Thursday, April 24, 2008

Deathtour~!: PETCO Park, San Diego

Before I talk about my experience in San Diego, the third leg of my 3-city tour, I just wanted to thank Shane Welker, Pat Loika and the Mesa members of the Weisenburger family (that's my mom's side for those wondering) for being gracious hosts and putting up with my presence for a day or so at a time over the last week. I may be the only one making the trek across the country to all 30 stadiums but having friends and family along the way to visit and attend games with adds another dimension to my travels that I’d be hard pressed to do without. There will be games and cities where I will be alone and I feel blessed to have had companions in all three cities on this trip.


PETCO Park is the 4th stadium I’ve visited this season and, like the previous 3 I’ve watched games at, it’s a young ballpark, opening up in 2004. Unlike PacBell, Busch (which I’ve visited), Wrigley and Philadelphia (which I’ll see later in the season), PETCO does not have the classic brick fa├žade, except for the Western Metal Supply Company building, instead utilizing sandstone and steel to give the stadium a southern taste. The Western Metal Supply Company building, the ‘jewel’ of the park, was built in 1919 and ingeniously included in the design of the ballpark with the corner wall acting as the left field foul pole. I can’t get over how cool that is. Beyond centerfield is the Park at the Park, a standing room only type area which only costs $5. The hill in the park is a great area for a family picnic during a game. A jumbotron on the reverse side of the scoreboard provides Park at the Park patrons with an additional view of the game, a vital feature as despite a grand view of home plate and centerfield, a full third of the playing field is obstructed by the left field seats. The Park at the Park also includes a miniature diamond for kids and a statue of Tony Gwynn, who is apparently the only Padres legend in the team’s history as evidenced by the almost complete lack of any mention of other great players who have donned a Fathers uniform.

One of the pleasures of seeing the Giants in all three games on this trip was finding kindred spirits in the stands. St. Louis was devoid of Giants faithful, not surprising given the fanaticism of Cardinals supporters and the relative distance of St. Louis to San Francisco. Arizona was much better. It’s not that far removed from the Bay and Scottsdale is the spring home of the franchise. San Diego had an even larger group of Giants fans, including one in particular who works as an usher for the Friars. As I was leaving my section to tour the stadium I heard an unfamiliar voice call out to me. I looked around quizzically and saw an usher headed right for me. I had no idea what was going on until he came right up and shook my hand. “I’m the biggest Giants fan in this stadium,” he told me. Initially I thought it was set up of some kind but was assured after few words that I’d found a new friend. He seemed even happier to see me than I was to see him.

I came back to my seat after walking around and decided to talk with this usher again. After properly introducing myself to Jon Goodbar, we discussed our mutual interest in the Giants, how Jon came to be a Giants fan living in San Diego and working for the Padres, different ballparks and how PETCO compares to PacBell. He even gave me a short history of the area. In all I’ve never met a more friendly usher at a game, home or away, and if I ever find myself back at PETCO, I’ll be sure to go up to section 317 to say hi, regardless of where I’m sitting.

The game itself was promising enough. Two great starters – Cain and Maddux – one of whom is a solid up and comer and the other a sure Hall of Famer looking for his 350th victory. And both pitchers lived up to the billing. Cain surrendered only one run and striking out seven. Maddux pitched seven shutout innings giving up only four hits with five Ks and was looking to be on his way to his milestone victory, with Cain on his way to another 1-0 decision loss, until Trevor Hoffman, another Hall of Famer, gave up the game tying home run to Bengie Molina with 2 outs in the ninth. The Giants fan in me was excited, but the baseball fan in me was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see a piece of history and dreading the possibility of another 22 inning affair. The winds were howling in the upper deck and I was freezing my butt off in the third row from the top. By the 11th inning my hands were frozen and shaking so much that I couldn’t write in my scorecard any longer. I hadn’t even dared to get out of my seat to grab a bite to eat. With an early flight the next morning and my long term health on my mind I decided to do what I’d hoped not to do: leave before the final out. It pains me to type it and a part of me regrets the decision. I have no excuse.

For the next few weeks I’m back home with no games slated until I travel to Seattle to watch the Mariners take on the White Sox. I’ll update the blog as much as possible with my incoherent ramblings, but until the next game enjoy these pictures of PETCO Park.

The Western Metal Supply Co. - Still standing after 98 years.

Tony Gwynn. The only Padre who ever lived. Aside from the retired numbers above the centerfield backdrop, which did not include names, I saw no prominent display for Winfield, Garvey or the Goose (who were both a big factor in the Friars first pennant).

The centerfield sandbox and the Park at the Park.

We got there early enough to watch the Giants take BP. Our young stud John Bowker spent that time learning the ropes at 1st base from one of the best defensive players at that position, JT Snow.

The view of our seats and the view from our seats.

Hoffman enters from the bullpen and then gives up the game tying home run to Bengie.

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