Sunday, September 2, 2007

Game #28: Beach Ball

Having lived in San Diego in the past, and having attended several games at the old Qualcomm Stadium, I was quite eager to see the 3-year old Petco Park, which had gotten some great reviews. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the atmosphere, and there are some quite nice features, the ballpark as a whole is rather plain, and didn’t live up to the standard set by new parks in Seattle, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.

The most notable feature of the park is undoubtedly the Western Metal Supply Company building. This old brick building was left in its pre-existing site (with improvements applied for earthquake safety), and incorporated as part of the ballpark, and makes for a nice piece of history right in the new ballpark. There is seating, and party suites, built right into the building, which itself defines the edge of home-run territory, making any ball that reaches these fans a great souvenir.

The other great feature of the ballpark is a open lawn area in right field. Inside the park, but outside the main bowl, this area provides a great spot to lounge out on the grass, with clear sightlines into the park and a large video screen to ensure that details and replays are made fully available to fans. This was a great touch, and a nice way to keep the ballpark feeling like a neighborhood feature.

Finally, the location of the ballpark is excellent, and appears to have further energized the already-happening Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego.

However, once past those three points the rest of the ballpark is rather plain. The color scheme and general construction feel rather sterile and imposing, and were, as with Tampa Bay, rather reminiscent of a shopping mall, though in this case reminiscent of a Southern California-style outdoors mall.

Furthermore, the park does little to make use of the city’s most distinctive features: Beach & water. This is particularly disappointing given the change in team colors and logo on opening the new part to incoporate the ocean into the identity of the team.

The bullpens are rather odd, and perhaps due to the Supply Company building, the opponents’ bullpen is right on the field while the home bullpen has its own separated area. Furthermore, a picnic area opens right onto the home bullpen without any wall, fence, or other barrier in between. Sure, it’s a half-level down, but there’s really nothing stopping overzealous fans from diving into the bullpen or leaning over and asking for autographs/souvenirs

In a terrible example of overzealous security policies, the Petco security staff made an effort, remarkably, to throw out a fan who threw back an opposing team’s home run ball, in classic Wrigley (and now almost universal) fashion. They escorted him, to resounding boos, under the stands, but after an inning or so, allowed him to return to his seat, apparently allowed to stay.

The San Diego Chicken was nowhere to be seen. While originally the Padres’ mascot, due to touring schedules and other factors, he’s apparently rarely at the ballpark, a fact far different from the Philly Phanatic, and one that has even prompted the Padres to introduce a more common, but less entertaining Friar mascot

The game was a strong reminder of the importance of not giving free baserunners to the other team. The night before had been a great performance for Greg Maddux and the Padres, giving up zero walks in nine innings on the way to their 3rd win in row over the 1st place Diamondbacks, actually edging Padres into 1st place by a few percentage points. The game I attended, on the other hand, was a stark contrast, as Padres pitcher Chris Young, still struggling to recover his first half form after some injuries and some time on the DL, had trouble finding the strike zone all night long. With Diamondback players getting free passes all night, Arizona was able to score a number of easy runs, and to walk away with the game.

There was one shining moment that both teams could appreciate, though. In the top of the second, Arizona rookie Mark Reynolds hit a ball within 2 feet of the park’s record, a moonshot that went well up into the left field stands.

The attendance was also disappointing, with only 29,000 fans at the ballpark. For a Thursday night game between the top two teams in division, with the Padres having just made it into 1st place, and with a relatively new ballpark, I was quite disappointed with the lack of enthusiasm shown by the Padres fans.

While I passed on the trademark food at the park, it was only because I’d already made a point of getting some earlier in the day: Rubio’ Fish Tacos. These Baja specialties are fantastic, and I made a beeline for the original Rubio’s location (still the best) upon first arriving in town. Highly recommended.

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