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Swing For Your Seats held at Petco Park Saturday

Swing For Your Seats held at Petco Park Saturday

Former college softball players Whitney Benjamin and Jessie Bekkedahl did not win free season tickets Saturday during the Padres' inaugural Swing For Your Seats promotion at Petco Park.

In fact, no one did.

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But Benjamin and Bekkedahl gained something almost as valuable: bragging rights.

Benjamin and Bekkedahl hit the ball on their only swing. The men who accompanied them to Petco Park swung and missed. 

"We are always competing," Benjamin said of her relationship with her husband Alex. "It's really cool. I always wanted a chance like this. I was happy I made contact."

Benjamin hit a sharp foul. Alex swung and missed. And so did her father, Terry Holum.

"I'm guessing I might text 200 to 300 friends and family members," joked the 28-year-old Benjamin, who played softball at UCLA and teaches hitting in Rancho San Diego in addition to being a fitness instructor.

Meanwhile, Bekkedahl, a native San Diego who played softball at Cal Baptist through 2002, drove a grounder through the right side of the infield just before her brother Joseph missed.

Benjamin and Bekkedahl were two of the 1,000 fans who took part in the Swing For Your Seats event.

The rules were very simple -- all participants got one swing using a wooden bat against a pitching machine that was throwing at 70 mph from a distance of 55 feet. Each hitter got two pitches to take their one swing.

If that swing drove the ball beyond the fences at Petco Park, the swinger would win two season tickets behind home plate.

San Diego's Matt Weightman came the closest. The 33-year-old former catcher at Monte Vista High and UC San Diego hit a 340-foot drive just before 2 p.m. that landed about 20 feet from the fence in left. Weightman had played in a San Diego Adult League game earlier Saturday.

The second-closest drive was hit by Mike Watt. The 36-year-old employee of the County of San Diego, hit a line drive to left.

"My No. 1 goal was not to make a fool of myself," said Watt, who used to play in the San Diego Adult League. "But even if I did swing and miss, it was a chance to take a hack at Petco Park. How cool is that? My guess is that everyone here felt the same way."

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Matt Hinchman, 37, of La Mesa, in IT for a biotech firm.

Hinchman also played high school baseball and slow-pitch softball. But this was his first opportunity to stand in the batter's box at Petco Park.

"It looks easier when you are sitting in the stands," said Hinchman. "But when I was standing in there, the ballpark looked enormous. It was awesome seeing the speed of the ball ... and that's 20 mph slower than a Padre might see."

The Swing for Your Seats promotion was the brainchild of Steve Ziff, the Padres new senior vice president for sales and service. It is one of many ideas Ziff is kicking around to strengthen the ties between the Padres and their fans.

"We want to bring people out to Petco Park," said Ziff. "We want them to have fun."

Less than two weeks ago, the Padres announced Swing For Your Seats on their social media outlets. Interested parties could enter on line.

"We filled our 1,000 available slots in less than a day and had another 1,000 sign up even after the promotion filled," said Ziff.

As part of the promotion, the hitters were announced over the public-address system as they approached the plate. Each swing was photographed.

"We wanted to make it every participant's moment," said Ziff, who is already looking more ideas. "This is a good start," he said.

Although 1,000 took swings during the eight-hour program, more than three times that many moved through the gates at Petco Park -- some visiting the downtown ballpark for the first time.

"I think everyone had fun," said Watt. "All I heard was people talking about getting a chance to take a swing at Petco Park."

And Swing For Your Seats is going national.

Fox Sports Live sent cohosts and former NFL players Donavan McNabb and Ephraim Salaam to Petco Park to take swings. The quarterback missed on 10 straight swings before laying down a bunt.

However, Salaam, an offensive lineman out of San Diego State, hit four of the eight pitches he swung at -- including two drives through the right side of the infield.

"It felt great," said Salaam. "I didn't know what to expect. I had never swung a bat before today. I've got some bragging rights on Donavan. How sweet is that?"

Whitney Benjamin and Jessie Bekkehahl can relate.

Bill Center is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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