SAN DIEGO – Poor Bruce Bochy. For years, he was forced to listen to hitters like Phil Nevin whine, complain, moan and throw tantrums over the vast expanses of Petco Park. It led to some clubhouse meetings, and its share of job stress.
Bochy was the Padres’ manager. He had to toe the company line.
So now, of course, the Giants arrive at Petco on Friday to find cozier dimensions. Yep, the Padres' ownership finally decided their home was too pitcher friendly. It’s still an ample ballpark, especially after the first couple innings when the marine air gets heavier. But they’ve moved in the fences 12 feet or so in right field and right-center.
“I think it looks good,” Bochy said. “It’s still a fair ballpark and it’s fair for the hitters and I like the look of it.”
Bochy has six years in orange and black and two World Series rings, so he has permission to speak freely now. And what does he say?
“Right-center, I thought, yeah, they could bring ‘em in there,” he said.
Bochy pointed out that when architects designed the ballpark, wind studies showed the breeze would blow out to right field. But when all the high rise hotels and condo buildings popped up around the Gaslamp, the winds changed.
Bochy was told that according to the unofficial count, opponents have hit three home runs that wouldn’t have left the yard a year ago. The Padres still haven’t hit a “bonus” homer.
“Let’s keep it that way,” Bochy said.
The next logical question: What does Bochy think about the fences at AT&T Park, where the Giants hit just 31 homers in 81 regular-season games last year – the fewest at home by a big league club in 20 years?
Well, no matter what company you work for … there’s a line to toe.
“Our place, it’s kind of a signature look,” said Bochy, and there’s no disputing that. “It’s a beautiful ballpark and I wouldn’t change that. It’s just the way it’s always been.”
Arriving at Petco Park is almost as special for Nick Noonan as his major league debut. That’s because he grew up in San Diego, was a high school All-American at Francis Parker High School and remains one of the most storied prep baseball players in a rather lengthy list of greats to emerge from this region.
His parents, Bill and Athena, had Padres Season tickets until just a few years ago.
“One year, we must’ve gone to 75 games at Qualcomm Stadium,” Noonan said.
I was about to ask him how many Compadres Club points he accrued, recalling the rewards system they had for fans here. But he brought it up before I could get the question out.
“The couple games we had to miss, I think we came through the gates and swiped our Compadres cards, just so it would show that we went to every game,” he said.
Fans who went to all 81 received a Tony Gwynn autographed bat.
“It’s still in my room,” Noonan said. “But the signature is kind of faded. Maybe I can get him to re-sign it.”
Jeremy Affeldt is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday and it’s a coin flip whether he’ll be ready. Affeldt is scheduled to test his strained oblique with a bullpen session on Saturday. He still has to face hitters in a simulated game session a couple days after that, though.
“We’ll see how he comes out of it,” Bochy said. “When he throws to hitters, he’ll be turning it up a notch.”
Brandon Belt is back in the lineup for Friday’s series opener. We’ll see if Belt plays against a lefty (Eric Stults) on Saturday. My bet is he will.
I’m staying at the Marriott across the street and the fitness room is on the top floor, adjacent to the rooftop bar. I stopped to admire the view early this afternoon and espied Joe Lefebvre throwing early batting practice to Belt. So I took a picture and shared it on Twitter.
Belt might take up five pixels, maybe six.
“You were hitting a lot of line drives,” I told him. “But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to analyze your swing from 1500 feet away.”
“Well everybody else is,” he said, with a laugh.
I had a fun time showing the amazing Yu Darvish GIF to several players around the clubhouse, and if you haven’t seen it, here’s a link. Hunter Pence probably found it the most fascinating.
I told him that I have a new appreciation for just how hard it is to hit a good major league pitcher.
“It’s hard, but it’s fun, too,” Pence said.
The fun part for him, he said, is meeting the challenge of keeping the same mentality and focus when you deal with so many variables – the park, the wind, the pitcher, the variety of pitches, and the good or bad luck that happens after the ball leaves your bat.
“You can hit one perfect and it’s right at someone,” he said. “Or you can hit one off the end of the bat and get a hit.”
I replied: “Or hit it three times in the same swing.”
“Or hit it three times,” he said, smiling.