This is a weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: Petco Park.
Friar's club: Miguel Joseph Serra was born in Mallorca in 1713, and a scant 16 years later, he fetched up with the Franciscans, whereupon he took the first name Junípero, which is how the world knows him today. He soon entered the priesthood, and it was as Father Junípero Serra that he sailed to the colonies of New Spain in 1749, where he converted a lot of Indians into Christians, founded a handful of missions and generally did enough of the Lord's work in the New World that many years later people began calling him the "Apostle of California."
He was also a prick. No one much liked Serra, it seemed, at least not until he croaked. The Spanish army resented his authority. The captain of the bark that brought him to the New World damn near knifed him. He was grim and exacting, a onetime comisario of the Inquisition. As president of nine missions in California, he oversaw what we'd now call the extraordinary rendition of thousands of Indians who were pressed into labor and tortured if they didn't die of malaria first. He didn't treat his own person much better. Serra was an enthusiastic exponent of religion-as-masochism. Thin, gimpy, asthmatic and scurvy-ridden, he nevertheless favored heavy shirts full of wires that pointed inward, used candles to burn the flesh on his chest and whipped himself until he bled. It is said that during one sermon, he lashed himself with chains so fiercely that a congregant felt moved to do likewise, killing himself in the process.
Father Junípero Serra died in 1784. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II two centuries later. In the 1950s, a professional baseball team that played its home games in the town where Serra founded California's first mission began using for a mascot something named the Swinging Friar. The team was called the Padres. The mascot was a "whimsical takeoff" on Serra, a man who wouldn't know whimsy if it walked up to him and lashed him with a chain:
So this was the Padres' mascot: The engineer of a massive American pogrom, as rendered by Hanna-Barbera. (At least he was scaring only children now, rather than large populations of indigenous people.) And the bitch of it is that it's all so appropriate. Serra is, in retrospect, the perfect symbol for a Southern California ballclub — and in particular for the Padres. The main reason he has a reputation as anything but some 18th century imperial Pol Pot is because a passel of civic boosters undertook a large-scale restoration of the Franciscans' image in the late 1800s and early 1900s, creating a myth of sweet, gentle, mission-era California that they could sell to prospective homeowners around the United States. It was nothing but real-estate promotion, as the historian Kevin Starr has argued; Serra was the mascot. In 1934, two years before the Padres were born as a PCL team, the Catholic Church agreed to look at Serra's candidacy for beatification. Some 70 years later, another group of Southern Californians would try to snow the public: The Padres, who, waving around the prospect of a downtown renaissance, persuaded taxpayers to cover fully two-thirds of the cost of building scenic Petco Park, a deal that may have played a role in Standard & Poor's decision to suspend San Diego's bond rating. Once again, Serra was the mascot.
The view from the stands (everything sic'd):
Because very few people in San Diego are actually from here and San Diego fans are apathetic at best, the stadium has very few real Padres fans in attendance. Instead it is populated with transplants rooting for their visiting team, clueless tourists looking for something do after visiting the Zoo or Sea World and irritating douchebags ready to get their sleaze on in the Gaslamp Quarter after the game (applies to both locals and visitors).
This leads to overhearing cringe-worthy exchanges like the following:
Clueless tourist #1: "how many home games versus away games do teams play?"
Clueless tourist #2: "I don't know, I think 1/3 of their games are at home and 2/3 are away"
Different clueless tourist #1: "How long has this stadium been here?"
Different clueless tourist #2: "I think they've been playing here for 7 or 8 years. They brought that in (referring to Western Metal building) to make it look older."
This was 2 years after the park opened. Apparently they were unaware that the declaration of the 100-year old building as a historical landmark complicated ballpark construction and the building's exterior was incorporated into the ballpark design.
You also get mind-numbingly idiotic encounters like this with a popped-collar douchebag wearing a brand new Yankees hat:
Douchebag, to his date, as Mike Cameron comes within inches of catching a deep drive at the wall in the right-center gap (a hit very few centerfielders would have even come anywhere near): "Yeah, that guy's not really very good"
Me, incredulous: "Are you kidding me?! He's one of the top 5 centerfielders in baseball! He's won gold gloves!" Douchebag, again to his date, with an air of condescension: "You gotta love how these hometown fans support their players" (Jeff H.)
Petco Park sucks because it's the least-friendly hitter's park in baseball. Basically, it's the anti-Coors Field, pre-humidor from the mid-ninety's when jackoffs like Dante Bichette turned into Babe Ruth. They built the park downtown near the ocean and apparently didn't account for the very thick marine air that keeps the ball from traveling. They then designed the dimensions to be reasonably fair down both lines and to straight-center, but decided to make both alleys over 400 feet. As far as I know, it's the only stadium where both left-center and right-center are deeper than the center field wall. For five years now, both Padre players and opponents have routinely crushed balls to either of these alleys, only to be standing on second base, pissed-off and dumb-founded as to why on earth they didn't just hit a home run. It makes for boring fucking baseball. (Mark M.)
Your average game experience goes something like this: Park 20 blocks away, walk past all the homeless people in the East Village area, get to the game, hang out with the other 10,000 people that bothered to show up. Drink the 4.4% Budweiser in a plastic bottle- for that touch of class, put up with all the Charger jerseys, Meth addicts from El Cajon, Gaslamp douchebags, the hat races on the jumbo tron, the dancing groundskeeper guy, the kid announcing the first batter in the 3rd inning, the gigantic mascot Friar walking around- that's right they don't even have the San Diego Chicken here anymore. Word is that Tony Gwynn thought the Chicken was taking away from him, so he had him run out of town. Oh, and never every get a seat in Right field, every seat is obstructed. And so are the seats on top of the Western Metal building. (Robert P.)
