It's Always Sunny at Petco Park: A Review

Eric GomezAnalyst INovember 2, 2009

SAN DIEGO - JULY 03:  Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the San Diego Padres bats against Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park on July 3, 2009 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

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It took six years, numerous legal battles, a San Diego Padres pennant, and massive voter support to get Petco Park, the Friars’ current stadium, from the ballot to the heart of San Diego’s downtown.

Now, as I, and millions of satisfied visitors and San Diegans can attest, it was worth the wait.

Beginning construction in 1998, the stadium was scheduled to open in 2002. Lawsuits, injunctions, and other legal troubles stemming from unsatisfied politicians pushed the inauguration back to 2004, when it finally opened. I’ve sat in several sections at the park, with different price ranges. The result is pretty much the same each time, despite a relative closeness to the field from any seat, the action is always visible, always clear, always complete.

Petco Park was designed to evoke nostalgia in every baseball fan that walks through its gates, aiming to give the city of San Diego a taste of tradition in the vein of old parks like Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and other turn-of-the-century structures.

The fact that one has to walk into Petco Park (it has no immediate surrounding parking structures around the stadium itself), past local bars, restaurants and apartment buildings, gives it that retro flair. Unlike the stony coliseum a few miles east in Qualcomm Stadium, Petco Park is not closed off, allowing local traffic and passers-by to take a good peek into the field itself.

Beyond the centerfield wall, one can find the “Park at the Park”, a grassy area beyond the right-centerfield fence that is technically accessible to all who have purchased a ticket, but is specifically available for seating for a price of $5. It’s a wonderful, off-beat, and very “Southern California” idea that attracts its fair share of people.

Of course, the stadium is also state-of-the-art, and is packed with modern amenities. VIP skyboxes tower over the highest stadium section seating, the Western Metal Supply Co. building itself has a private section for parties and other events, the walking area around the seats boasts nearly 250 HDTVs for patrons to enjoy, and multiple LED video boards. Whenever I missed something, I could count on looking up at the screen for the replay.

The park’s unique arrangement allows for multiple restaurants, concessions, and bars to be part of the stadium itself, and these are almost all located outside of the seated, “dome” area of the park, instead populating the surrounding buildings and areas within the stadium. This seemed a little annoying to me at first, as I’m a firm believer that things should be close to the field of play so you don’t miss a lot of the action. However, this is compensated by the fact that there are numerous, and I mean numerous roaming vendors selling everything .

Despite the sometimes suspect product out on the field, Petco Park will keep me coming back for more. Like I said before, it was worth the wait.


Randy Jones’ BBQ

Address: 100 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA (inside stadium)

Barbecue. Barbecue hot dogs. Barbecue sandwiches. Barbecue corn on the cob. Heck, you can probably get the employees at Randy Jones’ BBQ (located beyond the outfield) to barbecue your beer. And it would probably taste good.

Underrated perhaps due to the team it is associated with, the Randy Jones Hot Dog is on par with—dare I say, the Dodger Dog—in terms of quality and taste. The BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich is also a delight, although anything and everything that features the delicious, smoky barbecue sauce can be considered as such because of the sauce’s flavor.

Beware the long lines, though—Randy Jones’ BBQ is no longer a well-guarded secret, and it is quite possible that a good size of the 20 to 40,000 people at Petco Park on any given night will be hoping to get a taste of the hot dog, assorted sandwiches, or the aforementioned corn on the cob. Regular, non-alcoholic drinks are featured, so that you can come away with a nice Coca-Cola, or lemonade with your food selection.


Altitude Sky Lounge at San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter

Address: 660 K Street, San Diego, CA (one block west of Petco Park)

Looking to party after the game’s over? You’re probably not dressed for it, but think about going back downtown with nicer threads and entering the Altitude Sky Lounge, atop the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Marriott.

If you’re still hungry after scarfing down all those cracker jacks and hot dogs, consider grabbing a bite from their appetizer menu, which features classics like chicken wings, potato skins, nachos, and some unique specialties such as a shrimp, mushroom, and spinach quesadilla.

The bar’s location allows for a breathtaking, panoramic view of San Diego’s downtown area, the Pacific Ocean, the isle of Coronado, and—on a clear night—as far south as Tijuana, Mexico.

As a trendy, well-to-do bar should, Altitude displays a full selection of cocktails, domestic and imported beers and specialty drinks for patrons to enjoy. Happy hour on weekdays is from 5-7 p.m., and all day Sunday. Bottle service is also available, with prices ranging from $66 champagne to a bottle of Louis XIII cognac topping out at a cool two grand.

Altitude doubles as a nightclub with mostly electronic dance music coming from its speakers, which means you’ll be able to cap off your day in San Diego’s downtown by reveling in your sweet dance moves.

