Early views of Petco, Bonds, A-Rod

It's too early to talk about moving in the fences at Petco. Meanwhile, Bonds approaches more history and A-Rod struggles.

Originally Published: April 21, 2004
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

The lack of home runs at the San Diego Padres' new home, Petco Park -- 10 homers (three by the Padres) in nine games -- has some calling already for the fences to be moved in. But it's too early in the season to tell if Petco Park is unfair to hitters.

The ball hasn't carried well so far, but remember -- this is April. Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where the Giants played before Pac Bell was built, used to be extremely tough on sluggers in April.

Because it's still springtime, the air at Petco is cooler and heavier and the wind appears to be blowing in. The ballpark is right on the ocean, so the moisture in the cooler air keeps the ball from carrying. We need to wait and see how the ball carries in the heat of the summer (and if the wind shifts). So any talk about moving the fences in is premature.

Besides, I don't like to see the home run dictate every game. With a small ballpark, every game becomes a home-run hitting contest.

I remember something golfing legend Jack Nicklaus once said: Par should be good, but a birdie should be extraordinary. That's the way I feel about home runs. They shouldn't be easy to hit -- fences should be at a distance where hitters have to earn it. A home run should be special.

When the ballpark is too small, it naturally makes home runs easier to hit and takes away from the rest of the game. Stealing bases, the hit-and-run, moving runners along, using the bunt -- all that gets lost when a team has a small park and waits on the three-run homer.

I believe the game is better when a team has to play well-rounded baseball and also has sluggers who can hit the ball out of the park.

Bonds Away? So Far, He Prefers Home Cooking

Bonds
Bonds
San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds has proven once again that he's the greatest player in his generation -- and that he's still the best player in baseball today. What a week Bonds has had: He's hit home runs in seven straight games (one more game would tie an MLB record). He now has 667 career homers.

Bonds makes it look easy. It really isn't that easy to hit a baseball against major-league pitching.

One of the great confrontations of the season so far was when Bonds faced Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne. Bonds pulled a 101-mph fastball foul and then hit a 99-mph fastball straightaway for a home run. With Bonds, it doesn't matter how hard you throw it -- he can handle it.

The Giants opened the season on the road, and I think Bonds' slow start was due in part to the opposing fans who were yelling obscenities and holding signs ripping him regarding the steroid accusations.

When I saw Bonds in San Diego on the last day of the Giants' road trip -- the day of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast -- he was stressed. But once he came home to San Francisco, the fans showed him some love, and he responded with his home-run barrage. In eight home games, Bonds is 13-for-18 with eight homers, 16 RBI, 11 walks and only one strikeout. The Giants, though, have just a 6-8 record.

New York Soap Opera: As A-Rod Struggles
Meanwhile, another famous slugger is having a tough time in his new locale. I'm surprised that Alex Rodriguez is struggling. I thought he would handle the transition to the pressure cooker of the New York Yankees easier than others because of his tremendous talent and poise.

A-Rod is batting .196 with one homer and three RBI in 14 games. Perhaps his slow start can be attributed to the fact that he's playing a new position, third base. The move from shortstop to third occupied most of his time in spring training. Because he was learning a new position, he focused less on making adjustments offensively.

Rodriguez
A-Rod
When you're learning a new position, that's your focus. But now A-Rod needs to concentrate on getting back on track at the plate. The defense will take care of itself. He has only one error so far, and it was really a mental error, because he threw to second base instead of going to first.

Most baseball observers say, and I would agree, that A-Rod is a better shortstop than Derek Jeter. But that doesn't mean he should be playing shortstop for the Yankees. Jeter is a quality shortstop, and he's been the shortstop on four New York championship teams. He should remain the Yankee shortstop.

Regarding A-Rod's offensive woes, some are wondering how long owner George Steinbrenner will remain quiet. Jeter, manager Joe Torre and other Yankees have taken Steinbrenner's criticism before, but it would be new territory for A-Rod. Hopefully, for A-Rod's sake, Steinbrenner will hold his tongue for a while. Yes, A-Rod is struggling now, but we all know he's a great hitter, and he'll find his rhythm. Jason Giambi also got off to a slow start in 2002, his first year in New York.

When the Boston Red Sox attempted to trade for A-Rod in the offseason, I felt they already had enough firepower to be the favorite in the AL East. After Boston acquired closer Keith Foulke and starter Curt Schilling, I felt they were good enough to beat the Yankees. Then the Sox went after A-Rod, but they didn't really need him.

Of course, the Yankees ended up with A-Rod, and they did need him. New York needed another bat more than Boston did. In the long run, New York's newest sluggers, A-Rod and Gary Sheffield, will make the AL East race a dead heat.

The reason the Yankees lost the World Series last year was because they couldn't hit -- they couldn't handle the Florida Marlins' hard throwers. With A-Rod and Sheffield, that problem should be solved.

The Red Sox and Yankees play 15 more times this season, with the Sox holding a 3-1 advantage after the weekend series in Boston. It should be a great season series.

Best In West?
The Los Angeles Dodgers, who didn't hit much last year, are tied for the best record in baseball (9-4). The Dodgers scored a majors-worst 574 runs last year and had MLB's next-to-worst batting average (.243).

Bradley
Bradley
Last year, opponents could focus on stopping Paul Lo Duca and Shawn Green. This year, two major additions, Juan Encarnacion and Milton Bradley, have made the Dodgers' lineup deeper. And leadoff man Dave Roberts has done a tremendous job of getting in scoring position; his nine stolen bases are tied for the MLB lead.

The Dodgers already had the pitching, and now I believe they'll be a factor in the NL West race, along with Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.

The Giants could have problems keeping up with the rest of the West. It doesn't look like they have enough starting pitching after Jason Schmidt. There are too many question marks, and Schmidt's shoulder is also a question mark. Can it hold up over the course of 25-30 starts?

The only games the Giants have won this year are Barry Bonds games -- not games where other players have stepped up. As we know, most teams will take Bonds out of the game via the intentional walk. So far, it doesn't look like San Francisco has enough offense from other sources or enough starting pitching to stay in the playoff hunt. But you can't count the Giants out because of their postseason experience in three of the past four years. I expect the NL West to be a dogfight. Stay tuned...

Moving to the AL West, I see the Anaheim Angels as the team to beat. I've been surprised at how well the Oakland Athletics' offense has performed thus far, led by Jermaine Dye. And the A's still have the Big Three in the rotation (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito). But I give the edge to the Angels because they have a more balanced offense, led by Garret Anderson and their huge free-agent pickup, Vladimir Guerrero.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series and MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76. He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.

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