Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Be a Met Fan in San Diego

After finishing their series in San Francisco, the Mets go down the California coast to play the San Diego Padres.

Unlike the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Padres are an expansion team with no connection to New York.  They've never even played each other in the Playoffs.  (The Chargers have played the Jets.  San Diego has no NHL team, and have only had an NBA team briefly and not currently.)

DISCLAIMER: I have never been to the Pacific Coast, so all of this information is secondhand at best, but much of it does come from the opposing team's website.

Before You Go. Unlike the Seattle and San Francisco Bay Areas, but like the Los Angeles area, the San Diego area has very consistent weather. It’s a nice place to visit, and there's little threat of earthquakes, mudslides and smog -- but there have been wildfires, including one that led to a Chargers home game being moved to Phoenix a few years ago.

U-T San Diego, the website of the San Diego Union-Tribune (yet another paper that, not that long ago, used to be two separate papers), is predicting low 70s by day, mid-60s by night, and no precipitation for the entire weekend.  A short-sleeve shirt should be enough, no jacket necessary.  Just in case, you may want to bring sunscreen.

You should also be aware that there is currently a lot of construction going on at San Diego International Airport, which could make air travel problematic.

Getting There. It’s 2,803 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown San Diego, including Petco Park.  In other words, if you’re going, you’re flying.

After all, even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need over 2 full days. Each way.

But, if you really, really want to, well, in order to get there in time for this series, you're too late to see the whole thing.  So, for future reference... You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern panhandle of West Virginia, and then across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, into Missouri.

At St. Louis, take Exit 40C onto Interstate 44 West, which will take you southwest across Missouri into Oklahoma.  Upon reaching Oklahoma City, take Interstate 40 West, through the rest of the State, across the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico, into Arizona.  At Flagstaff, take Interstate 17 South, which will take you into Phoenix.  Take Interstate 10 West to Exit 112 for Arizona Route 85 South, to Gila Bend, right on Arizona route 238 West, which will flow into Interstate 8 West.  This will take you across Arizona and California to San Diego.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Indiana, another 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours in Missouri, 6 hours in Oklahoma, 3 hours in Texas, 6 hours and 15 minutes in New Mexico, 6 hours in Arizona, and 3 hours in California.

That’s about 45 hours and 30 minutes. Counting rest stops, you're probably talking about 57 hours.

That’s still faster than Greyhound (64 hours, 25 minutes, changing buses 4 times, $470 round-trip, station at 1313 National Avenue at Commercial Street -- 3 blocks from the ballpark!) and Amtrak (71 hours, 40 minutes, $842 round-trip, Santa Fe Depot at 1050 Kettner Blvd. at Broadway). But flights, usually changing in Chicago, will be a lot more expensive.

Public transportation in San Diego is pretty good, with buses, trolleys and light rail readily available.  Petco Park is accessible on the Orange Line at Gaslamp Quarter station, and on the Orange and Blue Lines at 12th & Imperial Transit Center station.

Tickets.  The Padres are averaging 25,825 fans per home game, at a park with a seating capacity of 42,691.  They get that many despite the Padres being well out of the Playoff hunt already.  So getting tickets could be tough.

The most expensive seat in the house is a Field VIP for $97.  Most tickets are a lot cheaper.  Aside from the preceding, you can probably get in the lower level for $48 or less, and $30 or less will get you into the upper level.   There's an All-You-Can-Eat section for $32.

Going In.  Petco Park, named for the San Diego-headquartered chain of pet and pet supplies stores, has an official address, with the name and uniform number of the greatest Padre of them all (so far), of 19 Tony Gwynn Drive.  It is bounded by 7th Avenue/Gwynn Drive on the 3rd base and home plate sides, Park Blvd. on the 1st base side, 10th Avenue on the right field side, and K Street on the center field side.  It points north, with a good view of the downtown skyscrapers.

The Gaslamp Gate and the Downtown Gate are in left field.  The Balboa Park Gate, the East Village Gate (not to be confused with Lower Manhattan's East Village or the Broadway's Village Gate Theater) and the Park Blvd. Gate are in right field.  And the Home Plate Gate is, well, you can probably guess.

Being in the California sunshine, the field has nearly always looked good.  The left-field corner has the former Western Metal Supply Company warehouse, built into the stadium complex, as was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad warehouse into Camden Yards in Baltimore.  Unlike Baltimore, however, seating sections were built into this warehouse.

