Retro Series: Petco Park Tour (Originally posted 4-9-2013)

With the Padres hosting their home opener tomorrow, I just was offered the opportunity to attend and, naturally, leapt at the opportunity. In keeping with that theme, I decided to talk about how I spent my birthday this year.You may recall me mentioning growing up in sunny San Diego, and most of my family is still in San Diego county, so that was where I spent my birthday weekend. The big day fell on a Monday and as most of the family had work or other commitments during the day, I had to find some way to occupy myself. Having enjoyed a tour of AT&T Park several years ago, I thought that a tour of Petco would be a fun experience as well.

The Padres offered two tours daily during the off-season and my fiancee, Lauren, and I opted for the later tour, to allow for sleeping in and any sort of hijinks on the approximately 30 minute drive from my parent’s house to the ballpark.

Despite some shenanigans involving a questionable “public parking” garage we made it to the ticket window in front of the stadium just in time to buy our two tickets and officially join the tour. Our group consisted of Lauren, me and another young couple who were pleasant enough and, like us, photography nerds, so we didn’t feel too bad “holding up” the tour for pictures.

We began by touring the always exciting stadium bowels, including a look at Padres jail for people who would have a date with the San Diego PD in their immediate future. Then we got to the meat of the tour and entered the visitor’s clubhouse. Evidently the home clubhouse was only available to the public on one day a year during the team’s annual Fanfest, which had occurred a few weeks prior. I guess the reason for this was because the players with longer-term contracts with the club would actually leave their personal things in their lockers and apparently rifling through Chase Headley’s wallet was frowned upon. Party poopers.

The visiting clubhouse was very cool though. Our tour guide made a point of emphasizing how the Padre’s home team facilities were so much nicer than those offered to the visitors, which I’m sure is true, but it was a bit odd to be focusing so much on that particular aspect of the home team dynamic.

From the visitor’s clubhouse we walked out through the tunnel into the visitor’s dugout, walking past where the grounds crew keeps their supplies just inside the tunnel (once again mentioned as a ‘home field advantage’) and got our first view of the field.

It really is quite a moment when you step out of a dark tunnel and are blinded by the sun, only to see a beautiful expanse of grass and base paths in front of you. We weren’t allowed to step on the actual grass itself, but were allowed along the dirt perimeter on our way to the home dugout. It was cool getting to be that close to home plate and see essentially what the batter/catcher/umpire/ball boy get to see.

As the tour was going on, the guide was not only showing us various elements of the ballpark, but was also giving us the history of the Padres as well as baseball in San Diego. She was very knowledgeable, and it’s nice to see the Padres either have an excellent training program or hire people who know their stuff, rather than just giving a disinterested teenager a binder of facts to lead the tour.

One aspect of the dugouts that I thought was kind of fun was the fact that the players essentially never sit on the lower part of the bench, as the many spike marks all over the seats bare witness. We grabbed our last few pictures of ourselves on the field and headed out the tunnel to the luxury seats.

The luxury seats are amazing. Not only are they right behind home plate and occasionally host luminaries such as Padres executive and Hall of Famer, Dave Winfield, but they feature a full service gourmet restaurant and bar, with exclusive views to the Padres batting cages and apparently has players coming in and out of it before game time doing meet and greets and autographs with the fans fortunate enough to have the requisite golden tickets.

After seeing how the Padres elite experience baseball we were taken to another domain inaccessible to the common fan, the press box. As I have always wanted to be a sportswriter, this was right up my alley. The box itself was fairly boilerplate, though we did learn that as a writer you are given free hotdogs and basic ballpark food, but for a nominal fee you could be eating the same food as the big shots down in the luxury seats. Not too bad of a deal, if you ask me!

Exiting the press box, we were treated to fantastic views of the Coronado Bay Bridge, Coronado Island, and the revitalized downtown San Diego en route to see one of the private suites. Available only as an annual rental, the suite can essentially become your home away from home for the year. Not only are you able to attend every home game, but you have access to any event held at the stadium and can use it for personal or business use, even when the stadium is closed. That’s a pretty nice perk!
Next we went over to the historic Western Metal Supply building located in left field, which now houses more suites, a fancy restaurant and the Padres Hall of Fame. In the Hall of Fame there are replica lockers dedicated to Jerry Coleman, Tony Gwynn, Dick Williams, Dave Winfield and Jackie Robinson.

The tour was winding down at this time and we took our last few photos and, just like Disneyland, found ourselves exiting through the gift shop, in the form of the Padres team shop where we had started the tour.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour. It was well worth the $11 and approximately two hours that it took. Getting on the field and in the dugouts would have been worth it alone, but add the other out of the way areas that we were able to visit and the history lesson that was intermingled and it was a great way to spend my 31st birthday!

Tours of ballparks are a great way to get up close and personal either with a ballpark you’ve never previously visited or to reacquaint yourself with your home park that you have visited a hundred times before. Sadly, in my research I have yet to find the Angels offering a tour of the Big A, but I plan on taking advantage of the tours on the two brand-new parks that I will be visiting later this season, but more on that in the future.

Have you ever toured a ballpark? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

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