Ahh.. San Diego. Drink it in! Always goes down smooth.
Everyone who knows me knows that I have been a lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan and that they are the only team for me. However, and I am sure many will agree with me, we all have certain teams that we take a special interest in even though we don’t have any sort of allegiance to them. For me, that team is the San Diego Padres.
Ever since the Padres moved to Petco park in 2004, I have always admired the ballpark itself and have wanted to visit it. After watching beat reporters Jordan Bastian and Morgan P Campbell sing Petco’s praises on Twitter during a Blue Jays road trip to San Diego in May, I made up my mind to visit this park on a west coast road trip this summer.
Petco was the first of 5 ballparks I visited on this trip and it is fair to say I peaked early. Following my 5-ballpark-tour I felt confident enough to christen Petco as my favourite ballpark ever.
Like Progressive Field, Comerica Park, AT&T Park, Chase Field and Angel Stadium, Petco was designed by Populous (formerly known as HOK sport), an architectural firm that specializes in the design of sports facilities. They really gained popularity after designing Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first ballpark designed with a “retro” style in mind. This was a departure from “cookie cutter” multi-use stadiums of the 80’s, yet I would argue that thanks to Populous/HOK’s monopoly on stadium design, we have a whole new generation of cookie cutter stadiums. This time the cookie mould is in the form of a retro design.
I’d always heard how Petco is a paradise for pitchers and because of this fact I was expecting the park to be absolutely cavernous. This is not the case. Although the park is generally symmetrical, there are some weirdo things going on in the outfield.
The right field fence is much larger than in left field (perhaps to thwart left-handed power from divisional rivals a few years back?) As you can see, in the right field corner there is a porch area that makes it difficult to tell where the ball will bounce. From that porch to foul territory, there are six different corners within a 30-40 foot stretch.
Beyond the CF wall lies a grassy berm area for overflow seating. On television it looks like a pretty cool place to catch an inning or two, but when you are out on the berm you are very, very far away from the field.
The most striking design, however, is how the left field foul pole is aligned with the historic Western Metal Supply building. If a ball is hit out there, there is no question as to whether the ball is fair or foul because of how the ball will hit the building, the bounce will be obvious.
The look of Petco is very similar to Progressive Field, but how the park is situated is much different. Located a few blocks away from San Diego’s marinas and in the heart of the vibrant Gaslamp district, the location of Petco Park is absolute perfection. The Gaslamp quarter is a historical neighbourhood in downtown San Diego that is an energetic business and entertainment centre. The pre and post-game party zone is especially vibrant with many bars, restaurants and patios surrounding the ballpark.
Beyond the CF fence lies the picturesque and modern San Diego skyline, as you can see in the first photo of this post. Combine that with the sweet smelling Pacific sea-breeze & beautiful California sunshine and you have yourself a recipe for the perfect ballpark experience.
Aesthetically, the walls of the ballpark are made of sandstone imported from India. It is a very nice touch.
“The stone, quarried in India, is a shade called ‘Padres Gold,’ selected to duplicate those rich ochre earth tones (of nearby Torrey Pines)”
The capacity of Petco Park is 42,000 people. For the game that I went to, only 25,000 fans showed up…. and the Padres are in the midst of a pennant race. I spoke to many of the fans in my vicinity and they said it was typical. Disappointing, but typical. The fans were also extremely quiet… quieter even than those in Toronto.
Unlike the fans in Toronto though, these Padre fans were extremely knowledgeable about the game and baseball ettiquette. It was a close game throughout and not once did anyone try and get “the wave” started at a crucial point in the game.
What the ballpark was sorely lacking was a tribute to the history of the Padres franchise or its players. There is a small booth near the entrance to the park that discusses San Diego baseball but no mention of its players. There are numbers that are presumably retired above the batter’s eye in centrefield but there is no mention of who those players are. There is a statue though! And it is a beauty.
The team swag store was the best that I had encountered on the trip (yet still not as good as Toronto’s at the SkyDome!) The Padres have had many different iterations of uniforms and they are well represented here. What was puzzling was the lack of star power being represented at the store. In Toronto, a fan can buy a jersey from Vernon Wells all the way down to JP Arencibia. Custom jerseys are even available for those Tilson Brito fans. In San Diego though, the only jerseys or t-shirts with player names on them are for Gwynn, Winfield and Randy Jones. RANDY JONES! Can you believe it?
Speaking of Randy Jones, he is one of a long line of major leaguers to attempt to capitalize on the Boog’s BBQ phenomenon. Jones has a few BBQ shacks that dot Petco and he hawks his special signature sauce. I didn’t sample Jones’ Q after receiving advice from a Padres fan sitting next to me. He said “I sell his sauce in my stores but I would never buy it. Don’t bother.” So, I didn’t.
Apart from Jones’ sham BBQ, there is an incredible diversity among concessions at Petco. They are also representative of the San Diego population; many Mexican options as well as health conscious concession items are readily available. They even have gluten free concessions for those with celiac disease. Now EVERYONE can have a beer at the ballgame!
The best part of the concourse, however, was “La Cantina.” It is an outdoor bar/patio/party zone with great views of the harbour where Padres fans can get together, have a drink and talk baseball. They even make extra-delicious super-premium margaritas made with Patron tequila and Grand Marnier. Apparently the SkyDome has something similar on the 200 level, but I’ve never seen it. Can anyone vouch for its existence?
