SAN DIEGO - As the most expensive team in baseball history stepped onto the Petco Park field Sunday, the Padres opted not even to put a tip jar out as they cracked open their 2014 season.
The way they figure it, they watched the Pirates last season. And the Indians. And they've seen what Oakland and Tampa Bay have done in recent years.
Yes, the Dodgers may be trotting out a major-league record $235 million payroll.
"That's a lot of glue," San Diego manager Bud Black quipped.
But, brother, you always can spare hope for a retooled club aiming for the postseason instead of the October glue factory, can't you?
"We'd like to think so," Black said.
Retooling since their surprising 90-win season in 2010 and a trendy pick this spring to contend, the Padres open with a club-record payroll themselves. But their $83 million is dwarfed by the Dodgers.
"In 2010, payrolls weren't even where they are now," Black said. "But what we did in 2010, what Cleveland did last year … every year, there seem to be a couple of teams that finish where they weren't projected to be at the end, good and bad.
"That's the beauty of this game. There is such a thing as momentum. There is such a thing as things coming together. And if you go out on a limb, there is such a thing as what good pitching does."
RALLY FRIARS: Padres surge in 8th to beat Dodgers in opener
And then, for one game, the Padres went out and proved his point. Andrew Cashner gave up one run in six innings, and then the offense rallied for three runs off Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson in the eighth inning for a 3-1 victory, before a Petco Park record crowd of 45,567.
October is still a long way off, so Sunday's win doesn't hold as much meaning as what we learned in 2013.
Six of the nine highest-payroll clubs in baseball entering last season were sitting home in October: The Yankees, Phillies, Giants, Angels, White Sox and Blue Jays.
And three of the five clubs with the lowest payrolls in the game in 2013 were playing in October: The Athletics, Rays and Pirates.
In a season in which there will be the largest gap between the game's highest-payroll club (the Dodgers) and the lowest (the Astros, $45 million) in history – a whopping $190 million – it is the success of clubs like the Rays and A's that lead even those with limited funds to believe baseball remains a mostly egalitarian endeavor.
Have pitching, will travel.
With big right-hander Andrew Cashner starting Sunday night's opener and Tyson Ross also in the rotation, the Padres have two starters who easily moved into the fast lane last summer. They believe strong pitching will put them back on the path toward their first postseason appearance since 2006.
But with power-hitting outfielder Carlos Quentin (knee) and starter Josh Johnson (forearm) opening on the disabled list, their margin for error already has narrowed. The Padres have been crushed over the past two seasons by a whopping 43 moves to the disabled list.
"We're very confident with what's going on in this room," said third baseman Chase Headley, who led the NL with 115 RBI two summers ago before injuries helped sabotage his 2013. "We know if we get the pitching we're capable of, we'll be right in this thing.
"Some teams similar to us have done it. I think Pittsburgh is a club with a pretty good blueprint. They built a team with dominant pitching. If we throw the ball the way they did, you're going to have a good chance to be in it."
Last year's Pirates got a solid season from A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA), a terrific comeback season from Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02) and a stellar stretch run from the emerging Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22; 4-0, 1.69 ERA in five September starts).
"Plus, Pittsburgh had a lot of young guys come through their system," Headley said. "That's how we're modeled.
"It's a reasonable comparison."
The Padres so far haven't uncovered a homegrown Andrew McCutchen, who was named as the National League MVP last summer, but Headley and second-year second baseman Jedd Gyorko at least have emerged from a farm system that has been all too fallow for the past decade or so but is beginning show signs of life.
Looking to lead with their pitching, the Padres signed Joaquin Benoit over the winter to strengthen their bullpen and work in front of closer Huston Street. Coming form Detroit, where owner Mike Ilitch has spent the Tigers into the payroll stratosphere, Benoit has a different perspective as he looks around his new clubhouse. Club-record payrolls are all relative, after all.
"It's different than Detroit," he said. "There's a lot of young guys here, but a lot of potential. We're going to do a lot of good things together."
Six full months ahead of them and with a checkbook still limited despite the club-record payroll, the Padres know they'd better begin doing those good things early. They played from behind all of last season following a 2-10 start, and their 11-22 start in 2012 pretty much zapped them from the beginning then, too.
"I don't think it's all payroll because you still have to prove yourself," Benoit said. "You have to prove you're worth that money."
Yes, it all begins somewhere. Young players proving they're worth the money, young teams jelling and defying expectations, opening-day dreams pushed deeper and deeper into the summer.
"You can see Tampa Bay doesn't have the biggest payroll, and they do something in the playoffs," Benoit said. "We can match that. Oakland is a pretty good team, and they can pitch. I think pitching is the key. You have to pitch."
Better that than expecting the Dodgers - or anybody else – to apologize for writing checks in neon and Sharpies.
"We're supposed to be contenders every year," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "We're the Dodgers. We're an all caps franchise.
"We're not a lower-case franchise."