Saturday, November 19, 2011

Joey's Small Bites: Dodgers & Padres & Bears, Oh My! (Part Two: Petco Park Tour)

Howdy doody, fellow Mets fans!  This is Joey Beartran, taking a break from dreaming about chicken nachos at Citi Field (a dream I have daily during the offseason) to share my experiences with you on our recent trip to the National League ballparks in Southern California.

In part one of this two-part series, I discussed our tour of Dodger Stadium (which you can read for yourself by clicking here), where there is plenty of love for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Fred Wilpon's high school sweetheart (Sandy Koufax) and hero (Jackie Robinson), in addition to all the Gil Hodges memorabilia that should be at Citi Field.

Part two of the Studious Metsimus Southern California tour took us to Petco Park in beautiful San Diego.  The ballpark is visually stunning from the outside, but it is inside where the beauty fully comes out to play.  Let's take a look!

Everything is beautiful in San Diego, which is why I fit in so well.

Our tour guide took us into the ballpark behind home plate, up the staircase that is adjacent to a cascading waterfall (which was not on at the time - water conservation is important everywhere, my friends).  He explained that Petco Park has some of the widest concourses for fans in the major leagues and has the most plants found in any major league ballpark.  The plants were carefully selected because San Diego doesn't get much rain (approximately 10-15" of precipitation falls in San Diego annually, according to our tour guide), so only plants that can withstand drought were planted in and around the ballpark.

One of the great things about watching a game at Petco Park is that you can purchase a Standing Room Only ticket behind the last row of seats in the field level behind home plate.  The price of the ticket is only $5.  Compare that to the last row of seats behind home plate, which are $69 and only two feet in front of the Standing Room Only section, and you have the best bargain in the ballpark.  Of course, you might not be able to see high fly balls from that area (see photo below of the view from the Standing Room Only section), but no Padre can hit high fly balls anyway.

Ryan Ludwick led the 2011 Padres with 11 HR, meaning that you probably have a better chance of catching a baseball in the Standing Room Only area than you do in the outfield seats at Petco Park.

From the Standing Room Only area, we moved along the right field side of the ballpark, taking note of the Padres dugout as we walked to one of the unique aspects of the park - the Western Metal Supply Co. building.

Construction of Petco Park was delayed for two seasons because of the building, which has been declared a historic landmark in San Diego.  After a court hearing, it was determined that only the exterior of the building was considered a landmark, so the Padres were able to incorporate it into the ballpark, change and add things to the inside of the building, as long as they kept the exterior intact.  The Western Metal Supply Co. building now provides a unique viewing perspective in the left field corner.  (Here are the pics to prove it.  Among them is a photo that features my sister (Iggy Beartran) and Ballapeño, who is the mascot of the Padres' AA team, the San Antonio Missions.)

Inside the Western Metal Supply Co. building, you will find all the San Diego baseball history you can digest.  We're not just talking about the San Diego Padres major league franchise, which came into existence in 1969.  We're also talking about the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, which started play in 1936.

The minor league San Diego Padres team was most known for one teenaged player who went on to become one of the best hitters in the major leagues as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  Perhaps you've heard of this native San Diegan.  His name was Ted Williams.

The Splendid Splinter got his professional start in San Diego as a member of the PCL's Padres.

The Padres are very proud of their history, even though they've never won a World Series title in two trips to the Fall Classic.  The team has retired the numbers of five of their former players (Randy Jones, Steve Garvey, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman) and isn't shy to show off their love for these players.

All over the ballpark, you will see tributes to these great players, even though Winfield and Gwynn are the only two to make it to Cooperstown.  From a Tony Gwynn statue (more on that later) to a baseball jersey made out of baseball cards to glass-enclosed "lockers" dedicated to their legendary players, coaches and front office personnel, Petco Park has no shortage of tributes to those who gave their all for the Padres.

By the way, your eyes weren't deceiving you up there.  That really was Babe Ruth in a "Bustin' Babes" jersey.  When the man who never knew a hot dog he couldn't eat was a player, he was part of a barnstorming team that played a few games in San Diego.  That made the Bambino part of San Diego baseball history and got him a spot on their wall.  See, I wasn't kidding when I said San Diego is proud of their baseball history!

