Taking advantage of a rare opportunity for a Boston Red Sox fan to travel to San Diego to see the Padres in their home of Petco Park.
Nothing compares to the experience of watching a game at historic Fenway Park but the chance to visit other ballparks is a treat for any baseball junkie. The Boston Red Sox only play the NL West once every three years and it’s a coin-flips odds as to whether the series will be at home or on the road. San Diego is a city I had long wanted to explore and an interleague match-up with the Padres provided the perfect opportunity.
Getting to San Diego was an adventure in itself. I planned on leaving on Thursday to give myself adequate time to adjust to the time zone difference and recover from jet lag before the series began. Several delays on a flight that was eventually cancelled left me stranded overnight at Logan Airport in Boston waiting for a new flight re-booked for the following morning.
About 28 hours after leaving home, I finally arrived at my hotel Friday afternoon. Luckily, I had purchased tickets for the next day’s game. Running on essentially zero sleep, a trip to the ballpark my first night in town wouldn’t have been the pleasant experience I had been looking forward to for months. A lesson for anyone planning to travel to see the Red Sox play on the road – don’t buy tickets in advance for the same day you arrive. You have to account for potential travel hiccups derailing those plans.
I found a sports bar near my hotel in the Gaslamp district of downtown San Diego. The neighborhood is packed with great options for food, drinks and entertainment. It’s only about half a mile from Petco Park, making it an ideal place to stay if you plan on visiting the city for a Padres game. It was here that I watched the Red Sox announce their presence with an 11-0 shellacking to open the series.
I attended Saturday’s game, which proved to be far more competitive. Another Red Sox victory made it a thrilling night but taking in a game in the atmosphere of an unfamiliar ballpark would have made for a positive experience regardless of the outcome.
With plenty of time on my hands before the 5:40 p.m. first pitch, I ventured over toward the ballpark early to explore the surrounding area.
The park is surrounded by large images of Padres players plastered on the side of the stadium or on banners hanging from light poles on the street. One large banner decorating the outside of the park showcases Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, the team’s highest paid players whom the Padres seem intent on making the faces of their franchise.
While Fenway assigns fans a gate in order to have them enter closest to their seats, Petco didn’t appear to have any particular entrance to use. The gate I entered through lined up alongside a lawn in front of a massive television screen where fans could watch the game without having access to the park.
I found my seat with relative ease – field box Section 113, eight rows away from first base. Great seats that would have easily cost double at Fenway.
What it lacks in the rich history and nostalgia that Fenway offers, Petco makes up for with its own charms. It has the same cookie-cutter feel as most modernized stadiums with a few unique quirks. Most notable is the Western Metal Supply Building that anchors the left field corner. The building is a historical landmark that couldn’t be torn down so they instead built Petco around it. Balconies on the outside of the building were added to offer fans a unique perspective of the game. It doesn’t quite compare to sitting on top of the Green Monster but “The Rail” adds an interesting component to the park.
Both teams were decked out in their Players’ Weekend uniforms with nicknames on the back. The black jerseys with white trim worn by the Red Sox were more appealing than I initially thought but the all-white Padres jerseys were dreadfully dull.
The PA announcer introduced all Padres players by their nickname as they stepped to the plate. It’s clear that the Padres players took the name selection more seriously than the Red Sox did. The scoreboard overlooking the outfield displayed the player’s actual names for those who aren’t up to speed on their Padres nicknames – or those who don’t recognize half the roster to begin with.
Aside from the obvious names, such as Machado and Hosmer, the Padres lineup featured at least one other name Red Sox fans should recognize. Manuel Margot, a former top outfield prospect who was included in the Craig Kimbrel deal.
Margot’s acquisition from Boston was listed as his “Key Fact” during one of his plate appearance. This interesting scoreboard feature revealed information about each player as they stepped to the plate. Some facts, such as the Margot trade and Brock Holt recording MLB’s first postseason cycle, I was familiar with but there were a few things I learned – including Jackie Bradley Jr. being a distant relative of Michael Jordan.
The Washington Nationals have Presidents and the Oakland A’s have mascots resembling legends such as Dennis Eckersley competing in races between one of the innings. The Padres have Ron Burgundy and the Channel Five news team. The one in the Burgundy costume won the race during the game I attended, although he had to cheat by shoving Brick out of the way. Poor, sweet Brick. Anything goes in these high-stakes races – as long as there is no touching of the hair or face.
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It turns out, I was far from being the only Red Sox fan to make the trip out west for this series. I estimate about a 50-50 split of Red Sox and Padres fans at the game I attended. Boston fans were more vocal though, especially when the boo birds came out to greet Machado. My section was predominately Padres fans who were supportive of their team but not quite as enthusiastic as your typical Fenway crowd. Everyone around me was very friendly though, despite that I was decked out in enemy attire with my Mookie Betts jersey.
The game lasted nearly four hours and threatened to extend into extra-innings until Holt took All-Star closer Kirby Yates deep for a game-winning solo homer. Isn’t the lack of a DH supposed to make NL games move along more quickly? Apparently not when the Red Sox are in town.
The tightly contested game kept the majority of fans in their seats until the end. The Padres repeatedly advertising the post-game fireworks show may have also played a hand in the crowd sticking around. The biggest fireworks show of the season! So they say, anyway.
This being my first trip to San Diego, I couldn’t leave town without visiting the world-famous zoo. I initially planned to go Friday afternoon before the game but the travel fiasco I endured didn’t leave enough time. I went on Sunday before my flight home instead, which means I missed the finale of the series against the Padres. That’s fine, the Red Sox didn’t show up for that one either, falling 3-1 as the Padres avoided the sweep.