FANFARE Review: 26


Food & Beverage: 5

Patrons should expect to get their choice of food and beverage when visiting Petco Park. Options for the hungry range from the usual fare of hot dogs (regular and specialty, such as in the case of Randy Jones’ BBQ) to fish tacos at Rubio’s, pizza from the award winning Oggi’s, as well as pot stickers and spring rolls from Pacific Wok. Buyer beware, these options are pricey, and if you’re visiting the park on a non-promotional day, you should expect to pay an average of $15 to $25 for two meals.

Those wanting to whet their whistle will find themselves in a bit of a pinch if they’re looking for something beyond a good selection of beers from the PCL Bar & Grill. There are at least seven full bars in Petco Park, but almost all of these are located within the Toyota Terrace area of the ballpark, a VIP section that can be accessed, but is about as out-of-the-way as can be for non-ticket holders. Again, these drinks will not come cheap. A domestic beer will run you at least $8.

Lastly, those not entirely interested in the game might want to check out the Hall of Fame Bar and Grill in the Western Metal Supply Co. Building, which features a buffet that changes daily and a full bar.


Atmosphere- 2

Visitors to Petco Park will be somewhat shocked that the people around them might not always be root, root, rooting for the home team. Southern California fans are notoriously bland, and Petco Park’s uber family-friendly confines make it so that even the rowdiest are forcibly muted amidst the apathy and onlooking kindergartners.

The flip side of having so many adjacent attractions to the stadium itself is, quite simply, that some will choose to engage in these more so than the actual game.

Not helping the matter is the fact that the Padres are a team that despite its long tradition, has not achieved a level of success that is concurrent with well-respected institutions. Looking to have a quiet, nice conversation while some stuff happens on the grass below? Perfect. Trying to get a wave or a chant going? Good luck.


Neighborhood: 4

Part of the reason behind building Petco Park was continuing the revitalization of San Diego’s downtown, a mission that has been thoroughly accomplished. The myriad of bars and restaurants ranging from hoity-toity to complete dives means you will have your pick of how to spend the rest of your evening, or the few hours before the event starts.

As is the norm in Southern California, the frugal crowd will need to clamp open their wallet to fully enjoy the sights and sounds. However, there are plenty of cheap, or free options available to all as well, as a stroll through the area will reveal the historic buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter, the San Diego Convention Center, and the Port of San Diego, where will you most likely see several huge navy ships and commercial cruises docked at the port.


Fans: 3

It’s not completely unfair to tag San Diegans with the mote of fair-weather fans. However, there are plenty people with passion for their local colors, and many of those will be sitting around you as you take in your game.

As is the case with most modern parks and fanbases, yes, the electronic signs will indicate when it’s “appropriate” to make noise and give the home team a boost, but expect good-natured and honest support from the home fans a few times per game.

San Diego is one of the cities in the United States with the highest tourism rates, and this will also undoubtedly show. Whether it’s San Francisco, Washington D.C., or Houston, expect a healthy contingent of the other team’s fan base in the confines.


Access: 5

A foreseeable problem in building a stadium in the heart of a densely populated area is the fact that actually getting to the stadium might be easier said than done. With thousands of people going in all directions, another group of thousands pouring into one specific location might be a problem. However, San Diego’s city design, renowned public transportation system, large parking structures around the stadium, and police involvement before and after the game to re-route traffic make getting to Petco Park a cinch. Parking costs range from $5 to $25. In more than 20 visits to the stadium since 2004, I’ve never had to wait longer than 10 minutes to get into the park itself. Looking to make a quick run to the john? You’re never less than four sections, or so from finding one. The wide availability of facilities also reduces the lines for that, as well. Radio and TVs inside the restrooms will also mean you don’t miss a second of the action.


Return on Investment: 4

Depending on what type of game you’re going to be watching at Petco Park, you might think that what you paid for a ticket (from $5 to $65) was either completely worth it, or not at all worth it.

Concessions and merchandise are not cheap, but the variety of purchasing selections more than make up for it. Add to that the beauty, uniqueness and most likely, great weather that you’ll be experiencing at Petco Park, and the result is a pretty good value for your money.


Etc. (Everything Else or Bonus Points): 3

They don’t call San Diego “America’s Finest City” for nothing. Petco Park is just one of the wave of new structures built in the 1990’s and 2000’s, but by far—it is one of the best.

Not only is it a breathtaking baseball stadium that is catered to get the maximum experience from its visitors, but it is surrounded by a city that has hordes of activities and sights. In an area of less than 60 minutes away in distance by way of automobile you can go to Sea World, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Legoland, the renowned beaches of La Jolla, or even exit the country by visiting world-famous Tijuana, Mexico.

These and many other features display why San Diego and Southern California as a whole are the envy of the rest of the United States and many other parts of the world.


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