Speaking of "never knowing a hot dog he couldn't eat", by this point in the tour, I was getting a little hungry (like you weren't expecting me to say that eventually), but I was disappointed that just like in the Dodger Stadium tour, the concession stands weren't open for business.  It's too bad because I really wanted to try one of their famous Friar Franks.  (Keeping the concession stands closed was not suh-WEET in my book.)  At least they have all-you-can-eat seats, so I'll definitely be making a trip back to Petco Park when there are games to be played.

After the Western Metal Supply Co. building and closed concession stand tour, we went back into the ballpark to check out the press box, suites and lounges (where were large and had great menus, but not unlike any we've ever seen before).  On the way there, we stopped at the Padres Hall of Fame Bar and Grill and noticed a couple of interesting jerseys that belonged to two former Padres.  However, the two uniforms did not have "San Diego" or "Padres" written across the front.

They were the WBC jerseys of former Met (and a Padre for one season) Mike Piazza and former Padre Adrian Gonzalez.  Piazza wore No. 31 as a coach for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, while Gonzalez wore No. 23 for Team Mexico.  The jerseys were there because both players suited up for the Padres at one time and because several of the WBC games were played at Petco Park.  (Ballapeño clearly has a fav'rit player, according to the photos below.)

From there, it was time to get some on-field action.  The tour guide was quite informative when telling us about the special advantages the Padres have on the field.  For example, the Padres' home dugout is 57 feet long and the bench in front of the dugout fences has a back for players and coaches to lean back on while they're sitting on it.  The visiting team's dugout is only 46 feet long and the bench in front of their dugout fence has no back for leaning purposes.  I suppose a player could lean back while sitting on that bench, but then he'd risk an injury, as the bench is a few feet above the dugout floor.  Of course, if it was a Mets player, it would cause him to miss the entire season.

In addition, the Padres have heaters and coolers in their dugout, while the visiting team has none.  Also, the Padres' bullpen is situated on grass behind the left field fence.  The road team has to warm up their pitchers on a makeshift mound in foul territory along the right field foul line, where they're subjected to the wrath (or what passes for wrath in laid-back San Diego) of the fans.  More importantly, members of the visiting team can be struck by screaming line drives that curve foul at the last moment.

I'm sure all that information is keeping you wide awake, but what you really want to see are the pictures of us on the field and in the dugout, right?  Without further ado, here they are!

Most of the time, the tour of the dugout and the field represents the end of the tour.  However, at Petco Park, there is much more to see!

Just beyond the center field fence is an area called "Park at the Park", which is open from sunrise to sunset on non-game days.  From there, you can go down a flight of steps (where the Petco Park center field bleacher seats are located) to an area that resembles a beach.  This is where kids can play during the game while their parents watch the action on the field.

Behind this seating area is a small park that contains a whiffle ball field (for kids and adults) and a statue of Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn.  (See, I wasn't lying when I said "more on that later" ten paragraphs and 22 photos ago.)  We didn't take a photo of the homeless man sleeping behind the statue (or was it the San Diego chapter of "Occupy Wall Street", called "Occupy Tony Gwynn Drive"?) but we did get some great shots of the statue, beach and playing field.

Well, that about does it, Mets fans.  I hope you enjoyed our recap of the Studious Metsimus Southern California ballpark tour.  Both Dodger Stadium and Petco Park should be on your list of ballparks to visit whenever you want to make a trip to the West Coast to see the Mets play.  If you can't make it out to these cities during the baseball season, then I highly recommend taking the tours that we took.

At each park, the tour guides were informative, knew their team's history (unlike the tour guides at Citi Field - isn't that right, Mr. Prince?) and they didn't try to sell you suites (a la the Citi Field tour), making it a pleasurable experience for our entire staff.

Oh, one more thing before I sign off, since I know you were wondering.  Remember how I said none of the concession stands were open at Dodger Stadium and Petco Park?  Well, that part was true, but I did make a friend inside the Petco Park Team Store.  It wasn't edible, but the slice of Padres Pizza (see photo below) was a perfect ending to a fantastic Southern California baseball trip.

On behalf of Iggy Beartran and Ballapeño, I'm Joey Beartran, reminding you that it sometimes does rain in Southern California, but it should never dampen your feelings on the New York Mets.  Let's go Mets!

Hungry bears and a Padres pepperoni pizza pillow always go hand-in-hand!

1 comment:

Greg Prince said...

At least one (erstwhile) Citi Field tour guide, at any rate.

Thanks for the virtual trip out west. Now, back to November.