An evening with the Padres

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I’m in San Diego this weekend, attending the national student journalism conference. It’s located at the Hilton Bayfront, just across the street from Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. They’re in town, hosting a rare appearance by the Detroit Tigers.

The straight up report is Justin Verlander beat Ian Kennedy 6-2. The Padres played a gutty game, using speed on the base paths and good defense to stay in the contest. But, they couldn’t keep up with the Tigers’ hitting. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Austin Jackson all doubled in key at bats to start rallies or drive in runs. Jackson’s smash, a ground-rule double, came in the top of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and effectively put the game out of reach.

This story, however, isn’t about the game recap. It’s about being a stranger in a strange land and taking advantage of circumstances to catch a ball game. I’m not one of those who “collects ballparks,” meaning I don’t try to get to every city to experience the game in each MLB venue. But on the occasions when I am in San Diego or Baltimore or wherever and the home team is in town, catching a game is at the top of my to do list.

Petco is a newish, classy downtown park built in the Gaslamp section of San Diego. It’s easily accessible by light rail, which makes getting there pretty easy, but leaving can be a bit of a wait. The park is surrounded by friendly watering holes where fans can eat and liquidly prepare for games much cheaper than at the ballpark. Inside the park seems a lot like Safeco Field except the amazing use of the Western Metal Supply Building in the left field corner. This gives the ballpark a very retro feel.

We attended a 5:40 start, and I had a feeling there might be a big crowd. But we wandered down without tickets hoping to get in. We plunked down our $24 a seat for third deck seats down the right field line and caught the escalator up to catch the view. These seats were very reminiscent of Safeco’s “view level” seating with vistas of the city’s hotel district and harbor front. The Petco staff were attentive and helpful getting us to our seats.

The game was announced a sell-out despite many empty seats. It was Little League night and the park thronged with youngsters in colorful caps and t-shirts. It was also full of Tigers fans. Those who sported blue caps with Olde English D’s seemed to match numbers with those wearing the home SD. And they were vocal. But safe, this isn’t Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. I wore my Mariners garb without comment or dirty looks. confession: I long for a Mariners Padres World Series. They share spring training facilities, why not a memorable post-season.

When it came to food, I’d have to say I was disappointed. At least where we sat the offerings were pedestrian. In all fairness I was not very early arriving at the park and didn’t get to wander much, so I didn’t see any of the specialty food stands if there are any. I did see that many local micro brews were available in separate stands, a nice touch. At the pretty mainstream food stand I got to the most interesting offerings were the nachos and the foot long Sonora Dog. Both included tasty beans and local add-ons that made them interesting. The problem was they’d run out of the beans and tasty add-ons by the third inning and so my bacon-wrapped Sonora Dog wasn’t as interesting as it could have been and the nachos, smothered in Parmesan cheese were barely edible.

San Diego is a beautiful city on the water, and that brings a certain amount o f peril with it. Some 1,300 miles south of Seattle I expected it would be warm if not hot. It wasn’t. Maybe it is a spring weather pattern, but each evening the clouds rolled in and the breeze kicked up, so watching an April evening game at Petco is only ten or so degrees warmer than watching a game at Safeco. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

Visiting Petco Park was an enjoyable experience, a classy, modern park. I rate superior to Safeco for location, equal for cleanliness and staff attentiveness, slightly inferior for ballpark ambiance and needs work for food.

Pictures that follow by Jim Meyerhoff

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