JD’s Ballpark Tour, Second Inning (San Diego)

PART II: Petco Park

(AKA Flirting With History)

   After the All-Star break, I felt completely ready to take on a bunch of different ballparks, and this is where the bulk of my travels take place. This downtown San Diego park is one that I’ve frequented. However, I’ve only made two visits to this park in the last five years, and one of those visits was with my best friend, Paul, to the Padres Fan Fest in 2010. I figured it had been long enough between trips to Petco Park to garner another fresh take. Instead of comparing how the park looks now to back when it first opened in 2004, I gave myself a clear head and took everything at face value. Get ready folks, this is going to be a long post!

Ballpark 2: Petco Park, elevation 15 feet.

The game: Mets @ Padres on July 20, 2014.

   This fairly new ballpark near the Gaslamp District is in the heart of downtown San Diego, and is built with some classic elements in mind. This park is classified in the “retro modern” column, and one look at left field will tell you why. Embedded within the stadium is the old Western Metal Supply building, which is over 100 years old. Because the park was built in the downtown area, there has been some new developments built around the area of the ballpark. Also, parking is at a premium which is why the Padres encourage the use of public transportation. Time was that for a night game, I would park far and just take the trolley in as there is a stop right outside the Park for less than five bucks. However, parking all around downtown has shot through the roof, and the trolley prices have gone up! If you are going to Petco Park by yourself, then I would recommend parking far away and then take the trolley in as it’s a $5 round-trip ticket. There is also a trolley service that goes from Qualcomm Stadium (the Padres old stadium) to the Park on game days. However, here is a little known secret that most people forget. You ready?

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There is free parking around the Park on Sundays…

   You read that correctly. Outside the Park, there are a multitude of meters that are enforced Monday through Saturday in and around the Gaslamp District. But, those meters are NOT enforced on Sundays! Most people know that, but not enough as I was able to snag a space not far from the Western K Street entrance. The meters are not checked… and neither are the yellow-painted curbs. That’s because the yellow-painted curbs are commercial loading zones, and you can park there anytime on Sundays. Since this was a Sunday game, I decided to look for street parking early on, and I did a double-take when I found a parking spot only ONE block away from the entrance. This was painted yellow, which might explain why nobody was going after it. But I snatched up the spot on 6th Avenue, and made my way inside the Park.

   The ushers were very kind with me entering the ballpark, maybe because I was wearing my Padres gear. For those of you that collect jerseys, I was wearing my 1936 Padres jersey from their days in the old PCL. Ted Williams wore that jersey way back then, so it’s more than good enough for me. Every time I attend a game in San Diego, there is at least one person who either asks about where I got it, and/or if I want to sell it.

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   Entering the stadium, I got a free 4-page program that lists the current players for both teams. This is always very important when the trade deadline is approaching and some teams have already made trades (as the Padres did earlier that weekend). Since it was Sunday, it was also family day, so there were freebies all over the place, especially for the young ones. Every Sunday, Padres fans 14 and younger can get a free autograph from a current or former player before the game. I will say this, the Padres organization know how to treat their young fans the right way, and I tip my cap to them for that.

   After checking out the pitchers warming up, I wanted to pay my respects to one of the greatest hitters of my generation, Tony Gwynn. When I got there, fans were already flocking to his statue beyond the center field bleachers and placed flowers on it. Tears are still being shed to mourn the passing of Mr. Gywnn.

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   After that, I had about an hour to peruse my food options. Yes, I needed almost the entire hour. The food choices are vast and amazing. I ended up scouting out many places until I finally decided on a tri-tip sandwich from the Seaside Tri-Tip cart. The best bang for your buck might be that place because the food from there tastes amazing. They also serve up mouth-watering tri-tip nachos. Yes, this is a real thing… they looked that good. But one of the best deals is the Seaside Market by section 105 inside the park. Their peppered tri-tip sandwich with two sides is very tough to beat, especially when one of those sides are the potato wedges. I think the price was around $13, but this was a pretty sizeable meal. I’ll put up a couple links about the food down here.

Yes, there are other awesome drink and food options there, but I didn’t touch those because I sat in a place where I got in-seat service, and would later use it.

Ticket prices: StubHub saved me once again, and I was able to find a couple Toyota Terrace seats in Section 216, row 1! The view from there is perfect for the game I was about to watch. Normally, those tickets are in the $40 range, but I found them for under $24 each thanks to the Wendy’s deal, once again. The ticket prices have gone up quite a bit over the years, but not enough to keep the fans away. Once again, StubHub is your best bet since there is a pretty decent secondary market for tickets. There isn’t a bad seat in this ballpark, and the upper reserve seats are closer to the action than at most massive ballparks. Petco Park feels like a cozy park without being too small.

