The friar-disguised Wheeler brothers busking outside the ballpark
Meet Padre Joe and the Foul Balls. That’s the name of the band that played outside Petco Park on opening day disguised as friars. “We’ve been hired by the Padres to play before the games for the last four years,” bassist Zachary Wheeler says. The trio was usually booked to play every weekend home game. “There were other bands all around the park, too. But two years ago, the new owners came in.” After that, he says they only got called to play on opening day and the Yankees home game last year. “This year, all we had so far was opening day. Actually, there were two opening-game days.”
Padre Joe and the Foul Balls is Joe Guevara on keys, Zachary Wheeler, and his brother Josh Wheeler on drums. “We play in front of the home-plate gate, on the south side of the park where that bridge goes across. It’s the more ghetto side.” He says they power up a small PA system and wail just outside the ballpark’s gates to incoming baseball fans and an endless stream of East Village characters. “We’ve seen news cameras filming us, but I’ve never seen us on TV.”
The Foul Balls specialize in friendly rock and well-known radio covers.
“One of the craziest things that happened was when we were playing ‘With or Without You,’ the U2 song, and this homeless guy just started losing it. He was crying, pulling stuff out of his pockets, like loose change and his bus pass and throwing it in our tip jar. The song must have really meant something to him once.”
This same trio (minus the Friar’s robes) worked as the house band at Prohibition in the Gaslamp as a jazz-rock-blues band called Piano Joe and the Bootleggers. But Scarlet Symphony is perhaps the brightest star in the Wheeler brothers’ musical past; Zachary’s twin brother Josh is that band’s drummer, too. He says the Symphony is in an undefined holding pattern, meaning they haven’t formally broken up. “We played last New Year’s Eve at the Soda Bar, and it was like putting on an old shoe that fit. We’re not opposed to getting back together and making new music.”
Wheeler says the Foul Balls is the most fun gig he’s ever had. “We’ve got our own version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ and we’re totally good at playing stuff we’ve never played before. Joey looks the lyrics up on his iPhone and plays keyboard with one hand.” He explains that the Padres gig was more or less brokered through a middleman who made the contact with the Padres front office. “We’d love to play more gigs,” he says, “but we don’t know who to call.”