Padres even playing field at home
Early indications are moving fences in allows Petco to play like normal park
SAN DIEGO -- It is hard to believe that the curtain rose for the 10th time at Petco Park on Tuesday. It seems like only yesterday that the Padres moved downtown from Mission Valley in 2004.
The latest home season opened under new ownership and with redrawn outfield dimensions. The visitors' bullpen is no longer in foul territory on the field, and the right-field fence from the foul pole all the way around toward center has been moved in 11 feet.
Before the game, Padres manager Bud Black hypothesized that the lower, tighter fence would probably affect as many as 30 balls hit there this season. Right on cue, Dodgers veteran third baseman Jose Uribe dumped one into what is now known as the Jack Daniel's seats during the fourth inning.
The two-run shot would have been caught on the warning track during any of the first nine baseball seasons played at Petco. This time, it tied a game the Padres wound up winning, 9-3.
The poke made Uribe a happy man.
"I like it better," he said about the new dimensions.
It was a typical afternoon game near the bay, and the ball carried at Petco just like a normal ballpark, said Will Venable, the Padres right fielder who watched Uribe's homer keep going and going. Venable hit one of the two San Diego homers on the day, his coming in the first inning into the first few rows of what would have been the old right-field bleachers. Nick Hundley hit the other Padres blast into the cheap seats in left.
"We saw the first one today," Black said afterward. "[The ballpark played] a little bit different. I thought the wind was blowing a little bit out to right. During day games, as you guys know, the ball carries a little bit better anyway. Uribe hit the ball decent, but off the bat I thought it was going to be a deep fly ball. When it got up there and Will went back, I thought that ball had a chance. It just kept carrying."
Black admitted, though, that last year the fly ball probably would have been an out.
"So here's the deal," he said. "We're going to mark them. And there's one. Now we're now down to 29. Let's just hope that we get the majority of them."
The original 402 just to the right of center, 375 in mid-right and 360 down the line seemed to be as much a psychological inhibitor as a physical one for those who play 81 games at home under the shadow of the Swinging Friar.
It almost killed the Padres' power twins -- Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin -- when the team moved out of Qualcomm Stadium after the 2003 season. Neither could ever make the adjustment. Klesko hit 21 homers in 2003, and only nine total in '04. In his two full seasons playing at Petco, he smacked just six. Nevin hit 56 homers at Qualcomm and only 16 at Petco before he was traded to Texas midway through the 2005 season.
The new park got so inside Nevin's head. One day when he crushed a ball he surely thought was going out, Nevin wound up standing on second with a double. Looking up toward then-general manager Kevin Towers in his box behind home plate on the press level, Nevin threw up his arms in exasperation. Towers wasn't pleased. It wasn't too long thereafter that Nevin was traded.
There was a method to this architectural madness. When the ballpark was designed, the National League West was full of left-handed power hitters like Barry Bonds and Todd Helton, who used to torture the Padres at their old yard. Bonds, for instance, hit 39 of his record 762 homers at Qualcomm, his most on the road against any team. Towers and former president Larry Lucchino reasoned that their club could negate opposing power by making it difficult to hit the ball out to right.
Indeed, Bonds hit only four homers in the 28 games he played at Petco, including his Hank Aaron-tying 755th, although that was jolted the opposite way to left.
The supposed advantage became a disadvantage for the Padres, who hit only 47 of their 121 homers this past season at home. And that was not atypical.
The San Diego pitchers seemed to have a bit of an edge, allowing only 62 of the 162 homers hit against them in 2012 at home. But with Towers in his third season as the GM over in Arizona, and the D-backs' old executive crew of Josh Byrnes and A.J. Hinch now over here, the Padres determined that it was time to even the offensive deck by moving the fences in. After all, something isn't working. The Padres have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to Petco.
Nevin would have loved it. The left-handed-hitting Venable could thrive. And before the game, Venable was out there judging his leaps against the lower right-field fence. Between Spring Training and the opening six-game road trip, the Padres had been away since Feb. 11. This was their first real look.
"This was the first day we were out on the field and able to do some preparations," Venable said. "We just wanted to get the plays down, jumping up there, seeing what it would be like robbing a homer."
The game then started.
"Obviously that was not typical of Petco Park," Venable said about Uribe's homer. "You hate to see that happen for them. But maybe we can mix in a couple of those ourselves."
Venable now has 46 career homers, 20 of them at Petco Park.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.