Tom Hoynes maybe 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 the body."
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.