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Replacing bleachers part of evolving Petco Park

Padres Hall of Fame, LED lighting, new netting also among improvements

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Late during the inaugural season of Petco Park, I had a chance meeting with Padres executive Dick Freeman and general manager Kevin Towers during which the subject of the ballpark came to the front.

"What would you change?" Freeman asked me.

Two things immediately came to mind -- and we weren't talking dimensions.

While I loved the Park at the Park, I hated two areas connected to the area -- the bunker-like batter's eye in center field and the bleachers just to the right-field side of the batter's eye.

Weeks earlier, I had drawn the ire of several Padres officials by calling the batter's eye the "green monstrosity" -- borrowing a page from the beloved Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Freeman asked me what I would do with the batter's eye. My suggestion was to paint it dark blue -- so that it would better blend into the color of the seats in the stands and add ivy or shrubbery to the sides.

The batter's eye was already in line for a major modification because the left hand of 6-foot-5 Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis was outside the parameter of Petco Park's batter's eye when he released the ball.

Weeks after the season ended, I got a note from Freeman saying they were painting the batter's eye blue and adding the bushes that are now very prominent at Petco Park. I think it blends in much nicer now than the original design.

There was no to reaction, however, to my other idea.

When asked about the bleachers, my response was "blow them up."

I never liked the concrete grandstands beyond the see-through fence in right-center. And I felt the same way about the sandbox between the bleachers and the field. Although it took a howitzer to reach the distant right-center fence in the early years of Petco Park, I always feared for the safety of children playing in the sand any time a hitter drove the ball in that direction.

As for the bleachers, they didn't even face home plate. They were pointed in the direction of the right-field foul line behind first base. Plus, even with "cushioned" seats, they were uncomfortable.

I am happy today to say the bleachers are being replaced and the sandbox relocated. Just wish they'd let me push the plunger.

Replacing the bleachers next season will be a two-level "social space" in right-center to accommodate up to 600 fans. On most game nights, the area will be sold as a group space.

Presented by Sun Diego Boardshops, the new area is being designed with a beach-lifestyle theme -- the area modeled to reflect the piers of Southern California. Where the sandbox used to be will be a line of seats overlooking the field. The second deck will also be fronted by a line of seats.

The plans for the new area will not affect the views from the Park at the Park. As for the sandbox, it will be relocated along the K Street corridor.

The new social area in right-center is one of five offseason construction projects as part of the ongoing evolution of upgrades at Petco Park. Work on the social area will start immediately.

Other 2015-2016 projects include:

-- The installation of LED lighting to be completed by early January. The new system will reduce glare inside and outside Petco Park while improving visibility and enhancing television broadcasts.

-- Installing new backstop netting behind home plate. The new netting, manufactured by Promats, minimizes the outward appearance of the net while improving visibility through the netting with no loss in safety.

-- The installation of 222 new seats in the Lexus Home Plate Club.

-- Construction of the Padres Hall of Fame on K Street underneath the left-field stands. The Padres Hall of Fame will open before the 2016 All-Star Game.

Read More: San Diego Padres