Name: Petco Park
Location: San Diego, California
Opened: 8 April 2004
Architect: HOK Sport (now Populous)
Cost: $450 Million
Capacity: 42,445 (2004)
Surface: BullsEye Bermuda natural grass
Petco Park is -- for me, at least -- difficult to quantify. Looking at individual aspects of it (location, amenities, fan experience), it is undoubtedly one of the very best parks in the major leagues. But it's missing some undefinable feeling of a great ballpark. It's an outstanding venue to visit, perhaps the best in baseball, but I wouldn't put it at (or near) the top of a list of best places to watch a baseball game. I'll try to elaborate.
First of all, Petco is in San Diego, which is inarguably the nicest, best city in the United States. (I know, I know. That is a subjective opinion, and other people may feel differently. I totally respect that. All I can say is that if you have spent any time in San Diego and you think anyplace else in the country is better, you are wrong.) It doesn't get too hot, it doesn't get too cold, it's not humid, and the beach is RIGHT THERE. And then there's the food.
And Petco Park capitalizes on that. It's right in downtown San Diego, near the Gaslamp district, near the harbor. Parking options are somewhat limited, but it's walkable distance from many large hotels, and, for as iconic as someplace like Dodger Stadium is, I've never liked the feeling of a ballpark surrounded on all sides by acres of parking lot. Petco Park hasn't been in the neighborhood for decades like Fenway or Wrigley, but by incorporating the pre-existing Western Metal building and accommodating the surroundings, and with the new 'ballpark village' that is raising up around it, it feels like it has.
Architecturally, it does not fall into the "retro" family of parks that I love so much. It has more of the feeling of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati; a modern take on an intimate, baseball-only setting. I understand that not everyone wants a duplicate of an old-timey ballpark, with lots of red brick and wrought iron, and I respect that. The yellow sandstone blends well into the overall feeling of the area, and the white-painted steel home place facade is striking, even beautiful.
The views inside the park are great, showing the skyline of San Diego, and from the higher concourses you can see the ocean. The dining options are completely off the chart, with arguably the best food scene in baseball, period. And the park is broken up into different "neighborhoods", each with a unique feel. That being said, anyone with a ticket to the game can stroll around and see the whole place (which is something that can't be said for many allegedly 'better' ballparks.) I particularly love the Western Metal building in left field, an old manufacturing space that they've incorporated into the ballpark (the corner of the building is actually the left-field foul pole).
ALL OF THAT BEING SAID, it doesn't have the 'feel' of a ballpark to me. Maybe it's the laid-back-ness of San Diegans . . . but it feels more like a great place to hang out, where there happens to be a baseball game going on. Which, come on, is not a bad thing.
If you find yourself in San Diego, try to catch a game. That being said, if you find yourself in San Diego (and you really should at some point in your life) and find that you've spent your time on Coronado, or at the Wild Animal Park, or at the Maritime Museum, or just eating/drinking the gaslamp district, that would be cool, too. It's San Diego. No worries. Just kick back and decompress a bit.
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