CINCINNATI — This is a tale of how two baseball parks affected the baseball career of Ryan Ludwick, one tearing it down and the other rebuilding it.
San Diego’s Petco Park nearly destroyed it.
Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park resurrected it.
Ludwick was considered a productive offensive player as a St. Louis Cardinal. He hit .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBI in 2008.
The Cardinals traded him to San Diego for the final 59 games of 2010 and he hit .211, backing that up in 2011 with .238 before the Padres traded him to Pittsburgh the doldrums lingered (.232).
The vastness of Petco Park frustrates most hitters and Ludwick said, “Frustrated? I was a whipped puppy.”
To compenstave, he altered his swing, tried to be a dead-pull hitter so he could reach the fence in the left field corner. Didn’t work.
The Cincinnati Reds signed him to a free agent contract and after a slovenly start Ludwick is back in form, hitting .325 in his last 34 games and he has 18 homers and 53 RBI in only 261 at-bats.
“Since Day One, I’ve told the media, other general managers, baseball people — when I got to San Diego I lost my swing, and I won’t retract on that,” he said. “I was so pull-dominant I had forgotten how to hit the ball the other way.”
On Tuesday, Ludwick’s 18th home run whistled over the right-center wall, the opposite way, and he said, “I didn’t hit a ball like that, the other way,more than twice the entire time I was with the Padres.
“Now I’ve found my stroke again,” he said. “I don’t have to overswing in this park. I’m staying on the ball more, I’m more balanced. If you go back and look at the video when I was with the Cardinals, pre-Petco, there are a lot of similarities.”
Ludwick smiled and said he knew what is oozing from his body was in there all the time, but Petco submerged it, “And a lot of people thought I was done, finished, washed up. And to be honest, I’m sure there are people out there still saying, ‘Hey he’s had a hot month.'”
With Joey Votto on the disabled list after knee surgery, somebody needed to step up. Ludwick not only stepped up, he has done some high-stepping to help keep the team afloat atop the National League Central standings.
Ludwick admitted he consciously changed his swing in Petco, “Because I knew I could not hit the all out of the park to the opposite field. It was impossible. My best bolt was warning track, if that. Even balls to left center at night in the gap, where it is 403, well, here it’s a home run. You hit a ball to the track at night time and it’s 395 feet and an out.
“The biggest thing in mental and, yes, I was a beaten puppy,” he said. “The first month here I was still trying to myself and I scuffled. But I felt better than what was happening and each month got better.”
Ludwick says he isn’t a .300 hitter, but he knew he was better than his .200 at Petco, his .236 at PNC in Pittsburgh and his .200 the first month in Cincinnati.
“Am I a .300 hitter? No,” he said. “But if you look at my career averages before San Diego they were about .265 with 20 homers and 80-plus RBIs a year. I know I can do that. My two years in San Diego and Pittsburgh took my career averages down dramatically.”
So playing in the hitter-friendly, reachable walls of Great American, is the great equalizer and one can forgive Ludwick if he kisses the turf in left field every time he runs onto it.
“If I stay on the ball and stay balanced I can hit the ball out of the park the opposite field,” he said. “I don’t have to overswing or do anything special, just stay within myself. And when that happens here, you can take it on the road with you to bigger parks because we play half our games at home. Well, at Petco, you played half your games there and I took my Petco swing on the road with me. Even if I tried to find my swing on the road I had my Petco swing.
Now he has re-discovered his Busch swing, which is now his Great American swing, and Ludwick’s baseball world is a much more comfortable place.