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Planning to visit SoCal on your ballpark tour? Well, you're eyes won't be deceiving you if you see Ryan Klesko surfing.

Yes, that Ryan Klesko. He's a SoCal stud who likes to surf - and crush a baseball.

When Ryan Klesko walks from the batters box to home plate at Qualcomm Stadium with bat in hand, George Thorogood’s guitar riff that begins “Bad To The Bone” kicks in over the loudspeaker.

The truth of the matter is the way Klesko hits, the song couldn’t be a more perfect reflection of No. 30. He is indeed “Baa, Baa, Bad” to opposing pitchers.

Said Padres skipper Bruce Bochy of Klesko: “He can run, hit, hit for power – I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.”

Last season, the 30-year-old Klesko (who turns 31 on June 12) batted .286 with 30 home runs, 113 RBI and .539 slugging percentage. Klesko also stole 23 bases. The stolen bases are particularly astounding for a man of Klesko’s stature, who stands at 6-foot-3-inch, 220 pounds. But it’s just another testament to how athletic the Westminster, California native is.

“It’s nice always to be in the books for something like that,” said Klesko. “It’s an exciting time for me and I’m definitely excited about everything that’s gone on.”

The Friars continue to build their young nucleus around Klesko, who has moved from first base to right field to make way for Sean Burroughs at third base (Phil Nevin has moved from third to first).

In 2000, Klesko enjoyed his finest all-around season in his first Padres campaign, batting .283 with 26 home runs, 92 RBI’s and 23 stolen bases, establishing career highs in extra-base hits (61), walks (91) and stolen bases, while his RBI total was one shy of his 1996 personal best.

Klesko shattered those numbers long before the 2001 season was over. But back in April 2001 things weren’t looking rosy for Klesko when his bat went south to start the season.

“After the first couple of weeks I struggled. I thought I had the perfect swing in spring training,” Klesko explained. “All of the sudden I lost it for a couple of weeks. But I stuck with it. I didn’t give up on my swing. And it’s something he (Padres Hitting Coach Duane Espy) said, ‘We can’t change things. You’re feeling good at the plate.’ And then my knee got healthy, I started driving off my back leg and started feeling better again.”

Said Espy: “I think the good thing and the reason he came out of it, and came out of it doing so well, was he didn’t make a bunch of radical changes and he stayed with what he was doing and what he believed in. When the season started it wasn’t going too well, but he hung in there with it and he’s come out the other side doing very well and now the relaxed part of it is and the comfort part of it is, it has come back. I know he feels good when he goes up there.”

The proof that Klesko made the right decision was in the pudding in May 2001 when he went on an absolute tear, setting a new club record for most RBI’s in one month.

“That’s impressive. That (record’s) been here awhile in the Padre organization. He had a tremendous month in May there,” Bochy commented.

Espy is convinced that Klesko was able to work through his problems at the plate because he had been through the problem before in his career.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt it,” Espy commented. “When he was struggling, ‘Hey, you’re been down that road before, you know what you’re capable of doing. You’ve been in slumps before (and) you’ve come out of them. You know what you’re consistent numbers are year after year and that’s going to happen basically regardless.’”

“But what’s happened now is that he’s being so consistent and he is so confident in what he’s doing that, you know, he’s really starting to put up some terrific numbers and I don’t see any reasons why it will stop,” Espy added.

Added Klesko: “What makes a team great is guys don’t worry about their numbers, they’re worried about winning and fighting in the trenches and getting in the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about – not worrying about your own stats.”

But not only has Klesko managed to produce consistently in a Padre lineup that rarely has as a whole, he’s also hit the cover off of many balls at Qualcomm Stadium and on the road.

“Can you imagine Ryno hitting a ball like he did out to center at a pitcher?” Nevin said, on an evening earlier in 2001 at home when Klesko crushed a home run to dead center field. “It’s scary. I said it after he hit it to somebody in our dugout, there’s going to be a day he’s going to hit a ball back at a pitcher like that and obviously there’s no way to get out. It’s unbelievable how hard he hit that ball.”

“The ball doesn’t carry to center very well here, so I guess you’ve got to hit a ball like that to get it out,” Klesko quipped. “When it’s misty and foggy, that ball probably wouldn’t have gone out.”

For now, Klesko is just content with playing ball back home in Southern California where he grew up.

For the last two years, he has served as the Padres spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, hosting Make-A-Wish children for batting practice, a pre-game ceremony and a ballgame each homestand. His "Klesko's Korner" program regularly provided Padres tickets to children and families facing cancer.

Oh, and likes to surf (off Cardiff-by-the-Sea, we here).

“I’m glad I can contribute. I’m just glad I can help this team win,” Klesko said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s a great opportunity to come back home to Southern California and play in front of my family and for a great manager. I’ve just been feeling good.”

Copyright 2002