September 1, 2006: San Diego, California
“Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.” – Ron Burgundy
Self-proclaimed as “America’s Finest City,” San Diego has grown from a Naval city into the second largest city in California. Its combination of perfect weather and laid-back atmosphere has provided an oasis to those looking for a change of pace. After spending two nights in San Diego, I can say that I have never been to a city quite like it. This was evident as Mike and I made our way to Petco Park, home of San Diego Padres and a vital part of downtown San Diego’s revitalization. Petco Park replaced Jack Murphy Stadium, home of the Padres since 1969, on April 8, 2004. It was the beginning of a new era in Padres history. Since reaching the 1998 World Series, the Padres had not returned to the playoffs. It was their 1998 World Series run that saved the Padres in San Diego. Shortly after being swept by the New York Yankees, voters approved a bond to allow construction of a ballpark in downtown San Diego. Petco Park brought unprecedented interest to the Padres organization, drawing over 3 million fans in 2004. I feel Petco Park’s success lies in its ability to provide an exceptional game day experience for Padre fans of all ages. Whether it is the beach in center field, the ”Park at the Park,” or the palm court with its waterfalls and jacaranda trees, Petco Park presents America’s pastime with a San Diego twist. The sandstone facade of Petco Park was imported from India. Its unique shade has been named Padres Gold. The most distinctive feature of Petco Park is the Western Metal Supply Building, a 106-year old warehouse that was restored by the Padres to serve as the home of their team store, Hall of Fame, and left field foul line. With all there is to see at Petco Park, it was hard for me and Mike to experience all it had to offer prior to the game between the Cincinnati Reds and hometown Padres.
Heading out on a Ballpark Tour in September can be hit or miss in terms of the importance of the ballgames. Michael and I have spent a few September evenings attending games that meant little in the standings. Our trip to San Diego changed that. After winning the National League West in 2005, the Padres were in the National League Wild Card race. The Reds were right behind them; this would be a huge three-game series. The Reds sent Bronson Arroyo to the mound to face Clay Hensley. Hensley had trouble from the start, allowing four runs in the first three innings. The damage would have been worse if it weren’t for Mike Cameron’s leaping catch in center field to rob Ken Griffey, Jr. of a home run. The Padres could only muster five hits as Bronson Arroyo (7 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs) and Rich Aurilia (4-for-5 with a HR and 2 RBI) led the Reds to a 6-2 victory in front of 32,901 fans. The win drew the Reds within one-half game of the National League Wild Card, but they fell out of the race after losing the final two games of the series. The Padres went on to win the 2006 National League West Division title. September 2006 will also be remembered for Padres great Trevor Hoffman, who went on to set the Major League save record, at the time, at 482.
Although I enjoyed my time at Petco Park, I was disappointed with the lack of intensity from Padre fans. I came away with the realization that baseball in San Diego is just another entertainment option in “America’s Finest City” and that I cannot compare it with the baseball experience on the East Coast. Petco Park does beat most stadiums when it comes to ballpark dining. Not only do they serve a great fish taco, but they also offer a few sit-down restaurants throughout the park, all with unique themes. I came away from my visit to Petco Park with a new appreciation of the Padres organization. They played above their talent level during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Although they have come up short in the playoffs, Manager Bruce Bochy and General Manager Kevin Towers deserve all the credit for maximizing the Padres’ performance. I look forward to following the Padres in the years to come and hope if I ever travel to San Diego again the Padres are in town.
PS: Bruce Bochy was let go by the Padres organization following the 2006 season. He has since won three World Series championships with the San Francisco Giants. The Padres organization has been in flux ever since, cycling through a number of General Manager and Manager combinations.