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07/02/09 10:50 PM ET
Astros-Padres finale delayed by bees
Swarm descends on PETCO Park, halting action in ninth
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- Imagine you're Kyle Blanks for a moment, a 22-year-old rookie not even a month in the Major Leagues. You're a first baseman by trade, but you're in left field, learning a brand new position and trying to just slide under the radar. The plan is working just fine. It's a sun-splashed day at PETCO Park in the ninth inning in what has become an otherwise forgettable game with most of the crowd of 23,284 long gone as the Padres are trailing the Houston Astros by six runs. Suddenly, standing there in left field, Blanks notices a bee milling around his head. And then another. He's not allergic to bees, or at least he doesn't think so, but Blanks and bees don't mix, he would say after the game. "I saw one or two floating around my head, and then I turned around and there was just a wall [of bees]," Blanks said. "There was just a ton of them. I started walking in and tried to get out of there. It's not something I want to tempt." Who could blame him? It was probably a smart, as what the Padres estimated were 2,000 bees had flown in from center field, passed high over the left-field seats and then settled down near Blanks in left field. In what was a first at PETCO Park -- their 6-year-old downtown ballpark -- the Padres and Astros were essentially held hostage by the bees during a 52-minute delay that ended peacefully with a beekeeper removing them before play resumed in what would become a 7-2 victory by the Astros. But the buzz, if you will, wasn't about the game or anything Blanks did -- he was 0-for-4 -- well, up until he noticed the swarm that was gathering, first in a magnificent swirl and then, following the queen bee, up inside the abandoned jacket of a ball girl who smartly left her post when the bees started to gather. "Someone actually joked that the ballgirl was wearing cheap perfume," a team official joked. The truth is no one is quite sure why the bees migrated into the stadium, where two teams playing below .500 were finishing off a game that was already one-sided and ended with a 7-2 Astros victory. One thing is for certain, this wasn't a first occurrence for the Padres head groundskeeper, Luke Yoder, who had witnessed something like this before, only not during a game. "I have seen them here before, on a day where there was not a game," Yoder said. "We were mowing the infield so we decided to conveniently take lunch and let them settle. ... We came back after lunch and they had formed a hive, like they formed on that jacket, on our mower. It was about the size of a soccer ball. We just let them go off on their own. "Usually within a couple of minutes, they will fly right by because they're following the queen." Only the queen had her sights set on the inside of jacket of a ballgirl, who wasn't made available to the media by the team after the game. Not that she was at fault or even the manufacturer of the jacket, who filed off a quick statement before the game ended. "To our knowledge this is the first time that bees have swarmed Majestic on-field MLB apparel," Majestic said in a statement. "We can only guess that the bees are attracted as Major League players to the warmth and comfort of our performance fabrics. "However, players and fans should rest assured that our product testing has shown no risk from swarming bees. We regret the inconvenience and Majestic will be providing the affected ballgirl a replacement jacket shortly." Once Blanks finally got the attention of the umpires, they convened quickly as the field clear and mandated a delay in play while a beekeeper was called. "It was a safety issue. The umpires made the right call to stop the game," said San Diego team president Tom Garfinkel. "There is a couple thousand bees there, and if they decide to swarm on a person, whether it's a player, an employee or a fan, then we'd have a real situation." The beekeeper was swift to arrive at PETCO Park, though the running joke about Yoder having a contact on speed dial proved to be more fiction than reality. The loudest cheer of the day came when the beekeeper emerged, in a protective suit, to take care of business. "Once he came in, it was five minutes. I heard they might have been out at SeaWorld. It's not like they were sitting around in their office," Yoder said. "It was as good as it could have been. It looked harmless ... but there was a big ball of bees up under that jacket." Players and managers on both sides took the delay in stride, understanding that they were a part of something on Thursday they might never see again. "Definitely a first time for me," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I didn't know what happened initially. I just saw [Blanks] walking in. I didn't know exactly what he was doing. Then I started to see kind of the swarm after a while. You don't want to get anybody hurt. That's the main thing." Initially on Thursday, Blanks thought he might be overreacting as he made his way toward the infield. It turns out, that was the smartest play, as Scott Hairston, playing center field, quickly joined him when he noticed the bees. "I saw him running in and I was wondering why he was running. He was looking over his shoulder. And then I looked and saw a huge swarm of bees," Hairston said. "And then I just started running."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.