportunity to work with," Maybin said. "And something we really focus on is trying to win a Gold Glove. The last few years, I've had some really good defensive seasons, so I really, really want that Gold."
That's not to say Maybin hasn't kicked around the thought of swiping 50 bags, or what that number of steals would do for the Padres' team success.
As he noted, however, there's a certain degree of luck that plays into reaching that milestone. Along with first-class speed and baserunning ability, it takes getting enough steal opportunities based on the game situation, as well as getting enough plate appearances throughout the year.
Maybin also knows that pushing his average back closer to the .264 mark from 2011 wouldn't hurt his chances either. That's certainly easier said than done with, as Maybin acknowledged, the number of elite pitchers whom hitters face throughout the year.
As for Maybin's biggest nemesis, the speedster pointed to injured Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter. Though Carpenter is expected to miss the entire season with recurring neck and shoulder pain, Maybin (0-for-9 with five career strikeouts against Carpenter) paid respect to the veteran right-hander as the toughest pitcher he's ever faced.
"I always answer this question the same way: He plays for St. Louis, you might have heard of him -- a guy by the last name of Carpenter; first name, Chris," Maybin answered when asked whom he felt was the game's most intimidating pitcher. "He's one of the toughest guys in the game. I feel like every time I step in the box against that guy it's going to be a battle. He's a bulldog, he comes out and competes. And I love facing the best in the game."
While Maybin hopes his Padres will still be playing amongst the "best in the game" come October, for now he's just focused on the tradition of enjoying the first few weeks of the season alongside his family.
"It sounds cliché," Maybin said, "but in this game -- a game filled with so many ups and downs -- I think as long as you can remember to have fun and enjoy it and continue to make it a game, that's the best way to approach the game of baseball.
"The best advice I've had, for sure, is just, 'The older you get, it's so important to keep having fun.' "