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The fans: These fans are pretty loyal, and they came out in flocks before the game. Since there was a family event going on since it was Sunday, there were plenty of families around, and there were many kids getting autographs and playing on the small field beyond the center field batter’s eye. The fans there are more passionate than you think, and very loyal. However, there was one die-hard fan who stole the show before the game…

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The game: I had read an article the day before the game about who was throwing out the first pitch. Agnes McKee had been preparing for two months to throw out the first pitch in this game. A small-town girl from Indiana, she was married for many years to her husband, who served in the military. This Sunday featured a salute to veterans, which the Padres organization is top-notch at. By the way, Agnes is 105 years old. There was some news about her that morning, so when she stepped out on the field with her walker, she got a thunderous ovation. She underhanded the pitch, and she did it! This was an amazing moment, and this was an omen to the afternoon of baseball I was about to see.

   The game started out very quickly with a baserunner here and there, and the first four innings took only an hour with a Padres homer as the only offense of the game. Entering the top of the 5th inning, I notice something on my scorebook, but don’t make any mention of it. Odrisamer Despaigne came in with a 2-1 record and a 1.35 ERA, so I knew he had some good stuff… but his arsenal was particularly electric on this Sunday afternoon. After a quick three outs in the 5th inning, I was glad that I had in-seat service because I wasn’t about to leave my seat. Still scoreless, Despaigne gets the first two outs quickly in the 6th inning before allowing a walk, his second base-runner of the game (the first was hit by a pitch). After striking out Daniel Murphy, even the crowd started to sense what was going on. Many of the fans around me were aware of what was taking place in front of them, but they didn’t say anything. All one fan said near me was, “Hey, look at that!” I nodded my head in agreement. I will let this picture of my scorebook speak for itself.

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   The Padres threaten in their half of the 6th, but Despaigne grounds out with a runner on third to end the inning. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, though as the Padres had a 1-0 lead and were witnessing something special.

   Nine outs to go. Despaigne gets the first two outs of the 7th, but then walks the bases loaded! However, he still had something incredible going, so he remained in the game with seven outs to go. This was probably the most tense I’ve seen any ballpark in a very long time. The San Diego Padres are a team without a no-hitter, and this pitching prodigy could be the first ray of hope for this franchise. Finally, Ruben Tejada hits it back to Despaigne, and the crowd erupts. Six outs to go! God Bless America!

   The Padres don’t score in their half of the 7th, so now we move on to the 8th inning, and the crowd buzzes with anticipation as Odrisamer Despaigne gets back on the hill to possibly achieve history. After fouling off a pitch, Kirk Nieuwenhuis finally strikes out swinging. Five outs to go. Curtis Granderson battles and gets a piece of a couple pitches before finally striking out looking.

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   Four outs away. Could this possibly go into the 9th inning?

   Despaigne gets Daniel Murphy to a 2-2 count, and the crowd as at its loudest. One strike away from getting out of this inning.

CRACK! Aw no! Murphy hits a laser into left-center field, and this crowd is stunned. A few seconds later, that first hit goes on the scoreboard, and Despaigne gets a loud standing ovation. The 31,513 at Petco Park show him the love, and even manager Bud Black elects to keep his pitcher in the game confident that he will get that final out. However, David Wright ties the game on an RBI single, and now we have a new ball game. Despaigne leaves the game to a thunderous applause, and it looked like many fans stuck around for this one. They would not be disappointed as Seth Smith gets a walk-off RBI single to win the game, and most of those fans simply exhaled. Everybody was talking about it in the park, and even out on the streets after the game. We nearly saw history occur at Petco Park, and every fan that I encountered had their own thoughts on it: “I can’t believe how electric that crowd was,” “Man, only four outs away!” “What a ride. Just… what a ride.” “It almost happened again, and we still don’t have a no-no.”

   These fans knew what they were talking about. No Padre has thrown a no-hitter in the franchise’s 45 year history. The only time a Padre had a no-hitter going into the 9th inning was Chris Young back in 2006 at Petco Park. This is definitely a pitcher’s ballpark, so we might see one at some point here.

   This game and this ballpark are going to be very tough to top, especially after witnessing a game like that. Be sure to check out some of the awesome food fare there, and arrive early that way you can have enough time to make up your mind! If you can, get to an early Sunday game and take advantage of the free parking if you can get there at least a couple hours before the game, it will be worth it because you’ll spend the first hour exploring all the nooks and crannies of this park, and the other hour trying to decide what to eat! Plan accordingly, and you could end up with a wonderful ballpark experience in San Diego. With that, I will end this post with some words of wisdom from 105 year old Agnes McKee; words of wisdom that, in a sense, sum up how I feel about this most ambitious adventure:

“Be happy. Take advantage of everything that comes along. Don’t pass up anything because life is too short… whatever comes along, I’m ready.”