Without getting into a long-winded rant at the tragic futility of being a Padres fan, Petco Park sucks for two overwhelming reasons (besides being named after a pet shop, being sold to the public on a series of lies, and of course housing a joke of a team).
1. The stadium is so representative of San Diego's attempt to try and be something more than a military town with great weather. "Look at us, we've got a brick building just like in Baltimore!" "How crazy is it that we have a beach in right-center?! It's because we have beaches in San Diego, get it?" "It's located in the historic [read oldest building from the '40s and was inhabited by sailors and prostitutes until the pathetic SD club crowd tried taking over in the late 90s] Gaslamp District. The most embarrassing symptom of this disease is that the Padres have retired no fewer than 4 numbers (five if you include Jackie Robinson's), all displayed over center field. Included among these are Steve Garvey (I assume for one hit in the 1984 NLCS) despite having played the majority of his career with the rival Dodgers, and Randy Jones (for a whopping total of one Cy Young, two All Star appearances, one Comeback Player of the Year Award, and a line of barbecue sauce). Pathetic.
2. The stands aren't just filled with a majority of fans from any opposing team in the National League, but about one in ten of these community college dropouts are sporting their DBacks or Mets jersey despite the fact that their team isn't playing. These cockroach transplants will pretend to learn how to surf, call everyone "bro", and generally destroy everything that native San Diegans love about their city, but none of them can be bothered to embrace the home team. If you're reading this with and own an Ed Hardy shirt, a trucker cap that's never been worn straight on your head, and have a surfboard that's gathering dust in the corner of your piss-soaked Pacific Beach hovel, do the entire region a favor and apply for welfare back in New Jersey. (Chris R.)
We drove to San Diego a few Labor Days ago to watch the Dodgers play. We payed around $30-40 per ticket to sit in this outfield section called "The Beach". We were sorta intrigued until we actually got to this section. It was literally a playpen. There was a large sandbox in the front where children made sandcastles. Overlooking the sand is the most uncomfortable bleachers in the world, covered in sand nonetheless. At one point, a home run was hit right our way, and we were practically praying that it would hit one of the children in the head and knock them out cold. We were so bitter that we had to drive 3 hours to sit in a sandbox. Who would they even put this area where children can play in potential home run territory?? We wanted to get outta there two innings later but thought we should make it fun, so we walked up on the sand to the outfield fence, lit cigarettes, and hollered obscenities at Mike Cameron until security came over. And what'd they tell us? That we can't smoke? We can't yell obscenities? No. They told us we cannot be in the sand because it was exclusively for the children. Go fuck yourself San Diego. (Daniel S.)
My work has season tickets in a great section - just off the third base line. There is a guy who works this section who may be the biggest asshole in San Diego, which is saying something. He carefully looks at every ticket when you leave and go back to your seat. If you are young or not white he spends at least a minute "checking your ticket." To say he is power-mad is an understatement. At one game recently between the Mets and Padres, he threatened to throw out a kid for walking down to "his" section to have a photo taken. This was after the kid asked another usher whether it was ok. There were less than 10000 people in the stands and this guy spends most of his time yelling at kids.
The guy has a stupid mustache and wears a gay hat, too. (Xan B.)
This park caused one of the greatest disappointments of my life.
While attending a bachelor party weekend Cubbies - Padres game several years ago, my group was in the left-field pavillion ALLLLL the way up, in the sports bar area. Waiting in an interminable line to get out on the deck so I could actually, I don't know, WATCH THE GAME, I needed to use the restroom.
So, I headed to the head, only to find an equally ridiculous line. I really had to go, so I dropped down a level to the top level of suites, pulled the casual walk-by while not showing my ticket move, and slipped into the totally un-busy suite-level john to take care of business.
Having crashed security, I figured I'd see the view from the suites. When I found a big suite full of people who didn't seem to know each other, I ate some of their wings, grabbed a beer, and perched up on a stool behind the 2/3 full rows of seats.
Within minutes, Sammy Sosa crushes a towering homerun that curves inside the foul pole, and lands 6 inches from my foot, spinning like a dervish. I clamor off of the stool, wrap my hands around the crazily spinning ball (seeing the blue writing on the ball, and feeling the raised seams), and try to grab it. But it is spinning too much, I'm a few drinks in, and some asshole who was actually invited to the suite and had any right to be there reaches back from the 2nd to last row and nabs the homer. I jump up and down cursing my own incompetence and then get back to my beer.
Sucks, right? But wait, it gets worse. Some guy from the Cubs shows up asking who caught the ball, and can he trade a basket of signed Cubs/Sosa gear, including jersey, bat, other signed balls and whatnot, because Mr. Sosa would really like to have that ball - AS IT IS THE ONE WITH WHICH HE PASSED ERNIE FUCKING BANKS ON THE ALL TIME HOME RUNS LIST!!!!!!!! Easily a 5-figure baseball, right?
Sucks, right? But wait, it gets worse/better.
Later that night, as we are lingering around the hotel waiting for the bachelor party "in-room entertainment" to arrive, we're watching Sportscenter. I had told my buddies about my near miss with the home run ball. They kind of didn't believe me. But then Sportscenter counts down plays of the day, highlights Sosa's record donger, and shows the clip, which CLEARLY features me, in the same red tshirt I'm still wearing, jumping up and down and cursing myself.
So, lost homerun ball. Won good story. Got my buddy's bachelor party on ESPN.
That is why PETCO Park sucks. (Todd B.)
Photo via Matt Pasant's Flickr account.
Next up: The Atlanta Braves' Turner Field. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.