SAN DIEGO, Calif.—In the ongoing search for “my team,” I traveled to San Diego yesterday morning for the first ballpark installment of A Fan for Sale. After a long week at my real job, I hadn’t really had time to do my research for this game and therefore had no idea what to expect. But talking with Padres closer and All-Star rep Heath Bell, I got the scoop boiled down for me:
“Well let’s see. You could be a Dodger’s fan. They’re really kind of rude to the other team. So if you’re kind of rude, go be a Dodger’s fan. If you want to be really cold and windy, go to San Francisco. Plus, we all know about San Francisco. And then Oakland, Oakland’s kind of a tough town and since they don’t really have a baseball stadium, they really need a baseball stadium over there. So you’re not going to really have fun and have a lot of good times over there. Good baseball team though. If you come down a little more south, you got the Angels, or the Anaheim Angels, or the LA Angels of Anaheim, or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California. It’s too confusing to know even their name, ok? Nice ballpark, but too confusing. San Diego, hey, you got the San Diego Padres!”
But as convincing a point as he made, I wasn’t going to be so easily swayed. I’ve already promised five segments out of this. So without further ado, here’s what I found.
With 5 for $5 deals, spectacular views, and family-friendly facilities, everything about PETCO Park is warm and inviting.
For being such a new ballpark, PETCO Park is inauspiciously tucked away in downtown San Diego. With a sweeping panorama of the San Diego Bay and Coronado to the south and downtown streetscapes to the north, there’s a lot to see besides the game.
“It’s good atmosphere, it’s good turf,” Bell told me before the game.
And aside from the atmosphere and the turf, everything about PETCO is good.
While wandering the field level concourse, I stumbled across a Friar Franks stand that was advertising a “5 for $5” deal. Curious, I asked a park attendant. Apparently, for five dollars, I could get a hotdog, soda, cookie, popcorn, and peanuts. Now, that’s a deal!
And if you’re feeling some finer fare, those options exist too. In left field, the designers of the park incorporated the old Western Metal Supply Co. Building into the stadium, successfully converting it into the Hall of Fame Bar & Grill—a well-done homage to the Padres past.
The Western Metal Supply Co. Building alone gives the stadium its quirky charm. Plus, every Sunday, as I found out, the Padres host "Breakfast at the Park" instead of batting practice. Tables are set up on the field and fans actually pay to eat their breakfast on the warning track. With their record, the Padres should probably opt to use that time for more BP.
Then there’s the Park at the Park (which took me asking about four different people about it to figure out its name really is Park at the Park), which is a grassy berm with a great view of the stadium—good for families with small children—and an imposing statue of “Mr. Padre” himself, Tony Gwynn.
The Padres may be the bottom dwellers of the NL West, but they've got a couple young guys waiting to bust out.
Sitting at the bottom of the NL West with a 37-55 record—an insurmountable 21 games out of first place—it’s definitely hard to be a Padres fan. But as a wizened student of baseball, I also appreciate investment. And I think the Padres have that.
“I think we have a group of guys right now who are younger, more inexperienced guys." Said Will Venable, Padres right fielder and Princeton alum. “You know, I look around and it’s all guys I played with in the minor leagues. But I think it’s moving in the right direction.”
With a healthy Jake Peavy as your ace, and some young up-and-comers like Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Kyle Blanks, the Padres are just a few years short of putting together some good numbers.
And I consider myself a patient guy. Not to mention, who doesn’t love a little underdog story.
Their intentions are good, but Padres fans aren't well versed in the proper protocol. And the huge empty sections on field level are hard to overlook.
As far as transplant fanbases go, the Padres might be the worst. The military is one of the chief industries about town—as proven by the fact that the Padres were wearing their desert camo unis yesterday—and thus a large majority of the fans are not from San Diego.
Venable grew up a lifelong Giants fan, but obviously playing for San Diego made him quickly rethink his allegiance.
“It’s a no-brainer, when you’re with an organization,” Venable said. “Right when I signed, that was a definite termination of my appreciation for the Giants. From there, it was Padres all the way.”
But throughout the game, there were little things that seemed just a touch…off.
For instance, after Brad Hawpe hit a homerun in the top of the sixth, the nearby fans started chanting “Thow it back! Throw it back!” to which another writer in the press box dismayed, “Come on numbnuts, this isn’t Chicago.”
And when Padres reliever Edward Mujica had a 2-1 count on Ryan Spilborghs, with just one out, the fans suddenly burst into a thunderous applause. “That’s weird,” I thought to myself. “Isn’t that generally reserved for a closer who’s about to seal the win?”
And then I saw the Jumbotron, which in huge, flashing letters was beaming “Make Some Noise.”
“Of course,” I concluded. “Slaves to the almighty Jumbotron.”
But I must concede that Padres fans are loyal. I mean you’d have to be to still be rooting for them this season.
“They’re not necessarily the best team ever,” said Stephen Moulton, a fan decked out in Padres gear, sitting in the upper deck. “But yeah definitely San Diego pride.”
A father-son duo I came across, David and Nick Pearson, spoke to the weeding out a mediocre season like this one accomplishes.
“It just shows the real fans,” Nick said. “Real fans come out in season like this. Everyone else bandwagons for good teams. Real Padres fans are the ones that show up in their jerseys.”
What makes them fans?
“I was born here, man,” Nick said before his dad cut him off.
“Second generation of the Gwynns, come on,” David countered. “Two Tonys. There you go.”
And there you go, my PETCO experience in a nutshell. Stay tuned next week for my recap of Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Dixon McPhillips '10, a Crimson sports chair, is a visual and environmental studies concentrator in Kirkland House.