Ballplayer for a Day: Padres Swing for your Seats
As a Padres fan, there’s nothing I love more than when our team takes the field and comes off victorious. Hell, I even just love them taking the field. Call me a romantic, but there’s something infinitely soothing and exciting when it comes to the beautiful simplicity that is a baseball game. I’ve been playing the game for most of my life, and you can bet I have taken each opportunity at FanFest to run down on the field and stand on the same grass that the major leaguers stand on.
It’s a spectacle, to be sure, to walk and place your feet on the same infield as Gold Glove winner Chase Headley. It’s even exciting to bounce off the outfield wall and pretend you’ve made a homerun-stealing catch like Will Venable. But the opportunity to stand in the same batter’s box?
Well now that’s just a little too indulgent. Even too good to be true.
But you know what?
The Padres opened the gates to Petco Park on Saturday, March 15th in a promotion entitled “Swing for your Seats” – a promotional contest where fans were given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try to hit a homerun out of a major league stadium and receive season tickets if successful. Only 1,000 spots were open and according to Padres reps the spots filled quickly. That’s not difficult to imagine given the criteria for the promotion.
Fans were allowed two pitches and one swing while standing at home plate – actual home plate – to try and make solid contact and hit a ball over the outfield wall. The pitches were not BP style, mind you. No, the pitches came off a pitching machine at a slow-and-steady 70 mph. What was the catch in this case? No catch, but also no warm up. Fans walked into the batter’s box cold and the minute you nodded your head in the cage, it was go time.
I arrived at Petco just before 10:00am to check-in and also make sure I had properly signed my liability waiver that guaranteed that it wasn’t legally the Padres fault if I was injured or if I died. I don’t think they would have to worry about me suing if I were dead, however, but hey. That’s the business. After a brief check-in, I was led to the Padres clubhouse where the team gets ready before each game. I had never been in the clubhouse before, although I knew that a ballpark tour could take you through there. Nonetheless, it was an excellent surprise that made this experience even greater.
Some interesting things to note about the clubhouse lockers, by the way. Carlos Quentin has, on hand, at least 40-50 bats in his locker. Jedd Gyorko, a father-to-be, had two boxes of diapers in his locker (presumably a gift from one of his teammates). Chris Denorfia, the Italian stallion of the team, had a large Italian flag draped next to his chair. Finally, perhaps one of the stranger items I found in the locker room, was a signed poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian along with a replica sword. Indeed, the locker room – although just that, a locker room – was a fun taste of the big league experience that was about to come.
After a brief explanation of how this batting process would work and a slightly longer sales pitch for a Padres season ticket plan, the 10am group was allowed to walk down the steps and onto the field. I slapped the top of the door frame just so that I could get a feeling for what it was like to walk out before a game. Five minutes into this thing and I’m already giddy beyond belief, but then again it’s always been a dream of mine to play major league baseball. It was fair to say I wasn’t alone that day.
“Wow! Can you believe this?” … “Oh man, this is like a dream come true.” … “I’ve been getting ready for this day my entire life” … “Me too. Plus I went to the cages this morning to get some prep work in” … these were a few of the phrases I heard as we stepped out onto the field from the dugout steps. People were stoked on this opportunity, and it’s easy to see why. How many times can you say you’ve taken an at-bat from homeplate at a major league stadium, let alone the stadium for your favorite team?
Despite the excitement, we all formed an orderly line along the firstbase side of the infield. Fans were handed a batting helmet (various sizes were available, which is fortunate for me since I have a big dome) and also given a choice of bat: either a 34”-32 oz. woody (wooden bat) or a 32”-30 oz. woody. Both bats looked like they had been used for infield practice or something along those lines, but nonetheless it was a real, authentic wooden bat and we were standing on an authentic major league field.
While waiting in line I was interviewed by NBC San Diego and asked a bunch of questions about the experience. The interview meant I had to get out of line and go back in when it was over… then again, I have never been on the news before either, so why don’t we knock off two things on the bucket list today? (The video is online; in the segment I’m the one wearing the Padres brown – of course.)
Following that brief, awkward interview, I stepped back in line. Not a single person had made a hit as I waited there, but that didn’t seem to wash the smiles away from everyone involved. A few people fouled the ball off, and that in and of itself was a victory. Fans continued to laugh and jump with excitement as they approached homeplate to take a hack at the ball. The experience was compounded by the fact that a staff member was waiting at the front of the line to take your name and then announce your at-bat across the PA system. At this point, my excitement level was through the roof.
“Now batting for the Padres, Ian Smith!” Oh man did that have a nice ring to it.
As I walked up to the plate, I took a deep breath and looked around. This may very well be an experience I never get to have again: helmet on my head, bat in my hand, feet firmly planted at about shoulder length apart. Western Metal building to my left, Petco Porch to my right, and the numbers of Padres legends on top of the Batter’s eye directly in front of me. This was unreal… and it was time to give it a shot.
I nodded my head for the first pitch; can’t I stay here for just a little bit longer? Sadly, no, as the first pitch whizzed past me at about chest height. I tried to pick up my timing, I nodded for the second pitch, and I swung and barely tipped it as it whizzed past me again at about shoulder height.
Two pitches, one swing.
That was it. An entire life’s dream condensed into about 15-20 seconds. Yet, those 20 seconds might as well have been 20 minutes; the images in my head are still quite poignant and stuck with me as I sit in class trying to convince myself that I would make a better lawyer than a major league baseball player. It was a great experience and I know that I was very lucky to have that opportunity.
So what if I didn’t connect for a homerun? Nobody else did either. And from an objective baseball-player point of view, the conditions were not conducive to success given the very small window of opportunity. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience and I certainly hope that the team does it again next season. Until then, I’ll just have to live vicariously through watching the boys on the field, hopefully victorious in their efforts to grab the pennant.
One can certainly dream, at least.