The game I attended was on a Thursday. Every Thursday the Padres have a “Throwback Thursdays” promotion where the Padres (sometimes both teams) will wear retro uniforms. This is similar to the Jays “Flashback Fridays” of last year. On this day, the Pittsburgh Pirates took part as well.
I’m not sure if it was because it was Throwback Thursday or if it is a typical Padres-game gimmick, but the fans were rockin’ out to Afternoon Delight almost every inning. Afternoon delight was featured prominently in the movie Anchorman, which was set in San Diego.
Or maybe it was because it was an afternoon game. At any rate, it was truly a delight.
I’m not entirely sure if the ticket pricing structure for Padres is reasonable or not, but I acquired my ticket from StubHub.com, as I did with all of my tickets on this road trip. For $40 I was sitting 2 rows from the field on the 3rd base side at field level. The sightlines were perfect. I might as well had my lawn chair on the field to watch the game, the seats were that good.
When it comes to fulfilling the criteria for a great ballpark, Petco Park has it all. Concessions, signature food items, sightlines, fun stuff, souvenirs, aesthetics, fan knowledge and the local scene – Petco has it on lock. I only wish I could have made it here sooner – especially when Trevor Hoffman was closing games to Hell’s Bells. This concludes the ballpark review portion of this post.
This part of the post I’ll talk about where to stay and what to do in the area… or at least what *I* did (you can do what you want!)
First off, I stayed at the Hotel Indigo – Gaslamp Quarter which is only steps away from the ballpark. I actually stayed there for free thanks to the Priority Club loyalty program. Seeing as I stay at Holiday Inn and Intercontinental Hotels a lot for work, I am able to rack up a fair amount of points. If you do the same you should definitely partake in this program because this hotel was spectacular.
When I arrived I had a personalized haiku poem waiting for me on my bed. Nice touch. Also, the Hotel Indigo is the first hotel to be LEED certified, so if you are environmentally conscious you will sleep well at night knowing this fact.
The best part of the hotel was the 9th-floor pet-friendly terrace bar. Patrons can bring their dogs up to the terrance and sit by the fire and have a drink and watch the Padres game from afar. It really is a fun experience.
My first evening in San Diego I ventured out to the Mission Hills area to search for some tacos. I’ve spent considerable time in Mexico and Latin America during my days and have eaten many a taco. That being said, the taco I had at Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco shop was the best I ever had.
ESPN scout Keith Law has a unique system when it comes to critiquing food – he uses the baseball 20-80 scouting scale. I’ll bite his style when rating the taco. I had the Queso Taco: grilled crispy cheese filled with steak, then topped with more cheese, special sauce, and avocado slices. It rates plus-plus in all categories, grading out at 80 in freshness, flavour and authenticity. The taco was so deliciously spiced and fresh that it knocked out all the memories of any other taco I thought I’d enjoyed before. And the Mexican wrestling paraphernalia that covers every square inch of every wall only makes them taste better. These tacos are first round talent with no signability concerns; a Queso Taco can be had for $3.60.
Ever since I backpacked through Europe last summer, I have been finding it a challenge to feed my newfound gelato addiction. I took Keith Law up on one of his recommendations, Gelato Vero. The flavour selection was a little weak, with maybe 8 flavours of gelato and 2 sorbets. I had the pistachio and tahitian vanilla, both of which were solid average. I’d give it a 50. The gelato is served in a bowl made of corn so that it is highly biodegradable. That’s a nice touch, and something I have come to expect in San Diego.
The following day I ventured to La Jolla, California: The Fittest Town on Earth. La Jolla is Spanish for “The Jewel” and La Jolla is San Diego’s jewel in every sense of the word.
La Jolla is an affluent seaside suburb of San Diego where everyone is fit, beautiful & happy.
Well, I guess it is an exaggeration to say that everyone is fit and beautiful, espcially after I visited the “Children’s Pool.” This beach got its name for its quiet, shallow waters that make it ideal for children to swim in. However, a few years back this beach was taken over by a mischievious band of seals that has quickly grown into a full-on colony. They may not be fit (more like fat) but they are very happy. The beach has become a conservation zone and a place to pay respect to the seals who have perfected tge art of coastal living in this part of California. Spectators beware: you will be able to smell the seals about a mile away.
Seafood lovers should head for the Marine Room – a restaurant that lies right at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Since I am allergic to shellfish I didn’t have the opportunity to try it myself, but the whole oyster braised in lobster bisque, wrapped in locall grown spinach and topped with caviar looks like it could be a good time. During hightide the waves lap up against the windows of the restaurant.
Dick’s gimmick is the Ka’Mana Wana Lei-a cocktail: Banana rum, peach schnapps, blue curacao and tropical juices served in a hollowed-out coconut head. Another popular drink is the Penis Colada, a drink that is sure to be Early‘s favourite.
The Whiskey Girl is your typical sports bar that serves the tourist crowd. There is a student hostel across the street so it is a popular spot for backpackers and post-ballgame fans alike. I arrived during happy hour which meant that any draft could be had for a cool $3.00. That included my favourite Mexican beers, Modelo Especial and Pacifico. In fact, the Whiskey Girl is the only bar I have been to outside of Mexico that had either beers on tap, so this bar is a winner in my books for sure. As an added bonus, there was a cover band that covered Hall & Oates’ “Adult Education.” They even included the dance moves. If you don’t know what I am talking about, look below at around 3:15 :
This concludes my San Diego review. Stay tuned for my next stop, LA, where I travel to Angel Stadium to watch my beloved Blue Jays take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California or whatever they call themselves these days.