I had not snagged a single baseball during my Southern California vacation going into my third game in three days. This one would be between the Rockies and the Padres at PETCO Park. Yet again, the matchup would be favorable for ballhawking, but it was a weekend game so crowds were up slightly.
For a 7:00 p.m. game, PETCO opens at 4:30 to season ticket holders and at 5:00 to everyone else. But between 4:30 and 5:00, those without season tickets can access the Park at the Park (mentioned in the previous entry). I did not have a season ticket, and I arrived at PETCO around 4:00 and walked its perimeter twice looking for anyone selling tickets. The Padres must have a strict “no scalping” policy because there was absolutely no activity. The season ticket holders waiting outside their respective gate did not have any extra tickets, so I was forced to buy from the box office. I was by myself at the time, and the rest of my family was going to meet up with some friends of ours at 6:00. So I was just planning on buying a moderately-priced ticket and tagging along with my family.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, the employees at PETCO are the friendliest in baseball, and the guy I talked to at the box office was no exception. He was very accommodating, and was able to get me an aisle seat in section 128, which is pretty much straight-away left field. Remember that, it will be important.
I entered the Park at the Park at 4:30, and assumed I would just have to watch wiffle ball until 5:00. Until, that is, I discovered that The Beach was considered part of the Park at the Park. There were several Padres players shagging in center field right in front of me. Since I don’t follow the Padres, I had to rely on the rosters I had printed out, but most of the players were wearing jackets, so I could not cross-reference with their jersey numbers. Luckily, Alexi Amarista wasn’t wearing a jacket, so he hooked me up with this:
I was finally on the board in Southern California, but that would be all I got until 5:00 rolled around.
Once the rest of the stadium opened, I made my way to the left field seats, but it soon got crowded. Not many, if any, home runs were hit while I was down there for the next ten or fifteen minutes.
When the Rockies took the field, I hiked up to the second deck in left field. Several home runs were hit up there within the next couple of minutes, all by Drew Pomeranz, or someone wearing his jersey. The latter might be more likely because Pomeranz is a pitcher, and was starting that day. He did hit his first career home run this year at PETCO, in May, so it’s not impossible that it was Pomeranz who was bombing those BP pitches. I was not within snagging distance of any of them, however, which was rather disappointing.
Also patrolling the second deck in left field was a large man, not any of the guys Zack Hample mentioned as regular San Diego ballhawks (because I met Ismael, and saw TC and Luigi). Anyway, I had seen this other guy catch three balls already so what happened next made me angry. I was dressed neutrally and had my Rockies roster in order to better my chances of snagging something from Colorado. Pitcher Adam Ottavino was standing directly below me where he was bombarded by ignorant little kids’ screams of “Here! Here!” every time he touched a ball. So I decided when the kids were done to ask, “Adam, could you toss that ball up please?” He looked up and saw me with my glove raise, and gave an underhand flip up towards me. I was in the cross aisle and the large mystery guy was in the front row. He ranged about twenty feet to his left and caught it right in front of me, and then proceeded to give it away to a fan at the other end of the section who appeared to have no interest in catching any balls. He must have not seen or heard me because if he had, the act would have been inhumane.
So as I mentioned in the last entry, I had a bunch of missed chances in San Diego. The next one came just a few minutes later when someone launched a bomb into the second deck in left field. Following Zack’s advice, despite the fact that I was nowhere near it, I still followed the ball and waited for a bounce. After hitting the stairs and eluding several reaching fans, the ball rolled my direction. What happened next cannot be described in few words:
With my back to the field and my feet on the steps down to the front row, the ball rolled down the steps above me, into the cross aisle and into my outstretched glove on the ground. I wish the story stopped there, but the ball did not want to. I have played baseball my entire life so I know how to squeeze a glove, but the ball did not want to stop rolling. It literally, rolled UP my glove, UP my forearm, and INTO my chest, at which point I frantically retracted my arm and turned my torso toward the field as the ball tried to spin away from me. It was like the 108-stitch demon had a mind of its own as I let my arms loose and it plummeted back down onto the field. The event was not so much embarrassing as it was completely ridiculous. Anyway, I had just been cheated out of two baseballs and I was not about to let that ruin my day.
I eventually wandered over to right field when Jason Giambi and Carlos Gonzalez started hitting for the Rockies. Ismael was excited for Gonzalez, who, according to him, always launches long home runs during batting practice. Gonzalez did do that, except only one or two of them landed in the right field seats. The others went to centerfield or into The Beach. I was still at one ball for the day when I was chilling at the centerfield end of the seats in the front row. I heard some fans toward my left getting excited as if there were a ball coming. I looked up in time to see a high line drive descend and bounce in front of the warning track right over the wall towards me. I reached out and made the grab over the wall. That was my second and final ball of the day.
My dad had bought seats for our family down the left field line, a few sections over from were my ticketed seat was located. Instead of ditching the group and sitting in left field for home run action, I stayed put during the game and tried to relax when three home runs were hit into left field. The first was a solo home run by Carlos Quentin. It was caught in the first row two sections to the left of mine, so I knew I would have had no chance at it. The second was a opposite-field grand slam by Carlos Gonzalez (two different Carlos(es) homering in the same game, I wonder if Elias Sports Bureau has a stat for that), the first grand slam I have ever seen in person. That one was bobbled by several fans, so I wonder if I would have had a shot. But the home run in the fifth inning by Yosmani Grandal got to me.
I’m going to boldly say that there is a 45% chance I would have caught it. My ticket was an aisle in the fifth row of section 128. The ball landed one seat from that aisle in the sixth row of the section directly adjacent to 128. The remaining 55 percent lies in the fact that the “aisle” my seat was on could have been the aisle at the other side of the section, in which case I would have had a decent opportunity at Gonzalez’s grand slam. The final 5% chance that I would not have caught that ball is if my bad luck had continued and for some reason my fine skills did not decide to function during a moment of truth.
The last few MLB games I had attended had largely been pitchers’ duels, so it was nice to see early offense in this matchup. Carlos Quentin’s solo shot led off the San Diego second, during which the team scored three runs. The Rockies busted back in the third by loading the bases for Carlos Gonzalez. CarGo came through with the opposite-field grand slam deep into the left-center field seats. The Padres answered with a four-run third of their own, which included a two-run triple from Chris Denorfia, and the two-run jack by Yosmani Grandal.
The Rockies scratched across a run in the fifth to make it a two run game, still in favor of San Diego. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Padres delivered a knockout blow with a sacrifice fly followed by a Chase Headley homer. Headley’s home run was the fourth of the night, the only one to go to right field.
This was the final game I saw during our San Diego vacation. However, I was not done exploring PETCO. The following night, we went out to watch the fireworks following the game, which the Padres lost in extra innings. The fireworks show was fun, but nothing too special, like THIS was.
Fun times in San Diego, all made possible by the best atmosphere in Major League Baseball!