Tom Hoynes may be the only fisherman in the world who puts his
catch in a safe-deposit box. That's because Hoynes, in his
10-foot dinghy, catches home runs. In fact, the 51-year-old
Hoynes has four of the six splashdown homers clubbed into McCovey
Cove--the inlet behind the San Francisco Giants' new Pac Bell
Park. He also has the first ball ever hit out of the stadium.
He's landed about 200 batting-practice bay bombs, all of which
he's thrown to kids on the pier. The game balls he Glad-bags and
takes to the bank. He has to. He's been offered $10,000 for that
first one, even though it was hit during an exhibition game.
"I'm doing this for one year," says Hoynes, who let me troll for
horsehide with him during a recent game between the Giants and
the Houston Astros. "Then I'm retiring. This job is too hard on
You have no idea. First Hoynes, in a Zodiac inflatable with an
outboard motor, has to beat his way across the waves of San
Francisco Bay between his Alameda home and the ballpark, a trip
that takes about 30 minutes. Once he gets to McCovey Cove, he's
got to go up against kayaks, sailboats, charter boats,
powerboats, swimmers and Portuguese water dogs, while girls on
the pier flash their breasts at him and wise guys in the stands
throw fake home run balls trying to make him look stupid. All in
the name of souvenirs.
Sometimes as many as 20 boats are out there, not including the
booze cruises, the bachelor-party boats and the guy who paddled
out on a palette tied to two surfboards. None of the other
mariners are as prepared as our intrepid Homer of the Seas. On
this night, for instance, the dinger dinghy is loaded with two
oars, two big flares, two life jackets, two burritos, two bottles
of water, a two-way radio, a transistor radio and a scouting
report that tells him which pitchers tend to throw too many
gopher balls to lefthanded hitters, who might just smash them out
to "Wave Ave." Compared with Hoynes, these other ball hawks are
kids playing in a bathtub.
"We see these guys come out on their first night, and first thing
they do is drink a quart of apple juice," says Hoynes. "We know
they'll be gone in a half hour trying to find a head somewhere."
As for the six water dogs invited by the Giants to dunk for
dongs, they get all the press, but they only come out on
Saturdays and holidays and have yet to fetch even a batting
practice ball. In fact, on July 4 the handlers couldn't get them
off the boat and into the water.
Just as well. It's dog-eat-dog out there already. Whenever a
batter sends a ball the minimum 420 feet--over the rightfield
wall, over the two rows of bleachers and over the public
pier--into saltwater glory (says Barry Bonds, the only Giant to do
it so far, "It ain't no joke hitting one into the water"), then a
battle scene from Waterworld breaks out.
"It can get a little dangerous," says Hoynes. It's like a chunk
of bread thrown in front of 50 starving ducks. Retrieving the
first regular-season home run splashdown, Joseph Figone, a former
Candlestick Park groundskeeper, nearly got his motorboat broken
in two when another one rammed him. "If he'd have hit me two feet
back, he'd have sunk me," says Figone, who still has the ball.
It'd be a lousy thing to have on your tombstone, wouldn't it?
WENT DOWN WITH SHIP
AND $9 BASEBALL
That's why Hoynes takes his role as senior fly-fisherman
seriously. He is constantly retrieving fans' tickets, glasses
cases, little kids' caps and, occasionally, windswept money. He's
got a mock trading card of himself. (Nets: Right. Steers: Right.)
Oh, and he hopes to give Willie McCovey himself a night on the
dinghy if he'd be willing. "Can't do it," says the 59-year-old
McCovey, who sits in a luxury box instead. "Can't swim."
Just as well. On this night only two BP taters for our waiters,
and none in the first four innings. But in the fifth, Bonds, the
Sultan of Splash, comes up. Six boats do the position dance.
Figone is especially edgy. Hoynes has beaten him to three bay
bombs in a row.
There is a mash to deep right center. Is it long enough?
Confusion. Did it clear? Suddenly, Figone sees the ball! Coming
down not 25 feet from him! In a flash, Figone drops his wallet
and beeper into the boat--"No, don't do it! It's a dork ball!"
yelps Hoynes--and dives in!
Figone's got his hands on it! Then the DiamondVision scoreboard
in center shows a fan in the bleachers holding up a ball. Now a
dread reality sets in Figone's eyes. He looks at his ball.
In Magic Marker is scrawled one sickening word: SUCKER.
six home runs hit out of Pac Bell Park.