SAN DIEGO — Padres director of field and landscape maintenance Luke Yoder loves to see things grow and last summer, he started a garden in the Padres bullpen.
“If we’re going to water it, and put a little time into it, why not eat of it,” Yoder said of the landscaping around Petco Park. “It’s the whole edible landscape type of thing. At the same time, it’s beautiful.”
Yoder planted peppers and they started to produce vegetables just in time to help the Padres.
“We were on a losing streak (last August),” said Padres’ reliever Joe Thatcher. “And decided we needed to get hot as a team so guys started picking them off the plants and just eating them.”
“You’re down there, you’re bored, you’re losing, you’ll do anything,” said Padres’ closer Huston Street. “We just said, ‘Let’s eat the peppers, maybe we’ll get hot.’ Like as a joke. We won that day, then we won the next day and the next day.”
But the winning continued. So Street kept pushing the peppers.
“I will try to force them to eat them,” Street said. “A lot of times I have to be the ice-breaker. So I have to take a big bite. Then they get to watch me suffer for like three innings, and then they’ll take a little-bitty bite.”
“They started with mild ones,” Thatcher said. “And then kind of worked their way up to the point where what they were eating was pretty hot, and one guy on the team actually had to throw up during the game because it was too hot for him.”
When the Padres remodeled Petco Park during the off-season, moving in the outfield fences and re-doing the bullpen, the garden went away.
And the Padres lost 15 of their first 20 games.
“We said, ‘Hey, we need to plant some peppers,'” Street said. “We planted the peppers and started playing well.”
Yoder brought back the garden and has 12 different kinds of peppers growing in the bullpen ranging in degrees of spicy, including the Bhut Jolokia Pepper which sits just below Pepper Spray on the Scoville Scale which measures peppers’ hotness.
“(Bhut Jolokia) is a man-made pepper and it’s over a million on the Scoville scale,” Street said. “I don’t know if we’ll actually eat that one, cause it can actually be deadly. Maybe if it’s a rookie or something, we’ll test it out on him, like a September call-up.”
The Padres do plan to use the peppers in condiments served at Petco Park. Last season, head chef Will Todd used peppers in the Strikeout Sauce and Bullpen Relish.
Yoder says this year’s first will be ready in July and then, look for the condiments to get hot, and maybe the Padres, too.