Following a day off from the baseball part of our trip, we visited Petco Park in San Diego on a Friday evening to see the hometown Padres take on the Florida Marlins. Staying in a hotel near San Diego, we were less than 10 minutes from the stadium.
Petco Park, located in the East Village section of San Diego, is adjacent to the historic Gaslamp District, which is a lively section of the city replete with bars and restaurants. Though there is no onsite parking at Petco Park, there are many parking garages with a 10 minute walk of the stadium. After finding suitable parking north of the ballpark, we wandered around the Gaslamp District, waiting for the ballpark gates to open.
Unfortunately, the “June gloom” was still in place, and slate gray skies greeted us as we approached the centerfield entrance of Petco Park. Passing through security to enter the gate, we were stopped after my brother’s camera bag was searched. We were informed that my brother couldn’t bring his camera into the park, since it was stadium policy to prevent people from using “professional camera equipment”.
In all of our travels, this was something we’d never heard at a ballpark. When we protested, the security agent checked with his supervisor, who stated my brother’s camera was allowed in the ballpark. In the following years, MLB has clamped down on the size of lenses allowed in stadiums.
Beside the local environment, the most noticeable attribute of Petco Park was the large outfield. In 2006, the stadium was still in its original configuration, with some of the deepest power alleys in the game. The combination of the large outfield and cool conditions resulted in Petco Park seeing the lowest number of home runs in baseball. With the cloudy and cool conditions this evening, we expected a low scoring game in this large park.
Wandering through the park, perhaps the most noticeable sight was the construction cranes behind the centerfield fence. Like many of the “newer’ MLB stadiums, Petco Park was built amidst an urban setting. A quick walk around the ballpark suggested that the area immediately adjacent to the park was in the process of rejuvenation, with the stadium serving as the centerpiece.
One of the features that caught my attention seeing Petco Park on TV was the Western Metal Supply Co. building located in the left field corner. The four story building was constructed in the 1880s, and remained in the McKenzie family for more than 80 years. When the building became a victim of bankruptcy, rather than tearing it down, it became a centerpiece of Petco Park, around which the ballpark was built. Within the building is the Padres Hall of Fame Bar and Grill, as well the Rail, which contained balcony seats with a great view of the action.
Following our tour of the park, we visited the concession stands on the lower level to get a baseball dinner, then headed for our seats. Sitting in the lower level down the left field line astride of third base, we gained a better a sense of how large Petco Park was. The three deck stadium has a capacity of 42,000+, including the seats in centerfield. On this cloudy and cool night, there were considerably fewer fans in the seats by the time the first pitch was thrown at 706 pm PDT.
Not to promulgate a stereotype, but the crowd did start to increase after the first pitch. By the time the ballpark lights started to have an effect, most sections of the ballpark were nearly filled, ready for Friday night baseball. Taking the mound for the hometown Padres was Chris Young. The six foot 10 inch right hander has quietly enjoying the best start of his MLB career. For the visiting Marlins, the start went to 23 year old rookie Ricky Nolasco. Thus far in 2006, Nolasco had become one of the more reliable Marlins starter, sporting a respectable 3.32 ERA.
In the lineup for the Padres was a former Mets (and future Hall of Fame) Mike Piazza. Piazza, playing his last game with the Mets in 2005, elected to pursue free agency and signed with the Padres for the 2006 season. Honestly, the site of Mike Piazza in a Padre uniform was a bit jarring, after providing so many special moments with the Mets (including a dramatic home run in the first game after 9/11). Catching and batting cleanup, Piazza was the linchpin for a fairly potent Padres lineup.
The combination of good starting pitching, cool conditions and a big ballpark conspired to keep the game scoreless early. The Marlins broke through as 1B Mike Jacobson homered in the third inning, but the Padres responded with three runs in the fifth inning, including a home run by CF Mike Cameron. Outside of these blemishes, both starters delivered quality starts, with Padres starter Chris Young striking out 12 Marlins.
Despite the close contest, fans started leaving after the seventh inning stretch. Perhaps the cool conditions had something to do with it, but the stereotypical West Coast baseball fan arrives late and leaves early, right? In any event, the game became a battle of the bullpens. The Marlins tacked on a run in the ninth against Padres closer (and future Hall of Fame) Trevor Hoffman, but the Padres held on for a 3-2 victory.
Before exiting the nearly empty stadium, I paused for a moment to take one last look at Petco Park. Despite its size, there was a certain charm to the place, and I came to enjoy it more as the game wore on. Though Dodger Stadium is certainly more iconic, seeing a game here was almost as enjoyable. During our next Southern California trip, we will make sure to stop back to see the ballpark, hopefully with better weather conditions.