This was the second of my three games in three days. Originally, I had not planned to attend this Thursday night matchup at PETCO Park, but this would be the only time on my trip that I could meet up with Zack Hample. So I decided to go by myself to a game for the first time in my life. All was okay though because my family was staying at a hotel just a few blocks away.
Due to our tight schedule, I was not able to get to the Park until around 5:30, consequently, I missed a bunch of snagging time. This was an Astros versus Padres game, so you can only imagine how small the crowds were. By the time I got into the Park and greeted Zack, he had already amassed 12 balls… I ended the day with a fat goose egg (something I wish had been in the Astros’ hit column, but I’ll explain that in a bit).
My inability to snag a baseball was the result of my delayed arrival and unfamiliarity with the ballpark. From a first impression, PETCO Park is immaculate in every single aspect except ballhawking. A few alterations in the outfield seating, however, would make this park the best by far.
First off, the limited seating in left field hinders mobility for home run chasing. PETCO has two decks in straight away left field, and the second deck overhangs the field level section so that only the first five or so rows on field level are exposed. Therefore, with the exception of those first few rows, which get crowded by clusters of baseball-hopeful kids, it would take a straight line drive in order for a homer to land in that section. Even though the upper deck overhangs the lower deck almost entirely, home runs up there are few and far between during batting practice. PETCO has always been a pitchers’ park, and this is evident even during BP. It seemed like very few fly balls reached the seats. It is a shame, though, that the second deck has to be so high up because it features a glorious cross-aisle raised above the front row of seats-prime real estate for drifting under fly balls
The left field issue is not the only unfortunate aspect of the park, though. In right field, a gigantic cross-aisle runs parallel to the warning track about five or six rows back, but since the right field fence is relatively deep, and a good 10 feet tall, it would again take an absolute bomb in order for the cross-aisle to be useful. In right-center field dwells “The Beach,” a separate section of bleachers with a vast sandbox encompassing the area nearest the fence. This would be a hot-spot for ballhawkers if it were not 400 feet from the plate. Yet again, home runs to this section are rare.
Now to my actual adventures within the Park:
My unfamiliarity with the stadium led to an unforeseen mismanagement of time. After I discovered that the lower left field section was too crowded for homer-snagging, I tried to make my way the the much-more-open upper deck. That trek is much simpler than I thought it was. The stairs to the upper deck of left field are located just outside the lower deck of left field. But as I exited, I didn’t see them and made a gigantic mistake that easily took 20 minutes from me and probably cost me a ball or two. I walked toward the dugout on the third base line and found an escalator going up to the second deck. But this escalator went up to the club level on the infield. The Western Metal Supply Co. building, an original San Diego structure around which PETCO Park was built, separates the club level from the second deck in left field. This is why the left field upper deck has its own staircase. If it were not for the building, they would have connecting concourses.
So as it turned out, I was on the wrong side of the building, and could not escalate back down because it was an hour and a half before the game would begin, so the intelligent (no sarcasm) people who run the park have all the escalators moving up until the game starts to facilitate the seating process for entering fans because they assume no one will need to go down. So I was forced to run down all the way to the right field end of the level and take the ramps down to the lower bowl.
Then I proceeded to chill in the right field seats while waiting for a home run. A recurring theme of missed opportunities for the next two days kicked off within the ensuing minutes. I was standing at the center field end of the right field seats when a long home run was hit to my left. As soon as it was hit I knew where I needed to be laterally, but I did not know in which row it would end up. So after I lined myself up with it after running 30 feet to my left, I realized it would fall short, so I lunged over the row in front of me. But as I mentioned in my post about the Nationals game I attended earlier this month, major leaguers hit balls rather hard and it’s tough to judge exactly how far they will travel. Simply, I did not need to lunge and the ball had handcuffed me before I could retract my outstretched arm. The ball hit my bare wrist and it was a complete embarrassment as it plopped onto the ground two rows infront of me, promptly picked up by a small kid. As disappointed and angry as I was, two missed balls the next day would respectively make me feel even more angry and embarrassed.
