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PETCO Park Analysis


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Not quite a whole new game

 

By KEVIN BAXTER

 

kbaxter@herald.com

 

 

SAN DIEGO - Once upon a time, baseball was a game dominated by pitching and defense. Final scores did not look like area codes, and most home runs were hit by refrigerator-sized guys with names like Babe and Big Klu.

 

Then a wave of new ballparks with the dimensions of handball courts began to spring up, and guys not much bigger than lawn jockeys began to hit home runs with regularity.

 

''I hit one with a broken bat once,'' said the Marlins' Damion Easley, who is small enough to be mistaken for a bat boy.

 

With that as a backdrop, it's fair to call San Diego's new Petco Park baseball's first true ''retro'' ballpark.

 

That's the catch-all term used to describe many of the 18 stadiums new to Major League Baseball since 1991, though in most of those cases, ''retro'' means little more than the fact brick facades, steel girders and hand-operated scoreboards were included in the design to make the stadiums resemble those of days gone by.

 

Petco Park, where the Marlins end their 10-day, three-city road trip this weekend, is the only one that truly plays like the old ballparks.

 

''We didn't want to be just another retro ballpark,'' said Erik Judson, the Padres' vice president for ballpark development and the first person hired on the project eight years ago. ``We were very, very emphatic about creating a ballpark that played fair. We didn't want to have a ballpark that was too home run friendly. We also didn't want to have one that was solely to the benefit of the pitchers, either.

 

``We wanted it to be fair.''

 

NOT A HOMER HAVEN

 

What they got was a beautiful, $474 million downtown stadium that is yielding 1 ? home runs a game. Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf hit more than that in a recent game at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Ballpark, which also opened this year and is giving up more homers than any other park in the National League.

 

The dimensions certainly are not one-sided. Although the outfield is among the most expansive in baseball -- with the left-center-field power alley 402 feet deep and the right-center alley nine feet deeper -- there is virtually no foul ground to help pitchers.

 

In fact, fans behind the backstop are fewer than 45 feet from the plate -- 15 feet closer to the batter than the pitcher is. And the wall juts out at the right-field foul pole to create the Petco Porch 322 feet down the line, 23 feet closer than the right-field foul pole at Pro Player Stadium.

 

''It's a thousand times better than pitching in Texas,'' said the Marlins' Ismael Valdez, who pitched for the Rangers in their retro launching pad in Arlington before joining the Padres during the winter.

 

With San Diego, Valdez was 6-2 with a 3.03 ERA in Petco but 3-4 with a 8.88 ERA on the road.

 

''It's a pitcher's park,'' said Valdez, who was traded to the Marlins three weeks ago. ``It's not so much the dimensions. I don't know if it's the climate or what, the winds. But the balls travels much better in Texas.''

 

STILL NOT SURE

 

Still, despite thousands of hours of number crunching, wind studies and computer simulations, Judson and Padres general manager Kevin Towers say no one had any idea how the stadium would play until it opened.

 

Five months later, they say they're still not sure.

 

''I don't think you ever know how a park is going to play until you start playing games in it,'' Towers said. ``The difficult thing is we had no historical numbers to look at. The more and the longer we play in this ballpark, we get a better idea of what type of team would best fit this type of park -- especially offensively.

 

``For the couple of years leading up to it being completed, all you can really look at is the dimensions, renderings of it. We did some wind studies and we felt that with the short porch in right that it would benefit left-handed hitters. And I don't think that's the case.

 

``If anything, it probably benefits right-handed hitters.''

 

But even that assumption is changing as summer moves through San Diego. The ballpark, aptly situated on the edge of the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter, is just a couple of blocks from the bay, so variations in the sea breezes as well as nearby construction projects already are affecting fly balls at Petco.

 

CHANGING PATTERNS

 

''Every single block has a significant development coming out of the ground,'' Judson said. ``So the wind patterns will change.''

 

Said Towers: ``Balls that are hit real high, the wind tends to push them down. Balls that are hit on a line will jump out. It's carrying much better now than it did in April. [but] I think this ballpark will change month to month, year to year.''

 

In the meantime, the Padres, the National League's worst team last season, are chasing their first playoff berth since their World Series year of 1998. And they're doing it while ranking last in the league in home runs, but in the top third in pitching -- just how teams won in the days when things we now call ''retro'' were actually cutting edge.

 

''We think that pitching and defense are an important part of the equation,'' Judson said. ``[Petco] puts a premium on pitching and defense, and our young pitchers are certainly taking advantage of it.

 

``We're very happy.''

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Guest Moneyball

Miller Park or Skysome(unbaised) for new ones.

And definatley for the historic satdiums Fenway is the best.

520210[/snapback]

 

 

 

Skydome? that place is ranked under cookie cutter. that place sucks, astro turf, high walls, fans far away from the action, multiuse stadium, no retro look, 55,000+ plus capacity. i rank skydome as one of the worst.

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