Food.  Being just 15 miles from the Mexican border, you might expect Petco Park to feature Mexican and Southwestern-style food.  Your expectations are fulfilled: Behind home plate, on the Field Level, there is Bull Taco and La Cantina Bar; in the Upper Level, another La Cantina Bar is in left field and the Padres Mexican Cafe is in right field.

Team-themed stands abound: Friar Franks are all over, a health-food Friar Fit stand is at Field Level behind home plate, and the PCL Club (named for the city's old-time home, the Pacific Coast League) is at Field Level behind 1st base.  On Terrace Level, behind 1st base, are Club 19 (for Gwynn) and Randy Jones BBQ (a variation of the Baltimore Boog Powell and Philadelphia Greg Luzinski theme).  And the Hall of Fame Bar & Grill is on Terrace Level in left field.

There are also stands with local flavor: Anthony's Fish Grotto, home of the Padres' famed fish tacos, is behind home plate on both the Field and Terrace Levels.  The Brickhouse Deli is on Field Level in left field, inside the warehouse.  The Harbor Grill is on Terrace Level behind home plate, the Trolley Station Grill is on Terrace Level behind 1st base, and the Bayview Grill is on Upper Level behind home plate.

Team History Displays.  The Padres have 5 retired numbers, displayed in center field, atop the batter's eye wall.  They are: 6, Steve Garvey, 1st base 1983-87; 19, Tony Gwynn, right field 1982-2001; 31, Dave Winfield, right field 1973-80; 35, Randy Jones, pitcher 1973-80; and 51, Trevor Hoffman, pitcher 1993-2008.  Also mounted on top of the wall is Jackie Robinson's universally-retired Number 42.

The team has also honored, with notations painted in gold on the front of the press box, former owner Ray Kroc (1974-84) with his initials RAK, and broadcaster Jerry Coleman, the former Yankee 2nd baseman and broadcaster who has called games for the team since 1972 -- except for 1980, when he served as manager, with unsatisfying results, and returned to the booth in 1981.  Instead of retiring a number for him, or mounting an "SD" for San Diego or his initials JC (or GFC for Gerald Francis Coleman), they've hung a star, for his catchphrase for a home run or a great defensive play: "Oh, doctor! You can hang a star on that baby!" The only Major League Baseball player to be a combat veteran of both World War II and the Korean War (Ted Williams served in both but not in combat in WWII), the former Marine pilot, and recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame's award for broadcasters, is still going strong as he approaches his 88th birthday.

The Padres have a team Hall of Fame.  I do not know if it is on display anywhere in the park.  In addition to Gwynn, Winfield, Jones, Kroc and Coleman (but not, as yet, Garvey and Hoffman), it includes Emil "Buzzie" Bavasi, the team's first president (1969-77, previously general manager of the Dodgers), 1st baseman Nate Colbert (1969-74), and manager Dick Williams (1982-85).  Why Colbert's Number 17 and Williams' Number 23 have not been retired, I don't know.

In addition to Gwynn, Winfield, Williams and Coleman, the players who have played for the Padres and been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York (but not based on what they did as Padres) are Roberto Alomar, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Ozzie Smith.

The Padres have won National League Pennants in 1984 and 1998, and NL Western Division titles in those years, plus 1996, 2005 and 2006.  They have never reached the Playoffs by way of the Wild Card.  I don't know if there is a notation (such as flagpoles with pennants or stanchions on the outfield wall) for these achievements anywhere in the ballpark.

Stuff. The Padres have a number of team stores, including their main one at the Gaslamp Gate in left field.  The good news is, they sell all kinds of Padres merchandise.  The bad news is, they sell ALL kinds of Padres merchandise, including the various uniforms the Padres have worn, ranging from the mustard-yellow and brown uniforms of the 1970s to the "camouflage" jerseys they wear on home Sundays in honor of San Diego's tradition as a military city.  (Actually, it's a Navy city, not an Army city, so camouflage makes no sense at all.)

Although the Padres have been around for over 40 years now, and have some history, there aren't very many good books about the team.  Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres by Bill Swank, in cooperation with the San Diego Historical Society, is probably the best one, covering the history of professional baseball in the city from the 1899 San Diego Fullers of the Southern California League to the 2004 opening of Petco Park.

Since the Padres have not yet won a World Series, there is no DVD collection of World Series highlight films; you'd have to, separately, get the 1984 (won by the Detroit Tigers) and 1998 (by the Yankees) films.  As of yet, the only team-history video available is Nineteen Summers: Padres 1969-1988 (which would actually be 20 summers), and if you want that, it's only available on on VHS, not DVD.  There's also a VHS tape titled Tony Gwynn: Mr. Padre that covers his entire playing career.  There is no Essential Games of the San Diego Padres DVD.

