From the first time I walked up the concourse at Tiger Stadium and laid eyes on the vast expanse of green grass in the middle of downtown Detroit, I’ve been in love with baseball parks.
Tiger Stadium was unique in many ways. One of the best aspects of the old park at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull was the intimate atmosphere with fans in the upper deck being right on top of the action. Of course, an upper level so close to the field requires support columns, which result in some obstructed-view seats behind those columns.
That wonderful old ballpark was all I knew of Major League Baseball as a kid. Oh, I’d see the other parks on television but I certainly didn’t have a desire to travel to see many of them when I was younger because so many were multipurpose stadiums that hosted both baseball and football games and many others were the cookie-cutter Astroturf arenas prevalent in the 1980s.
But fortunately that began to change with the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. That baseball cathedral signaled the beginning of an era in which baseball-only parks with unique features came back into fashion. And that era appears to be here to stay as most teams have constructed their own unique home fields in the years since.
As someone who considers himself a real baseball fan, I’ve long kicked around the idea of trying to visit every park in the majors. I never made it a priority because I just didn’t know if it would be possible. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money to visit 30 cities.
I’ve managed to make it to a few of the existing parks. I’ve been to Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Chase Field in Phoenix, Comerica Park in Detroit, Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park in Boston, O.co Coliseum in Oakland (Oakland Alameda County Coliseum when I went), Progressive Field in Cleveland (Jacobs Field when I was there) and Rogers Centre in Toronto (the Skydome when I visited).
Last week I started thinking about actually following through and visiting the other 22. Of course, it’s going to take a few years, possibly the rest of my life. And some teams will open new ballparks. But I decided to just do it.
The fact that the team I’ve followed most of my life, the Detroit Tigers, were traveling to Los Angeles and San Diego in the second week of the season is what got me thinking about all this. I didn’t have the money or time to go to both series, but figured I might be able to make the drive to San Diego to cross Petco Park off my list. I’d wanted to visit this beautiful park since it opened 10 years ago. So I contacted the Padres about my quest to visit every major league park and Josh Ishoo was kind enough to set me up with tickets.
So I got in my car and made the seven-hour drive to San Diego for last weekend’s series.
Petco Park exceeded all my expectations. It’s a glorious baseball park located in the heart of San Diego, just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Breezes coming in off the ocean can make for chilly nights, even days, as I found out. I needed a jacket for all three games. Fortunately I brought it with me for the two night games. I regretted leaving it in the car for the Sunday afternoon finale.
The fact that the park is located in downtown like so many are these days provides interesting opportunities for the outfield skyline. One of the most unique characteristics of Petco is its incorporation of the historic Western Metal Supply Co. Building in left field. The foul line runs up the corner of the structure and three rows of seats are attached to the side of the building facing the field, with additional rooftop viewing. It really adds character to the park. A sandy beach area beyond center field adds to the southern California charm. There’s also a Park at the Park behind the center field seats with a large grassy hill which some fans sit or lay on and view the game on a large video screen.
Petco Park also features plenty of unique food, including the very popular custom ice cream sandwiches from the Baked Bear. The one I sampled with strawberry cheesecake ice cream between two red velvet cookies was delicious. And, of course, the park features several unique beverages, such as locally brewed beers like Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale, which can be found at one of the Trolley Bars that are mini versions of the red trolley cars that run throughout the city.
Of the nine parks I’ve visited, I’d rank Petco near the top of the list of my favorites. Fenway is right up there because of the Green Monster and the historic factor. Dodger Stadium is a real treasure and I absolutely love Chase Field with the retractable roof that allows for the best of both worlds, the real outdoor feel that baseball is about, as well as the ability to close the roof when necessary. It really is a jewel in the desert.
But there’s really no need for a retractable roof in southern California. San Diego is a destination city for many reasons. Great weather is probably the biggest reason. Another is Petco Park. This is a place every baseball fan should visit.