By Karen Billing
With 15 seasons as a ball girl under her belt, local resident Nina Detrow might be the longest serving San Diego Padre on the field at Petco Park. She’s snagged line drives off All Star Justin Upton, worked the 1998 World Series against the Yankees and has appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Ten Plays of the Week three times. She estimates she ran closer Trevor Hoffman’s jacket in from the bullpen close to 300 times and worked one 22 inning game where they had three seventh inning stretches.
“They pay us but all of us would do it for free,” Detrow said. “I’m so blessed to do it, I’m so thankful.”
Detrow is one of a crew of eight Padres ball girls, rotating games. Their job is to help speed up the game—it’s not that the players are lazy but they can’t possibly shag every ball. That’s where the ball girls come in.
“It adds a unique female presence to the sport. I’m shocked how many autographs and pictures we take every game,” said Detrow, noting they’re especially popular with young female baseball fans.
Detrow has always loved the game, playing softball through high school. She is also a five-time winner in the women’s Over the Line beach baseball tournament held in Mission Beach.
Her son Mark is a junior outfielder on the Torrey Pines High varsity baseball team and she has her fingers crossed that she will be a ball girl long enough to see him get drafted and share the field with him some day.
Detrow got a kick out of three of her plays making SportsCenter Top Ten Plays over the years. One was that Upton line drive, another was a looper off Sean Burroughs she caught while holding her ball girl stool in her other hand and the last was a line drive off the bat of David Eckstein.
Her most memorable game was the 1998 World Series; her father was a lifetime Yankee fan and it was her first season as a ball girl.
“We’re not just watching the game, we’re studying every single pitch,” Detrow said.
Because ball girls are positioned right in the action, they can never take their eye off the ball—Detrow said she’s lucky that in 15 years she’s never been hit and has had no close calls.
“The worst is when they put ‘Error-Ball girl’ on the Jumbotron,” Detrow said. “There’s really only been one or two over the years that I should’ve had.”
Situated on the third base line in the outfield, Detrow also gets pretty close with the season ticket holders who have seats near her station.
“I’ve been friends with so many season ticket holders. One boy I gave a ball to grew up and just got drafted by the Royals. I’ve been to weddings and, sadly, a funeral,” Detrow said. “They become your family every year, they’re the ones that come religiously to every game.”
Petco Park brings Detrow a lot closer to the fans than Qualcomm, where the Padres played until the new park opened in 2004.
Detrow loves the new park and that the fans are right there on the field, but she admits it created a different kind of ball girl experience.
“It’s scary because we’re so much closer to the action and there’s less time to react,” Detrow said.
Ball girls also have the tough gig of tossing souvenir balls into the stands. Detrow said she usually gives priority to children and she gets a lot of birthday ball requests.
“Probably the best thing is interacting with the fans and giving a kid a ball. They scream and everyone cheers and I watch them just hold it and stare at it,” Detrow said. “It makes their day, their life even. I’m sad when I don’t get enough foul balls to give out in a game.”
A true baseball fan, Detrow works a trip to the ballpark into every vacation she takes. She has visited 15 Major League Baseball parks and was present for the 100th anniversary on April 20 of one of the games’ oldest stadiums, Fenway Park in Boston.
She is dying to see the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards and she would love to get down to Miami to check out the flashy new Marlins Park.
As someone who’s logged a lot of time down at Petco this season, Detrow tells Padres fans to keep an eye on Nick Hundley, who she said, “is really heating up.” She’s also a fan of Will Venable, Chase Headley, the “newbie” Yonder Alonso and loves infielder Andy Parrino.
“I’m excited for Cameron Maybin, personality-wise he’s really fun, and pitchers Josh Spence and Andrew Cashner too,” Detrow gushes of her guys. “All of the Padres are really nice and (Manager) Bud Black has done a great job to create a friendly, accessible team for fans. They make time to sign autographs and everything is really fan oriented. That’s a change all of the ballparks have made and I love stuff like that.”
For tickets to upcoming games, visit www.padres.com.