This is the final weekend of the major league baseball season for 2015. Being a big baseball fan, I like the regular season much more than the post season, mainly because of the over-the-top coverage of the play-offs leading up to the World Series. I'll casually watch some baseball over the next couple three weeks, but not like I do during the regular season. During our trip to San Diego earlier this year, we stayed in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in the downtown area and the centerpiece of the neighborhood is Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. They were playing the Chicago Cubs the night we were there and we caught a game.
We went to the ball park's ticket office early on the day of the game to pick up a couple tickets. We walked around the outside of stadium and saw that we could sort of glimpse into outfield of the stadium. Then we walked a little further along a concourse that turned into an open park area just beyond the right field wall. Sitting on bleachers just beyond the right field wall and lounging around the statue of Tony Gwynn - the Hall of Famer and inarguably the greatest San Diego Padre of all time - in the grass beyond the concourse were dozens of people eating an early lunch or taking a break by reading a book. We could walk right down to the right field fence and be right at field level standing in what could easily be described as a huge white sand sandbox. The picture at the top of this entry is a panoramic shot I took from the bleachers in right field.
When Petco Park opened in 2004, it was hailed as one of the most civic friendly ballparks in the nation. The left field line incorporates the old Western Metal Supply Company building that was designated a historic landmark in 1978. Because of its designation, the building couldn't be razed for the new stadium. So they incorporated the old empty warehouse into a multi-purpose building for the stadium. The ground floor is Padres gift shop, the upper floors are suites and party rooms used primarily during games.
This is the view from one of the public areas next to the Western Metal Supply Company building. Since the stadium opened I was always intrigued by the building that juts out into fair territory along the left field line. I was hoping to get a glimpse of one of the suites after the game by sweet talking one of the many ushers in the area. But we had a couple of bad experiences with ushers that took their jobs too seriously later in the game. More on that later on.
The other thing that Petco Park is famous for is the myriad of food they have to offer at the park. There was a sushi chef in the Seaside Market area of the ballpark. The market also offered juices, healthy snacks, a hot bar with fried chicken, and a salad bar that heavily featured kale in many of the offerings.
The Bumble Bee Seafood Company's corporate headquarters are next door to Petco Park and they had a stand selling tuna melt sandwiches, tuna and chicken wraps, and seafood salads with both tuna and salmon available. The number of healthy foods at Petco Park made me long for a hot dog and a beer.
Beer was no problem at Petco Park. In fact, along the concourse down the right field line was a series of carts selling beers from some of the better San Diego microbreweries such as Stone, Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Alesmith and other local brews. There was also a Kona Brewery Liquid Aloha Lounge area along the main concourse that - for some reason - we never visited. I would have loved to have gotten Big Wave Golden Ale at the ballpark had I known it was there. I was simply amazed by the number of craft beers at Petco Park and wondered aloud on more than one occasion why would anyone want to get a Coors Light with all the great beer available at the stadium.
Getting to our seats, we bought a couple tickets along the first base line, not far down from the main concourse. It was a cool evening - my wife was prepared as she bought a sweatshirt earlier in the day. We had a great view of the field, the Western Metal Supply building and the high-definition scoreboard. We weren't crammed in with other fans and it wasn't a far walk back up to get a beer or to hit the restroom.
After a few innings, we decided to get something to eat. As we did our first lap around the main concourse we came across a number of places that seemed to be pretty popular. One of them was the Cardiff Market that had a tri-tip sandwich that looked pretty damn good.
We decided to get one to share. The beef tri-tip was sliced thin, placed on a soft bun and topped with a light barbecue sauce that had a peppery taste. We concentrated more on the meat and not so much on the bun. The tri-tip was tender and had a nice taste. I like to think I make a pretty good tri-tip at home, but this was very good. Some homemade potato chips came with the sandwich, but we concentrated primarily on just the beef. It was already one of the best things I'd ever eaten at a Major League ball park.
Another place that seemed to have a lot of people hanging in line for their food was at Phil's BBQ along the main concourse. For most of the game there were at least 20 people in line wanting to get barbecue from this outpost of a local favorite barbecue joint. Around the 8th inning the line had gotten much smaller and we decided to give Phil's a try. They smoked the meats on the patio behind the stand and the smell of the wood and meat drove me wild.
We ended up getting a pulled pork sandwich to share with an order of fries and some cole slaw on the side. We got some of Phil's barbecue sauce - a sort of sweet and smoky Kansas City-style sauce - on top of the pulled pork. First of all, the pulled pork was outstanding. The bun was soft and didn't fall apart with the sauce and moist pulled pork. The fries were also very good, especially dipped in some of the sauce. And even the sweet and creamy cole slaw was good. For as good as the tri-tip from the Cardiff Market was, I think the pulled pork sandwich from Phil's BBQ may have topped it.
The Cubs were winning handily and we decided to check out some other things around the ballpark. As we were making our way toward the outfield along the concourse we noticed a booth that was making crepes while also serving artisan chocolate and gelato. Not quite certain I've seen a concession stand that serves crepes - or even gelato - at a Major League ball park.
We went out to the left field stands in the 9th inning. We found a row of seats along the outfield wall that had a metal counter to sit food and drinks. There were - maybe - three people sitting in the seats and we decided to watch the bottom of the 9th inning from this vantage point. An elderly lady who was an usher in the area came up to us and asked if we had tickets. I said that our seats were over behind the first base dugout and we wanted to come out to the outfield to get a different perspective of the game. She said - rather rudely - "Your seats are over there. You need to go back." I said that our seats we paid for were obviously higher priced than the outfield seats that hardly anyone was seated in. "Doesn't matter," she said tersely. "These aren't your seats." She shooed us out of the area like she was giving a couple bums the rush out the door.
We went down a couple of sections and sat up in the first row of the bleachers. Another elderly lady who was an usher sauntered over to us and asked if we had tickets. I told her the same thing - we had tickets, which I produced, over behind the first base dugout and we wanted to get a different perspective of the game. She didn't flinch. "These aren't your seats." I looked around at the sparse crowd that was left in the immediate area with one out in the bottom of the 9th. I tried to explain that we just wanted to watch the rest of the game in these seats. "Sorry," she said in a matter of fact manner. "You'll need to move along."
I was absolutely floored. This was the first time - ever - that I had been told to move, not once, but twice from an outfield bleacher seat late in the game at a Major League ball park. I was damn near offended. We weren't hurting anyone, the stands were nowhere near close to full, and the seats we had purchased - and sat in for most of the game - were much more expensive than the ones in the outfield. I almost wrote a letter to the Padres letting them know about the experience and the fun-hater old lady ushers in the outfield. But what good would it do?
Other than that unfortunate encounter with the two ushers who took their jobs WAY too seriously, I'd have to say that Petco Park may be my most favorite ball park that I've been to. I used to think Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore was the best ball park I've visited, but Petco blew it away. The choices of craft brews were nothing that I've ever seen at other parks. The food choices - and the quality of the food we had - were the best we've come across. The views from our seats - not only of the field but the surrounding downtown buildings - were some of the best we had. The incorporation of the ball park with the surrounding historic downtown area, the nifty "Park at the Ball Park", and the dozens of fan-friendly amenities were very impressive. The people of San Diego are lucky to have such a spectacular baseball stadium in Petco Park.