Yankees slugger Juan Soto is back in San Diego for the 1st time since December blockbuster trade

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Juan Soto thinks San Diego is a great city for any big leaguer to play for a long time.

It just didn't work out for him.

Soto returned to San Diego on Friday for the first time since the Padres dealt him to the New York Yankees on Dec. 7.

“My time in San Diego was great. It was unbelievable,” Soto said before the AL East-leading Yankees, who at 35-17 have the second-best record in the majors, opened a weekend series against the Padres, who are 27-26 and 6 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

Soto was greeted with a mixture of boos from Padres fans and cheers from the many Yankees fans at Petco Park when the starting lineup was announced and each time he came to the plate.

It didn't take Soto long to show Padres fans what they are missing. He hit a two-run homer to right field with two outs in the third, the first of three no-doubt shots for the Yankees that inning off Yu Darvish. Fernando Tatis Jr. just turned and watched Soto's 423-foot homer — his 14th — sail into the stands.

Aaron Judge followed with a homer and Giancarlo Stanton also had a two-run shot.

Soto was involved in two blockbuster trades in just 16 months.

The Padres obtained Soto from Washington in an eight-player trade on Aug. 2, 2022, after he turned down a $440 million, 15-year offer from the Nationals. The Padres envisioned having him for three playoff runs. While they made a stirring run to the NL Championship Series in 2022, they were a major disappointment in 2023, when they missed the playoffs despite having baseball's third-highest payroll.

Soto said he was prepared to return to San Diego for this season.

But the death of free-spending owner Peter Seidler on Nov. 14 plunged the Padres into financial uncertainty. Looking to reset their luxury tax and needing to add pitching, they sent Soto to the Yankees in a seven-player trade on Dec. 7.

“We never get the chance to keep talking a little bit farther with the Padres, but it was a great team, great fanbase," Soto said. "But at the end of the day, we just couldn't get it done and just keep moving forward.

“Where I'm at, I'm more than happy where I'm at. I'm really excited," he said.

The Yankees and Soto agreed on Jan. 11 to a $31 million, one-year contract, breaking Shohei Ohtani’s record for an arbitration-eligible player. Soto had a $23 million salary last year in his only full season with the Padres and the outfielder can become a free agent after this season, when he will be 26.

Soto said playing against his former teammates is “going to be cool. I know those guys out there. We're going to have a blast out there, having fun.”

He didn't know what to expect from the fans.

“It's kind of tough for me because they were right there every day for me. I try my best, I play hard every day, but I didn't play at my best,” he said. “That's one of the things I was kind of like sad about it because I couldn't show them really how great I can be. I really feel good that I gave the chance to give my 100% out there but I don't know how they're going to react. It's baseball. It's crazy. I'm expecting anything tonight.”

Soto is hitting .312 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs. He's ranked in the Top 10 in the majors in several offensive categories.

Manager Aaron Boone, part of the first family in baseball history to produce three generations of major league players, said the series should offer "a little added buzz with Juan being back here and the Yankees being in town.

“Obviously, this is a pretty wild fan base,” said Boone, who was born in suburban La Mesa. “It's been such a popular scene here these last couple of years with the big-name people they've brought in. And I'm sure with us being here it's going to be a pretty cool environment, especially being on a weekend.”