The vast outfield at Petco Park will no longer be a place where long fly balls go to die.
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The San Diego Padres said Monday that work will begin this week to bring in the fences in right field and left-center, and to move the visitor’s bullpen from right-field foul territory to behind the home bullpen beyond the fence in left-center.
After years of angst by their sluggers, the Padres said it was time to change the extreme nature of the downtown ballpark, which some people derisively called Petco National Park, to one that plays more fairly.
”We want the park to play the right away for players and for the fans,” Padres president and CEO Tom Garfinkel said. ”That was driven first by baseball operations in terms of the right way to construct the dimensions to make it more fair for players. Players know what’s fair and what’s not. When they crush a ball that would be out in 29 other parks, and it’s not out here, they know that it’s not fair. We wanted to make it more fair from that standpoint.”
For the fans, the changes might result in fewer boring games.
From the right-field porch to the right-center gap, the fence will be moved in from 402 feet to 391 feet and lowered to match the rest of the outfield wall. The out-of-town scoreboard on the right-field wall will be relocated to a new spot above right field as part of seating modifications.
In left-center, the fence will be moved in from 402 feet to 390 feet to allow for the visiting team’s bullpen to be relocated, mostly for safety issues.
The dimensions will remain the same down the left-field line (336 feet), right-field line (322) and straightaway center (396).
The changes are good news to sluggers like Chase Headley, and even pitcher Tim Stauffer said he’s OK with them.
”Any way that they can make a ballpark play a bit more fair is a good thing,” said Headley, who won the NL RBI title with 115 and set career bests with 31 homers, 173 hits and 95 runs scored. ”I definitely like a variation among the stadiums, but when you have a stadium that plays so drastic to one side, anything that you can improve the consistency of for both sides is a positive.”
”I’m not going to say I’m going to hit more home runs than I did this year, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Headley said. ”I think more than anything, when you hit a ball that you know probably should be a home run, it will reward you. Having something at least less drastic, I think, is going to improve everybody’s approach and confidence. You’re not going to be walking back to the dugout after hitting one that’s a home run in 29 other ballparks saying, `This is dumb.’ It’s not going to turn it into a hitters’ park, but most of the balls you’ve really hit well, you’ll be rewarded for.”
Headley hit 13 homers at Petco and 18 on the road.
When Petco Park opened in 2004, then-general manager Kevin Towers joked that the Padres had made it Barry Bonds-proof, since the San Francisco Giants slugger always tormented San Diego. Bonds later quipped that the Padres had made Petco Park ”baseball-proof.” Bonds hit his 755th homer at Petco Park on Aug. 4, 2007, tying Hank Aaron with an opposite-field shot to left-center.
During the 2004 season, sluggers Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko groused about how they’d crush a ball that would be a homer in other parks, only to watch it go for a long out. Nevin once hit a double that he thought should have been a homer. After reaching second, he gestured angrily toward Towers’ box. The two later had words in the clubhouse.
The Padres did modify the right-field gap one year, but avoided making major changes.
”Our goal is to move Petco Park away from being the most extreme run suppressing ballpark in major league baseball,” said executive chairman Ron Fowler, part of the group that bought the Padres from John Moores in August. ”After an extensive study, it became clear to all of us that some change was needed. Petco will still be a pitchers’ park; however, it will no longer be the outlier.”
Stauffer wasn’t surprised to hear about the changes.
”It’s more for the fans and scores, and it will be fair to both sides,” he said. ”If it’s going to get more fans to the game, I’m all for it. Obviously as a pitcher you don’t want to give up cheapies, but I don’t think that will be the case.”
”It’s pretty well understood that a couple areas that played beyond deep were very unfair for hitters,” Stauffer said. ”Overall, it’s not a bad idea. The faces hitters made when they rounded first and saw a ball get caught after crushing it were pretty entertaining. Or when they’d flip their bat and then see that it doesn’t even get to the warning track, especially early in the season at night. Obviously we like having it big, but we want guys playing there every day to have confidence that if they hit it good, it goes.”
The damp night air early in the season also affects fly balls.
General manager Josh Byrnes said moving in the fences is just one factor for a team that was fourth in the NL West at 76-86, 18 games behind San Francisco.
”Hopefully, like a lot of parks it’s a little more fair, and we’re just going to have to have a good team on the field to win,” Byrnes said.