Padres improving Petco already

The Padres will spend close to $3 million before the start of the 2005 season on improvements to year-old Petco Park. Makes you wonder whether that was the money that was supposed to go to a player to enhance the team.

The "enhancements" detailed by club president Dick Freeman include modifying the aesthetically challenged batter's eye in center field, adding a small video screen on the out-of-town scoreboard in right and replacing the glass-and-metal railing along the length of the front row in the upper deck.

The Padres will also upgrade signage throughout the ballpark and are reviewing their concession operations -- from the length of the walk required to reach certain concession stands to the menu, including, in Freeman's words, "the essence of the hot dog."

Said Freeman: "Petco Park is an overwhelming success with our fans. But there are areas where we can improve. We've listened to our fans as well as park employees and are making some changes. And we're not talking about a small amount of money."

The cost of the changes will be borne by the Padres. The actual final cost is uncertain because some contracts have not been finalized. The Padres will not be making any changes to the dimensions of the playing field. And the visitors bullpen will remain on the field outside the right-field foul line.

The first project undertaken by the Padres was to spend $300,000 to replace the original metal-braced glass railing along the upper deck with a clear glass railing. In addition to the metal trim, the plexiglass used in the original railing produced a distorted view of the playing field for fans sitting in the first four or five rows of the upper deck and looking through the glass.

"The railing was the No. 1 irritant for fans viewing the game," said Freeman.

No. 2 on the list of complaints was from fans down the left-field line whose view of the main scoreboard was blocked by the southeast corner of the Western Metal Supply Co. building. The Padres offered a small remedy last year by placing game information on the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. That will be supplemented this year by a small video board in the right-center area of the out-of-town scoreboard. The right field video display will measure approximately nine feet (the height of the wall) by 16 feet -- compared to the main video board's measurements of 30 feet by 53 feet.

The bunker-like batter's eye, dubbed the "green monstrosity," detracted from other features of the ballpark. "It's the first place your eyes seemed to fall," Freeman admitted. "We are still studying design recommendations, and it will be more of a financial commitment than we planned. We have not quite finalized what we're going to do, but it will look a lot better. There will be changes to all four sides."

Trees and plants will certainly be a part of the design change. The batter's eye will also be widened to address the concerns of Padres that some pitchers were able to deliver the ball outside the width of the green wall.

The entire concessions operation will be reviewed. Freeman said there will be "much more open grilling" in 2005. Fans didn't take kindly to steamed hot dogs. "I agree," said Freeman.

Also, the length of the walk to certain concession stands was an issue last season. "There will be more points of sale, meaning shorter walks and waits," promised Freeman. The concession menu is also being reviewed, and Freeman said there will be some upgrades.

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