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-JD

 

JD’s Ballpark Tour, First Inning (Los Angeles)

Part I: Dodger Stadium

   Folks, I’m not going to beat around the bush, the Dodgers are my favorite team in the major leagues, and always have been. I couldn’t think of a better place to start my tour than my second home for over twenty years. I’ve been going to games there since I was six, and have seen many fantastic games and have attended some historic events there. One of my first baseball memories is getting to see Fernando Valenzuela pitch at the Ravine, and a very major memory for me took place in 1991 when the Montreal Expos’ Denny Martinez pitched a perfect game against my home team. I will honestly say that was the only time I openly rooted against the Dodgers at my home stadium because I wanted to see the perfect game happen. Needless to say, I have a love for this old stadium, but I will try to be as un-biased as possible for this particular trip.

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Me in front of the 395-foot marker in CF six years ago…

 

Ballpark 1: Dodger Stadium, elevation 502 feet.

The game: Padres @ Dodgers on July 13, 2014.

   Here is what you should know about Chavez Ravine, it was built in the early 1960’s on top of a hill in the Elysian Park area. The area around the ballpark is very hilly, and there are tiered parking lots around the perimeter of the stadium. Unless you have preferred parking, expect to walk a bit! Since I prefer to spend my money on food and talk to you guys about it, I decided to go the inexpensive route and park outside at Stadium Way. Keep in mind, this is street parking and this parking comes at a “first come, first serve” basis, so arrive early if you want to save fifteen dollars. Believe me, with the raised food prices, you’re going to want to think about this option. Since I’m a long-distance runner, I don’t mind the long walk, but it is about a ¾ mile walk on average, depending on where you’re sitting. This is usually the way to go for me, and you do get some great pictures of the entrance into Dodger Stadium. Of course, making this trek is much more difficult on a badly sprained ankle…

   Arriving at Chavez Ravine was a breeze, and I wanted to arrive early not just for the free parking, but also for the awesome giveaway, which was a Dodgers portable speaker. It has already been put to good use. This is one plus about the Dodgers, especially under new ownership, the giveaways have been really good. Earlier in the season, I got a replica Don Newcombe #53 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey as the free giveaway, so you can see that the quality of giveaways are quite excellent.

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The new HD DodgerVision jumbotrons!

   As I arrived, the first thing I did was snag a couple Dodger Dogs and make my way to my seat… which was still in sunlight. Fortunately, these are Dodger fans coming to the games, so I was able to move to shade easily, but more on the fans later. As I mentioned before, the food prices have risen this season, but there is also more variety. The main sell for everybody is the world-famous Dodger Dog, now $5.50! Even worse, the Super Dodger Dog is now over $7 (That used to be $5.50). Now there are Mexican “Doyer Dogs” sold that includes Pico de Gallo on it, burgers, garlic fries, Italian “Brooklyn style” pizza, and even the locally-famous Cool-A-Coo ice cream sandwiches, which are excellent, if you ask me.

Ticket prices: While regular ticket prices for the Los Angeles Dodgers are not too shabby, this is definitely a place where the secondary market consistently has incredible deals on tickets, and this is mainly due to the fact that there are a plethora of season ticket holders that end up selling their tickets at a decent price. For this particular game, ticket prices were well below face value. My ticket was a lower-row seat in Inner Reserve, section 19, for only $8.49 after the awesome Wendy’s discount. Yep, I got a good seat for under ten bucks! But for most Dodgers games that don’t have an extremely popular giveaway, ticket prices on StubHub are beyond cheap, so your best bet is to look there for most games. For parking (or lack thereof) and the ticket, I only spent $8.49. With the two Dodger Dogs and a drink, I only spent about $25 for the whole game!

The fans: The stereotype is true that fans typically “arrive in the 3rd inning, and leave in the 7th inning.” However, because my seat was drenched in sunlight and many of the seats above me had not arrived yet, I quickly moved up to the last row of that section and kept fairly cool in the shade. Still, it is a sad fact that fans don’t show up early, and that gives Dodger fans a bad rap. I don’t think this has to do with a lack of support, and it didn’t sound like a lack of support based on what the people below me said. Apparently, there was some particularly nasty traffic on the I-5 freeway, a route I never take (nor would I recommend taking). This family had to deal with a couple bad accidents on their way to the Stadium, but that is something that could be easily avoided by taking better routes, or just simply avoid the same route everyone else goes. Better yet, your best bet is to ARRIVE EARLY.

The game: Because of the blazing sun, I moved up to the empty top rows for the first four innings of the game (since they went so quickly), and then moved down to my original seat for the rest of the game. The Dodgers had a couple base-runners in the 2nd inning, but weren’t able to cash in a run. Ryu actually pitched a very solid game for the Dodgers only allowing two hits over six innings.

