When I was a kid growing up in San Diego, I had two wishes. To get a Benny Santiago autograph at a game, and to one day play on the field as a Padre. Neither of those happened. At a 3rd grade birthday party to a game vs. the Reds, Benny Santiago feigned interest at the group of 8 years olds, took our Sharpie as if he was going to sign a ball for us, had a hearty chortle, then walked away with our Sharpie. What a prick. My baseball career was pretty much tapped out by high school as I could not hit a breaking ball, and I couldn’t throw a breaking ball for a strike as a pitcher. So to all the kids out there, dreams don’t come true.
When the Padres offered their ingenious Swing for the Seats promotion, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, how many chances do you get to take a cut in a Major League park. I’ve already got season tickets. I mean MEMBERSHIP. So I didn’t care about winning a pair of crappy upper deck season tickets (come on Wayne Partello, at least offer an Omni Premier Club seat since no one was going to win anyways). My slot was between 12 and 2. With wife and newborn baby in tow, we headed in only to run into two very large African American men and one super jacked white dude with people asking to take pictures with one of them. As a professional journalist for Padres Jagoff, I asked the usher who they were. And then I realized, it was Donovan McNabb, the guy from the Campbell’s Soup commercials! What a thrill! I got a picture with the soup spokesman and totally ignored the other two (NFL offensive lineman Ephraim Salaam and former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler). We headed inside and were guided through the Lexus Dugout Club to the field where we got in line to take our cuts. The talk of the line was Donovan McNabb (they must have really liked soup!), who I guess was going to take some swings for a Fox Sports 1 special. After waiting in the sun for about 20 minutes, the Padres cut off the line of potential season ticket customers and sent up McNabb. He proceeded to whiff on 20 straight pitches and embarass himself. Luckily, he’s a jovial guy and laughed it off. NFL offensive lineman and I think local, Ephraim Salaam, took about 10 cuts and managed to hit a liner to first and a grounder back to the pitcher. It should be noted that over the 20 minutes I’d waited up to then, only 1 person had made contact with a grounder to the pitcher. My guess is that Fox Sports 1 wanted to do a wacky bit where the big NFL guys whiff or hit a few weak grounders, where the producer will then cut to EX MAJOR LEAGUER Gabe Kapler and watch him hit some bombs and show those dumb football players what REAL athletes can do. So Gabe Kapler came up and took about 15 minutes of batting practice. Why 15 minutes you ask? Because Kapler was unable to hit a single home run so they just kept him out there hoping he would to make the eventual segment a success. He did manage to pop up a ton of balls straight up into the cage, Willie Mays Hayes style, but without the punitive pushups. He hit one decent line drive about 10 feet from the warning track, and hit a blooper to left. Other than that, he was abysmal. He kept stopping the pitches and demanding that the Padres employee manning the pitching machine make minute adjustments to really get a pitch in his wheelhouse. And then he’d pop it up foul. After the grumbling in line got to a fever pitch about the Padres letting Gabe Kapler ruin the schedule for everyone due to his immense failings, they finally ended it and pulled him out, all without a home run. It should be noted that as we all know now, no one hit a home run for the promotion. It should also be noted that a bonafide Major Leaguer was also unable to hit one. This means that all of our hitting can now be considered Major League caliber as measured against Gabe Kapler.
Anyways, after another 20 minutes of waiting, I got called. They had some Padres employees doing announcements, so not only did we get to hit, we had our names called on the PA system. Decked out in boardshorts and flip flops, all I wanted to do was make contact and hear the crack of the bat. To that point, even making contact was rare. I took the first pitch and realized it was a bit slower than the 70 mph pitches I practiced on at the JP Longball batting cages. On the second, I took a fierce cut and hit a sharp liner to the 3rd base/SS hole. I like to think it would have made it to the hole, but really, that’s only realistic when you imagine Alexi Amarista playing shortstop. But I really did it, got a crack of the bat. Fox KSWB news lady interviewed me afterwards, checked out the wounds on my hands from not wearing batting gloves when I went to the batting cages, and asked me how I did it.
All in all, it was a great promotion. One more Gabe Kapler story. So with Donovan McNabb there, pretty much every picture/autograph request was for Donovan, and totally ignored Ephraim Salaam and Gabe Kapler. Finally, one girl asked for a picture with Gabe Kapler. He said “OK, but let’s go over here so no one else can see. I don’t want people to see and start lining up for photos”. After his horrific performance at bat, I can’t see that as a problem.
I hope the Padres keep up the push of innovative promotions like this. I think it got people totally excited for Padres baseball. They were offering a full batting practice session for anyone who signed up for a membership which I will now harass my ticket rep about so I too can get a BP session.
At this point, the only thing more thrilling would be if stupid jerkface Benito Santiago would give me back my Sharpie.