Peace through victory - the American way.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Love-Hate Relationship Of The Padres And Petco Park

These are fabulous times to be a season-ticket holder for the Padres. After several years of losing at Qualcomm and last year's disappointing first season at their new home, Petco Park, this year is great.

Petco Park is a great place for baseball. It's architecturally interesting. Viewed from the outside it presents a different face from every direction. From one direction, it's brick walls, from another it's steel girders, from another it's a grassy park and a view into the field, and from another it looks vaguely Aztec or Mayan, a style I've dubbed "mesoamericana." The downtown location is easy to get to and has not created the feared traffic nightmare. The seats are comfortable and a vast improvement over the former stadium. Finally, the playing field's non-uniform dimensions are much better than the cookie-cutter dimensions of the old stadium.

The Padres players have not adjusted easily to the park. The homerun power of the current players is mostly to right field and the right field fence is a long, long way from home plate. Worse, the move downtown to the bayshore means night games are played in damper air. The result has been fewer homeruns and more long flyball outs to right and center. The left field fences are much closer but the Padres have few righthanded pull hitters with power.

Last year the Padres struggled at home and the players were frustrated and angry at the park. This year the team has adjusted to the field and is winning games at home. Except for last night, of course, when the Brewers beat the Padres with two homeruns, one to right field even. The Padres' hopes for a comeback victory in the ninth died when Geoff Blum's apparent homerun with the bases loaded and two outs died on the warning track and resulted in yet another long flyball out to right. From my seats at the game, the ball looked gone when Blum hit it. Padres players thought so too. As Brian Giles said, "off the bat, I thought it was a no-doubter." (Click here for the game recap.)

So, it's strange to see this story (click here) in the San Diego Union Tribune today about visiting teams griping about how Petco Park's vast dimensions kill the homerun ball. The story doesn't quote any opposing player complaining about the park. The only evidence for the complaints comes from Padres firstbaseman Phil Nevin, who says he sees it in their eyes at first base "every time someone lays into one that doesn't reach the seats."

I watch nearly every home game the Padres play, either at the park or on the tube, and it's pretty evident to me that the hometown boys are still unhappy with Petco Park. They're just not complaining about it. They've adjusted to it and are playing winning baseball, but I've seen the frustration with the park in the stances and the looks of Padres hitters when they tag a ball only to see it caught in deep right or right center field.

It's good the players are no longer complaining about the park and that the team is playing winning baseball at home. Baseball at Petco Park is a joy to watch. Sure, it's not a slugfest but who wants that? Coors Field provides a slugfest and the game there is just one step above slow-pitch softball. Petco Park favors pitching, defense, and speed; three ingredients that make for exciting baseball. And that's what we're seeing down here in the lower left-corner of the United States this summer. Play ball!


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