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Petco hounds homer hitters

Fri., April 1, 2005

Ryan Klesko tries to say the right things about Petco Park.

He really does.

“We all know that this is a big park. We can’t just go out and bang it,” the slugger said about the San Diego Padres’ year-old ballpark. “We’ve got to play defense, offense, get the runners over. We’ve got to play sound baseball all year in that park to win games.”

Then Klesko remembers the night last April when Petco’s deep dimensions robbed him of three home runs, and he goes off again.

After all, home run hitters are supposed to hit home runs, aren’t they?

Klesko and fellow sluggers Phil Nevin and Brian Giles fumed to various degrees last year after they quickly discovered that fly balls that would have been home runs in their old ballpark, Qualcomm Stadium, were just long outs in Petco’s gaps, which measure 402 feet in left-center and 411 in right-center.

Sometimes the three simply groused in the clubhouse. Other times, body language said it all. In mid-August, Nevin cursed and gestured after a ball he thought should have gone out merely went for a double. When the inning ended, he flung his helmet and glared in the direction of general manager Kevin Towers’ box. Nevin and Towers had a heated exchange after the game.

The Padres’ big boppers have tried to convince themselves that this is how it’s going to be in the salt air just off the waterfront. They tell themselves to remain calm, that winning is more important than stats.

Then a flashback triggers another reaction.

After hitting two homers in a recent spring training game, Klesko was asked if he’s reconciled to hitting fewer homers at Petco Park.

“It’s going to happen,” said Klesko, who hit only nine last year, when he was coming off shoulder surgery. “A few? I had three in one game that should have been homers. I got zero. And that was one game.”

That was against the San Francisco Giants during the first homestand in Petco Park. Not even Barry Bonds homered that series, and he remarked later that the Padres had made Petco not only Bonds-proof, but “baseball-proof.”

North Dakota Senate backs Maris

The North Dakota Senate in Bismarck unanimously approved a resolution asking baseball commissioner Bud Selig to reinstate Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 as the major league record.

Maris’ mark has been surpassed six times since 1998, but baseball’s steroids scandal has called the recent records into question.

“In North Dakota when we think something has been wrong, we try to make it right,” said Sen. Joel Heitkamp, a Democrat who sponsored the resolution. “And when it comes to Roger Maris, and when it comes to steroids, and when it comes to how people have taken this record away … that’s not right.”

Maris grew up in Fargo, N.D., where he was a high school star in baseball and football.

State senators approved the measure 45-0. It now moves to the North Dakota House for additional review.

Mark McGwire broke Maris’ record by hitting 70 home runs in 1998, when Sammy Sosa hit 66. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record with 73 home runs.

Joint group wins stadium project

The Washington Nationals’ new stadium will be built by a joint venture that includes a company that designed 15 of the last 23 major league parks.

The team of Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum (HOK) Sport Venue Entertainment, Inc. of St. Louis and Devrouax & Purnell Architects-Planners of Washington was chosen by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

The winning bid of $18.5 million was about $4 million lower than the next best of the eight bids submitted in February.

HOK led the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, PNC Park and PETCO Park, among others.

Washington’s ballpark will be built along the Anacostia River waterfront. The Nationals are expected to move in for the 2008 season.

Clearing the bases

The New York Mets signed catcher Mike DiFelice, 35, to a minor league contract, four days after he was let go by the Florida Marlins. … Hoping to clear a logjam of utility infielders and add depth to their bullpen, the Atlanta Braves traded backup second baseman Nick Green to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for reliever Jorge Sosa. The Devil Rays also claimed outfielder Michael Restovich off waivers from Minnesota. … New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera allowed two runs, both on homers, over 1 2/3 innings in a minor league game at Triple-A Columbus.


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