Despite the fact that PETCO’s size and configurations are not the best for active fans like me, I still love the park as a whole. And the Padres as an organization can be thanked for that. To put it simply, the San Diego Padres got it right with PETCO.
First off, the employees are the nicest I have encountered at any major league stadium. For the 40 minutes after BP ended and before the game started, I wandered around and entered any section of my pleasing without any suspicion from or interrogation by the ushers. That is, until I was down by the Astros’ bullpen on the right field line and was asked to leave just as I was about to ask
the bullpen catcher for a baseball. (While I was down there, I was rejected by Houston’s catcher Chris Snyder, who when he finished playing catch, elected to give a ball to a young fan sitting near the railing despite the fact that I had a glove and called him out by name. But who can argue with kids getting baseballs?)
Of course, since it’s San Diego, the weather is impeccable 90% of the time, which makes running around much more enjoyable. The views from the upper sections of the park are pretty. Since it’s in the heart of downtown San Diego, PETCO Park offers views of the harbor, downtown, and even Mexico if it’s clear enough.
Without regards to the fact that I got lost, PETCO is easy to navigate. There are not many obstacles you have to slither around to get from place to place. The only impediments are the batters’ eye in center, which, as is the case at most ballparks, forces the outfield concourse to take a slight detour from left field to right field, and the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field, which offsets the concourse from left field to the third base side.
Aside from the old Metal building that adds character to the Park’s façade, PETCO has another interesting quirk that boots its reputation as a fan-friendly ballpark. Located behind the batters’ eye in centerfield is the “Park at the Park.” The “Park” is a city park basically. It features a grassy field with some trees, a hill from which fans can watch the game, access to The Beach for pre-game, and a wiffle ball field. The Park is opened to the public on non game days and on game days until four hours before the game (I believe).
I walked around the Park at the Park for a few minutes before the game and there was a cluster of people around the wiffle field, so I stopped by to see what they were spectating. A couple little league-looking pitchers were demonstrating their grips to Trevor Hoffman and some other Padres analysts.
Now to the account of the game:
To this point in my life, I had not had much luck when going to baseball games as far as the game itself. (When I am at a game in person, I’d much rather see a slugfest than a pitchers’ duel, but on TV, low scoring games are sometimes more enjoyable.) For the two walk off home runs I had seen, I had missed one walk off homer (the day before), and an amazing comeback (explained in the previous entry). I had never seen a grand slam, and the most runs I had seen scored in one game, combined between the two teams, was 14 (twice previously, Marlins at Nationals both times). I figured this bad luck had to end at some point. It did not.
In fact, it was almost at the complete other end of the baseball-viewing spectrum. The low end being a perfect game or a no-hitter, which would of course be memorable and amazing to attend, the more immediately-gratifying end being a slugfest. In this game, Edinson Volquez started for the Padres. I always watch the scoreboard intently until both teams have hits because I always look forward to a no-hitter. So yes, when Volquez finished the first inning perfectly, I did think to myself that he had eight innings to go for a perfect game.
In the bottom of the first, Alexi Amarista led off with a double. The next batter singled and Amarista scored. That would be the only run of the night. Had I known that at the time, I would have been very disappointed, but Volquez at least kept the game moving.
Through three innings, the Astros did not have a hit. Again, I contemplated the possibility of a no-hitter. With two outs in the fourth inning, however, Astros’ second baseman Matt Downs check-swung and accidentally put the ball in fair play–a tapper that dribbled up the line perfectly between Volquez and the third baseman. Downs reached on what MLB.com’s play-by-play called “a soft ground ball to pitcher Edinson Volquez.” I thought to myself, “if that ends up being the only hit…”
Little did I know, Volquez would finish the one-hit shutout in a two-hour masterpiece, his only allowed hit being “a soft ground ball.”
This happened to be a memorable game, as boring as eight of the nine innings of play seemed to be. And PETCO Park was the eighth major league stadium (7th MLB city) I had visited, and has topped my rankings (Turner Field excluded because I was too young to remember anything):
1) San Diego: PETCO Park
2) Houston: Minute Maid Park
3) Baltimore: Camden Yards
5) Miami: Marlins Park
6) Los Angeles: Dodger Stadium
7) Washington: RFK Stadium