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Petco Park
San Diego, CA
New York Mets at San Diego Padres
May 1, 2004

By Ken Schlapp

Although I could not make it to Petco Park for the first game ever like I did at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, I went for the next best thing.  I made it there for the Mets first visit.  The Mets even lived up to my expectations by losing the game for me.  During my 2003 trip, Petco was standing, but not quite complete, but this time I got to go inside for a game in this beautiful new stadium.  I was able to drive to all of the previous stadiums I have visited except for Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico (and County Stadium in Milwaukee prior to my big journey), which I had to fly to.  However, I was not about to take the 6,000 mile round-trip drive from New York for the game, so I took the easy route and flew to San Diego to stay at TJ and Kate’s house and went to the game with TJ and Rick.  It does make it easy to stay with friends and have someone to drive you to the games.

Although I did not know it at the time I first visited this stadium, I would end up living about 100 miles away in 2010.  Meaning that of the two new stadiums that opened in 2004, one was a 100-mile drive from my home in New York City and the other would end up equally as far from my new home in Cypress, California.  Therefore, my frequent drives to Philadelphia for games changed to frequent drives to San Diego for games.  I still need an occasional spare room from TJ though to avoid driving back and forth between games.

Back to the first trip to Petco Park.  Since Petco is downtown instead of in the suburbs near TJ’s house we had a slightly longer drive, but 11 miles is not a big deal and only takes 15-20 minutes to get there.  As opposed to Qualcomm Stadium, there are other options besides parking in the stadium lot.  You can park in the street, which we usually do even if we have to walk a half mile or you can take the Trolley to the game.  Although we did not do so on this day we have at times parked (or had Kate drop us off) at Qualcomm and taken the Trolley from there to Petco, which is convenient as well.  However you get there, it is a great stadium in a great location.

I definitely like the downtown location better.  There are plenty of restaurants and bars near the stadium in the Gas Lamp Quarter.  It is also right off the San Diego Bay with great views of the water and the bridge to Coronado (where the Navy base is located) from within and around the stadium.  There was not much to do around Qualcomm, so this alone is a big improvement.  The stadium fits the area too.  The tan/beige Indian sandstone exterior was designed to simulate the sandy colored cliffs and beaches along the Southern California coast.  Since the stadium first went up, there have been several apartment buildings built with a similar color scheme to further build-up the surrounding neighborhood.

The Park at the Park is also ingrained into the neighborhood.  Beyond the outfield bleachers (and beach) is a huge grass park area (on a hill) which acts as a standing-room-only section that is available for $5 a ticket on game days.  On days when there is no game, the park in the park is still open to the public to simply use as a park.  This is a truly unique and fantastic feature to this ballpark.  The view of the game from here is not necessarily great, but you are at the game with access to all of the concessions and there is a huge screen behind the scoreboard to allow everyone to watch the game on a giant TV if they miss (or cannot see) the action directly on the field.  There is also a wiffle ball field here like many of the other new stadiums, but this one actually has a grass field with dirt in all the right places.  Finally, in 2007, they added a statue of Tony Gwynn on the grass lawn.

The Beach is also a great California idea.  The bleachers beyond the right center field wall actually include sand like an actual beach, so the kids can play in the sand while the adults are watching the game.  I sat there for a playoff game against the Cardinals once and to pay $5 for a seat at a playoff game it was worth having an obstructed view.  Some of the seats have a full view, but the view from the ones we had for the playoff game, we could not see right field at all.  It was still fun to be there, except for the part where the Cardinals won the game.  Where else can you have a beach and a park at a baseball stadium?

Like all of the other new stadiums, the concourses are wide and the concession stands offer a wide variety of food.  I still cannot help but think of Rubio’s fish tacos whenever I think of a Padres game because of how much the Mets broadcasters always talked about them every time I watched them play the Padres.  I have had them here several times and they are good, but not great.  Randy Jones BBQ is another good option, and you can get all of the normal hot dogs, pretzels and cracker jacks.  One think that is somewhat unique here though about concourses is that the upper deck concourse is not enclosed by the stadium.  You are actually on the outer rim of the stadium and have a great view of the Coronado Bridge and the bay with all of the boats.  The proximity of the Navy base over in Coronado led the Padres to have many promotions to allow the military personal to attend the game cheaply or free.  Needless to say, there are always a lot of military at every game.  I have also been there several times when the military jets had a fly by at the end of the Star Spangled Banner.

The dark blue seats are all angled to provide the best view of home plate as possible, so regardless of where you sit, you will have a good view.  For this game, we sat on the field level in the outfield, but I generally try buying tickets in the first few rows of section 300, which is directly behind home plate in the upper deck.  It is not very high here, so you get a good view of the whole field and the price is not expensive.  I like that you can easily see the jumbotron in left field and the out-of-town scoreboard on the right field wall.   Watched all of the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic games from this location.

