ALL STAR GAME: 2016 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: 2006, 2009
This is a pleasant and interesting "postmodern" ballpark, with beautiful scenery and landscaping all around, but it took a long time to get it built. Groundbeaking began in the summer of 2000, but construction was halted because of disputes over public financing. After the necessary bond measures were passed, construction resumed in February 2002. In January 2003 PETCO (note: all caps) Animal Supplies Corporation, based in San Diego, signed a 22-year naming rights agreement. The downtown location, only a few blocks from the marinas on San Diego Bay, is one of the best aspects of PETCO Park. This probably explains why, unlike most other contemporary ballparks, the playing field is at ground level, i.e., not excavated. The surrounding land slopes upward toward the north, however, so ground level beyond center field is 15-20 feet above the field.
The stadium exterior consists mainly of painted steel beams, along with some stone walls. In that sense, the design resembles Cleveland's Progressive Field or Target Field in Minneapolis. The main entrance plaza on the south side behind home plate is filled with tall palm trees. Fans must walk up a wide staircase to reach the main concourse level behind the lower deck. Even though the overall layout of the field is fairly symmetrical, rather similar to Philadelphia's new Citizens Bank Park, there are several odd aspects of the outfield shape. Right-center field is noticeably bigger than left-center field, and the fence is higher there as well, possibly aimed at thwarting home runs by Barry Bonds. As at Turner Field, it makes for plenty of triples, at least. In the right field corner there is a tiny "porch" seating area jutting out in such a way that it's hard to tell where the ball will bounce. Counting the adjacent area in foul territory (near the visiting team bullpen), there are eight corners within a forty foot stretch. Just left of center field there is a small bend in the fence where the Padres' bullpen is. Like the one at the Ballpark in Arlington, it's basically a gratuitous gimmick.
Perhaps the most striking design innovation is the way the left foul line is aligned with the corner of the historic Western Metal Supply Company Building. That way, there will never be any doubt whether a long fly ball down the line was a home run or just a foul, since the direction of the bounce will make it obvious. There are long balconies on each floor of that building, and two small bleacher sections on the roof, which aligns vertically with the concourse level behind the upper deck. Another unique design feature is the pair of towers nestled in big notches in the upper deck, situated behind first and third bases. Those towers combine luxury skybox seating, an elevator, and lighting. The upper decks of the grandstand are significantly cantilevered, and the above-average overhang provides more shade than in the typical ballpark of today. One design element that undermines the architectural unity of the stadium is the excessive use of open concrete platforms in the upper and lower decks. Other new stadiums are similar, but none has taken this to such an extreme. It is partly a way to accommodate disabled patrons more comfortably, but also seems to be a way to impart flexibility in the seating capacity. In the inaugural year (2004), the open platform areas in the upper deck on the first base side extended all the way to the end; presumably five or so rows of seats have been inserted into those areas since then. In back of the center field wall are sloped grassy areas for overflow crowds, and a "beach area" with real sand. Further beyond, there is a 2.8 acre "Park in the Park," from which picnicking patrons can catch glimpses of the game, but you have to pay to get in. The second and third decks have a fairly decent amount of overhang, and the backstop is only 45 feet from home plate, so most fans are close to the action. The forward part of the grandstand roof consists of bare structural beams, apparently designed to accommodate an extension of temporary awnings for more shade. That is a special featured shared only by Progressive Field in Cleveland.
The Padres got a solid boost from PETCO Park in its inaugural year, and were in contention for top spot in the NL West for the first few months. In 2005 they won the division title, even though their winning percentage was barely above .500. In an apparent attempt to appease the team's batters, in 2006 the fence at the deep right center field corner was moved inward, reducing the distance from 411 to 400 feet. Prior to the 2013 season, the fences in deep left center field and in right field were moved in even more. These changes detracted from one of the best features of the ballpark. The 2006-2012 fence is shown as a pale line in the current (2013) diagram above. PETCO Park hosted the final three games of the first-ever World Baseball Classic in March 2006. In February 2007 it was the site of the world Rugby Sevens tournament. Prior to the 2013 season, the the outfield fences in the deep corners were moved in, a row of table seats for groups was added in front of the previous right field wall (reducing the distance there by about eight feet), and the visiting team bullpen was moved in back of the home team bullpen to the left of center field. Finally, before the 2015 season, a big new video screen replaced the old scoreboard, and the rows of seats under the scoreboard were replaced with a terrace with table seats. In addition, two rows of seats from the front of the upper deck in left field were removed (allowing for the installation of a six-feet high digital message board), two rows of seats from the back of the lower deck in left field were removed, and two rows of seats were added.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); "Take Me Out to the Ballparks" 2006 Calendar; Google Earth; www.petcoparkevents.com
FAN TIPS: Clarence Riley