Padres to break in new fences starting Tuesday
SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bud Black, general manager Josh Byrnes and assistant G.M. A.J. Hinch spent several minutes throwing baseballs off the new fence in right field at Petco Park on Monday, trying to get a crash course in how they might play starting with the home opener Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The big hope, of course, is that more balls will fly over the fence.
From the right-field porch to the right-center gap, the fence was moved in from 402 feet to 391 feet and lowered to just under 8 feet, matching the rest of the outfield wall. In left-center, the fence came in from 402 feet to 390 feet. In a safety-related move, that allowed the visiting team's bullpen to be relocated from right-field foul territory to behind the home bullpen.
The dimensions remain the same down the left-field line (336 feet), right-field line (322) and straightaway center (396).
While Petco is expected to remain a pitchers' park, the Padres hope that players who crush a ball end up with a homer rather than a frustrating long out, the kind that have left sluggers angst-ridden since the downtown ballyard opened in 2004.
"Those balls that you really hit well, you're going to get rewarded for them," said Padres third baseman Chase Headley, whose breakout season of 2012 included 31 homers and an NL-best 115 RBIs, as well as his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. "And then the confidence you take from those swings -- it's tough when you're going really bad and you hit a ball that in most places is a home run or a double and it turns into an out. Confidence for this game is huge. It's frustrating when you do everything right and you don't get rewarded for it."
Headley won't get his shot at the new fences for a while after breaking his left thumb in spring training.
When he's back, though, he'll try to continue to be aggressive in attacking the big outfield. Without Headley, the Padres went 1-5 with just one homer in their season-opening trip through New York and Colorado.
While the Padres stand to benefit, so too will the visiting team. While many visiting players have hit impressive homers at Petco, they don't have to play 81 games a year there. As much as anything, moving in the fences will give the Padres a psychological boost.
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 fall into an outfielder's glove. Nevin once hit a ball that he thought would be a homer, but it stayed in the park for a double. After pulling into second base, he gestured angrily toward Towers' box. The two later had words in the clubhouse.
The Padres did bring in the fence in right-center by 10 feet a year later, but avoided making major changes until this offseason.
"I don't think it's going to turn it into a hitter's ballpark by any means but I think the balls that are really hit well are going to turn into home runs," Headley said. "I also think there are going to be a lot more doubles, with the outfielders having to worry about the wall rather than turn and start running.
"It's fairer but I think if you look at the dimensions for what they would consider an average major league field, it's still probably bigger than that. I think that it'll be a little more neutral than it was before."
Josh Stein, San Diego's director of baseball operations, said the Padres looked at video of every ball hit since 2010 before moving in the fences. "We wanted to move away from the extreme nature but not change the fundamental nature of the park," Stein said Monday.
While home runs are expected to go up, Stein doesn't want to predict how many more will be hit. He said the team will get a better idea over the next three seasons how the park will play with the new fences. Triples are expected to decline -- some of those balls will clear the fence -- and runs are expected to increase.
For the fans, the changes might result in fewer boring games, although Stein expects the Padres to continue to play close games.
Lowering the fence in right could lead to something else.
"We've never seen a home run robbed in right field," Stein said.
With the space gained by bringing in the fences in right field, the Padres added 56 seats in the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Deck. However, the seats are far enough back that fans won't be able to reach over the fence and interfere with play.
The factor the Padres can't control is the weather. Stein said San Diego has one of the coldest average game-time temperatures in the big leagues -- seemingly odd, but it doesn't get as hot in San Diego as in other cities during the summer -- and the game-time humidity also is among the highest in the majors.
Having played with the Padres from 2006-2010, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is interested to see how Petco will play.
"Day games were OK, but night games were tough," Gonzalez said. "The first couple of innings you had a chance, but after that the ball would hang up in the air quite a bit because everybody knows about the marine layer."
The old dimensions "probably made the pitchers more aggressive in the strike zone, knowing that even if you hit a ball decent, it's probably going to get caught," Gonzalez said. "So it's good that they brought them in a few feet -- any number helps. They just did it because they want to make it as even as possible for both sides and not have it be a place that's not considered such a one-dimensional ballpark."
Padres lefty Clayton Richard (0-1, 14.54 ERA), who is scheduled to start Tuesday's game, said he hasn't thought much about the new fences.
"I don't think it's going to change anybody's approach. If you start changing your approach, that's where you get in trouble," Richard said.
The Dodgers' scheduled starter is Josh Beckett (0-1, 4.50).
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson
AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Howie Rumberg in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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