Down the left field line, you also have the Western Metal Supply Co. building.  This building is over 100 years old and was originally scheduled to be destroyed to in order to build Petco Park, but they decided to keep it and make it part of the stadium.  It was refurbished and used for suites, a restaurant, rooftop seating and the team store, which I have visited many times.  It is actually a well-designed team store with everything you could possibly want in it.  The first thing I noticed there was the replica mustard yellow and brown 1970s Dave Winfield jersey.  As you may know by now, he was always one of my favorite players, so I considered buying it on the spot.  I did not go for it then, but after staring at it on my next several visits, I finally broke down and bought it and now where it proudly when I head to San Diego for a game (unless they are playing the Mets).

Although the Padres have only been around since 1969 (just like me), they have accumulated a team history and make sure they do not forget about it.  To start, the stadium is located on 19 Tony Gwynn Drive.  It is impossible to think of the Padres without thinking of the 8-time National League batting champion, so in addition to the statue in the park in the park, and the street name, his retired number 19 is also located above the batter’s eye in center field.  Dave Winfield (31), Steve Garvey (6), Randy Jones (35), and Trevor Hoffman (51) also have their retired numbers immortalized next to Gwynn’s number.  The last bit of history to note can be found by the left field entrance.  When you walk in from the left field entrance, walk just past the team store, and on the left they have pictures to commemorate past baseball history for the Padres and San Diego.  I definitely think the Padres get their fans and their history correctly in this stadium.

Once we sat in our seats, you noticed a few more idiosyncrasies to this ballpark.  The ushers where cowboy hats and they had ball girls instead of ball boys down the lines.  However, the most interesting quirk is that the Padres bullpen is enclosed behind the left center field wall, while the visitor’s pen is in foul territory behind first base.  I like that they take advantage of their home field.  The playing field is also huge, so you do not see as many home runs here as you do in many of the other new bandbox stadiums.

The game got started slowly as the Padres Jake Peavy and the Mets Al Leiter each held the opposition scoreless for the first 3 innings, but in different ways.  Leiter gave up 3 singles and 5 walks, while leaving 8 runners on base during those first 3 frames, but Peavy only gave up 3 hits while striking out 6 Mets.  The Mets did manage to break through in the 4th, when Karim Garcia led off the inning with a triple and scored on David Garcia’s 2-out single to give the Mets a 1-0 lead after it looked like Peavy would escape the leadoff triple.  The Padres would not break through until the 5th.  Brian Buchanon came to the plate with 2 outs and I said to Rick “He looks like he could hurt a baseball!” and sure enough, he crushed the next pitch for a home run to tie the game up.  Leiter would finish up this inning, but not before walking his 7th batter, so in his 5 innings he gave up 4 hits and 7 walks, but only one run.

After Peavy shut the Mets down again in the top of the 6th, the Mets decided to throw in the white flag and bring in the all-time blown saves leader (I think), John Franco.  Although it was not a save situation, he still blew the game.  Sean Burroughs started the damage with a 1-out walk in front of Brian Giles 2-out 2-run homer.  After Franco walked Phil Nevin and gave up a single to x-Met Jay Payton, Mets manager Art Howe finally removed the blown-saves king from the game, much to the delight of this Mets fan, as Orber Moreno struck out Buchanon to end the inning.  Scott Linebrink replaced Peavy in the 7th and after a leadoff single by Mike Cameron, he induced Mike Piazza to hit into a 6-4-3 double play (which I believe is on the 3-7 spot on his Strat-O-Matic card) to erase the Mets last threat of the game..  The Padres would not reach base against Moreno in the 8th or Braden Looper in the 9th, but once Hells Bells started to scream from the loud speakers as Trevor Hoffman (the former all-time saves leader) entered the game, the Mets were done.  He gave up a single to Rickey Gutierrez, but nothing else.  Once again, I have travelled to a new stadium to see the Mets lose!

Bottom line – This has quickly become one of my favorite stadiums.  I am happy that I can drive there in under 2 hours to catch weekend (and sometimes weeknight) games. 

Basic trip facts
-Stadium # 33
-Old Stadium Sites visited – Qualcomm Stadium (Total – 22)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 22 via Driving and 4,892 via Air (Totals: Driving – 18,711, Subway - 20, Air - 11,360, Total – 30,097)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – California (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section 122, Row 6, Seat 13 – Left Field on Field Level
-Prices: Parking – $10.00, Beer – $5-6, Hot Dogs - $3.25, Program (including pencil) – $5.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $5.00
-Credit Card giveaway –  None
-First Pitch -  1:20 PM
-Attendance – 42,064
-Results – Padres 3, Mets 1, W – Jake Peavy, L – John Franco, S – Trevor Hoffman
-Home team record to date – 21 wins, 16 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 16 wins, 21 losses
-Lodging – TJ’s House – San Diego, California

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