San Diego 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 just 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.
And then a flashback triggers another reaction.
After hitting two homers in a recent spring training game, Klesko was asked if he was 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."
Two of Klesko's fly balls that night were merely 405-foot outs. The third bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double.
"I laid into those balls," Klesko said this spring. "I've been around awhile. Those balls were all hit very, very hard. To go 400 feet and be an out? You've got to hit 'em 440, 430 because the ball's not carrying anyway. It's that frustrating.
"I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' We knew it was going to be tough, but we didn't know it was going to be that tough."