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 All of his pitches were working, although he did make 20 pitches in the top of the 6th. The game was moving very quickly until the bottom of the 6th when All-Star Yasiel Puig scored fellow All-Star Dee Gordon on a solid RBI single. That was the only run scored of the game. The game came to a crawl when Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly decided to pull Ryu after six innings, and it nearly cost them the game. But, aside from that, this was a fairly routine win for the Dodgers who were in first place in the NL West at the All-Star break!

This ended up being a very fun game, and if you plan it right, you can attend a Dodgers game at an affordable price, if you do a slight bit of research on StubHub beforehand, and if you’re willing to walk and save fifteen bucks. Of course, this is one of my favorite stadiums, and I don’t know if it’s the relatively cheap prices, or the beautiful hike up the entrance, the recorded voice of the legendary Vin Scully greeting you at the entrance, or the Dodger Dogs, but there are few ballparks better than this one, and that’s a main reason why this ballpark is consistenly rated highly amongst players and fans alike. While there are many food options, not much can beat a good old-fashioned Dodger Dog. Just don’t forget the condiments…

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It’s time to enjoy an East Coast thunderstorm as I continue writing. Next stop, San Diego. The next post will come tomorrow, Sunday evening!

-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, An Introduction

The Beginning of a Grand Adventure

Hey hey! I’m back!

I know it has been over half a decade since I last wrote on here, but this monumental trip I’m just beginning is more than enough of a reason to bring back the Chavez Chronicles. Appropriately enough, the first part of this trip would take place on the home stadium that this particular blog is based on. That second home is Dodger Stadium.

This blog is taking a detour and will focus on an ambitious trip across, at least, nine different consecutive Major League Baseball ballparks across the country. I call this, “JD’s Ballpark Tour” (#JDsBaseballTour on twitter and instagram). Before we begin, I must mention this short story on how this all started. Unbelievably, this adventure started last December. Actually, it all began Christmas morning. My mother and sister got me a cool gift that I couldn’t really use until April of this year. They got me the laminated poster of a map of all the MLB ballparks.

http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/posters/major-league-map.html

   We had already planned on going to Boston in April for Boston Marathon weekend, and they knew that I had already seen games in a dozen different stadiums in my lifetime. In fact, I have visited over a dozen stadiums, including a few that are no longer baseball stadiums (one of them is about to be torn down in San Francisco). This poster includes a set of stickers that says “Been here” denoting where I have gone. With this gift included the specific directions that I place stickers on where I’ve gone, and that I need to put this to good use when the baseball season begins, starting with my new visit, Fenway Park, in April for Boston Marathon weekend. Maybe on another separate post, I will post about my travels to Boston, but this series is about my immediate travels in July and August and the many different places in such a short span of time.

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   In preparing for this trip, I had to make sure I had some time off from work teaching older students the joys of mathematics, and also have enough time off from hockey. I also had to look at the MLB schedule and see when certain teams have home dates. One important thing I looked at was when I was in a large metropolitan area and able to see two different ballparks in consecutive days. This trip was carefully crafted out of a desire to, not only see the country, but to see games from different perspectives and look through the lenses of different fan bases. This doesn’t, in any way, mean I’m a bandwagon fan or will root for the home team wherever I go, especially if they’re playing against my Dodgers. However, I hope to make many friends across the country and get a sense of their community. So far, this is the breakdown of my trip:

July 13th for the Padres @ Dodgers game in Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium)

July 20th for the Mets @ Padres game in San Diego (Petco Park)

July 21st for the Tigers @ Diamondbacks game in Phoenix (Chase Field)

July 26th for the Diamondbacks @ Phillies game in Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park)

July 29th and/or 30th for Angels @ Orioles game(s) in Baltimore (Camden Yards)

July 31st for the Phillies @ Nationals game in Washington, D.C. (Nationals Park)

August 4th for the Giants @ Mets day game in Flushing, NY (Citi Field)

August 4th for the Tigers @ Yankees night game in Bronx, NY (Yankee Stadium)

Home: Any Angels game in Anaheim (Angel Stadium)

Hopefully, this blog will inspire others to explore the country and maybe try this, also. The other hope is that I will get enough readers that other people will want to put me up at their flat for a night, and I could travel to even more ballparks! Nine different ballparks in such a short span is great, but I’d like to extend that, if possible. In this blog, I will discuss some of the different nuances of each ballpark, and explore which parks have the best bang for the buck food. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “JD’s Ballpark Tour” with my first stop at my home town Dodger Stadium.

(Be sure to check the hash-tag, #JDsBallparkTour. My Twitter and Instagram is: @StimpyJD)

-JD