ASSOCIATED PRESS wrote: PEORIA, Ariz. –February 24, 2005 Ryan Klesko is tired of playing the scapegoat.
Everywhere the San Diego Padres left fielder went during the offseason – to his hunting ranch in Oregon, to his gym in Georgia, then back to San Diego for January workouts at Petco Park – he heard the talk.
He heard that his 2004 season was for the dogs and that if he had managed merely passable offensive production, it might have been sufficient to lift the Padres into the playoffs.
The thing is, Klesko doesnt see the same statistics others see.
"People cant point fingers and say, You had a bad year last year, " Klesko said. "Did I have the year I wanted? No. But I put up pretty decent numbers for the way I started the season and considering I was coming off surgery."
Klesko was an easy target for fans because he hit just nine home runs and was one of the Padres who complained bitterly about how their new ballpark robbed them of home runs.
When Klesko reflects on a tumultuous 2004, the All-Star break forms a clear line of demarcation between the bad Ryno and the good Ryno. Before the break, he missed 17 games with a strained oblique muscle, and even when healthy was a shell of his former self because of a loss of strength stemming from surgery on his right shoulder the previous fall.
The left-hander batted below .240 in May and June, and finished the half with two home runs, an embarrassingly paltry total for a 6-foot-3, 225-pound slugger.
"The first half was terrible," he said. "It was like a nightmare."
After the break, as his right shoulder began to recover its lost life, his bat awoke accordingly. In 66 games, he hit .310 with 19 doubles and 36 RBIs, and was scorching down the stretch with a .380 average after Aug. 31.
In all, his .291 average was his second-highest in five seasons with the Padres, his .399 on-base percentage was the best for a full season in his career, and his 32 doubles were only two fewer than he had in his All-Star season of 2001, despite 136 fewer at-bats.
"I could have easily looked at my numbers and said, God, look how bad this is and just given up," Klesko said. "By the end of the season I actually had some respectable numbers for the at-bats I had. ... The only thing that really hurt me was the power (categories)."
His late resurgence notwithstanding, the stat that most colored Kleskos season, and the one he just cant escape, is nine homers.
"The reason Ryno stands out is because his home runs werent there," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
Kleskos shoulder issues only partly explain his power outage. The 33-year-old veteran joined fellow sluggers Phil Nevin and Brian Giles at the forefront of the frequent and sometimes withering verbal attacks on Petco Park, which quickly gained a reputation for containing deep drives.
In one memorable game, Klesko launched three shots that he later insisted would have been homers in most parks, but was left with a double, two flyouts and a few choice words for Petco.
Even now, in the relaxed atmosphere of spring training, his peace with the ballpark seems fragile.
"(The Padres) built it," Klesko said. "They paid a lot of money for me and Giles and Nevin to come in here and drive the long ball, and to build something like that is their own fault. They cant blame us."
Klesko has made allowances by continuing to change his swing from long and violent to short and smooth, in an effort to reduce the loft on his balls.
"Its just going to die out there," he said. "Youre shooting yourself in the foot trying to hit the ball in the air at home. You have to play with what you got. Obviously in Colorado youre not going to be looking to hit the ball on the ground."
With his shoulder at full strength and his body bulked up to almost 240 pounds, Klesko could more than double his homers this year. But he vows to concentrate only on the number under the Padres victory column.
"People ask me what kind of year Im going to have," Klesko said. "To tell you the truth, I want to win. We have to do whatever it takes to win."
Tom Krasovic wrote:March 4, 2005 Left fielder Ryan Klesko said a recent flare-up in his left shoulder "is a little frustrating after coming here in great shape and feeling good." On Wednesday, the left-hander had an MRI exam, results of which should be known today. Klesko said his AC joint, where the shoulder blade meets the collarbone, gives him pain on some overhead moves. He said swinging a bat causes no pain, and he blasted several deep shots in batting practice yesterday.
"I'm hoping it's just a little inflammation of the joint and it'll be no problem," Klesko said.
The worst-case scenario, he said, is a reprise of his problems with his right AC joint. In February 2003, that shoulder flared up, and seven months later, despite effective cortisone treatment in spring camp, Klesko had surgery to shave bone in the joint.