During the Game. The Padres' greatest rivals, as you might guess, are the closest team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But due to Fernando Valenzuela having made his name as a Dodger before his brief stopover with the Padres, when Mexican fans come over the border for Padres-Dodgers games, the cheering is about even.  The Padres also have a budding rivalry with the next-closest team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  But the locals do fit the reputation of the laid-back Southern Californian.  No one is going to fight you.

Ted Giannoulas, known in costume as The Famous Chicken, began as the KGB Chicken -- no, he wasn't a Russian spy, he was a student at San Diego State University, working for a San Diego radio station, KGB-FM.  (He can be seen in his original costume on NFL Films' production of the 1978 Charger-Raider "Holy Roller" game, passing out at the Raiders' blatant cheating.) Following a contract dispute with the station, he got a new costume (one not copyrighted by KGB) and was reborn, or rather hatched, on the field at San Diego Stadium in June 1979 as "the San Diego Chicken." Starting in 1981, he was part of the cast of NBC's Saturday pregame show The Baseball Bunch, starring Johnny Bench, where he was referred to as simply "The Chicken." He became so much in demand that he could no longer belong only to his hometown, and now goes everywhere.  He and the Phillie Phanatic have done more to elevate the baseball mascot to icon status than anyone -- even if they weren't the first guys in silly costumes to entertain at baseball games.  (Mr. Met was the first official such mascot, but even he was unofficially preceded by the Brooklyn Dodger Sym-Phony Band.)

Since 1996, the Padres have made their Swinging Friar logo a live-action mascot, and he (sans bat) is the official mascot.  In case you're wondering, like many cities in California, San Diego was founded by Spanish missionaries -- hence "Padres," Spanish for "Fathers," or priests, monks, friars.

The Padres don't have a special song to play along with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch, or a postgame victory song.  This could be due to the relative lack of songs about the city, or famous singers or bands from the city.  However, with the city's nautical tradition, a foghorn sounds after every Padre home run -- not common, as Petco is one of the best pitcher's parks in the majors.

After the Game.  San Diego's Gaslamp District has plenty of nightspots, so finding a good place for a postgame meal or drink shouldn't be too hard.  And although the city has a reputation for gang violence -- as Met fans, you may have heard San Diegan Kevin Mitchell tell horror stories about it -- downtown is very safe.

If you're looking for New Yorker-friendly establishments, Henry's Pub, at 618 5th Avenue between G & Market Streets, is the home of the local New York Jets fan club, and they will be hosting a get-together this weekend in honor of the Mets-Padres series.  It is 6 blocks from the ballpark.  The U-31 Cocktail Lounge, at 3112 University Avenue at 31st Street, is the home of the local New York Giants fan club; however, it is 6 miles northeast of the ballpark.

Sidelights.  San Diego has produced more native sons (and daughters) who were great athletes than its teams have.  As a result, there isn't a lot of glory associated with these teams.  Some have suggested that there's a curse on the city, with the most common story being the selling of the city's first great major league star, Chargers receiver Lance Alworth, to the Dallas Cowboys.  Alworth, a.k.a. Bambi, won Super Bowl VI with the Cowboys, but no San Diego major league team has gone as far as the rules allowed them to do since Alworth and the 1963 Chargers, AFL Champions, who did not get to play that year's NFL Champions, the Chicago Bears, in a Super Bowl.

* Lane Field.  Home to the Pacific Coast League Padres from 1936 to 1957, including the 1937 PCL Pennant that featured a 19-year-old San Diego kid named Ted Williams.  By the time the Padres won another Pennant in 1954, the 8,000-seat pitcher's park, on the waterfront, with a Spanish-style entrance and faraway fences except at the right field pole, was termite-ridden and had to be abandoned.  Broadway, Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway.  The Santa Fe Depot and the USS Midway Museum are adjacent to the site.  The Maritime Museum of San Diego is 3 blocks to the north.

* Westgate Park.  The PCL Padres' next home was in Mission Valley, at Friars Road and the Cabrillo Freeway.  This park seated only a few more than Lane Field, but unlike its predecessor, which had no roof, Westgate had a roof covering the entire seating area.  Supposedly, it was expandable to 40,000, in the event San Diego could do what Los Angeles and San Francisco had done, and bring in a major league team, through move or expansion.  But the Chargers wanted a modern stadium, too, so one stadium was built for both.  The Padres won Pennants at Westgate in 1962, 1964 and 1967, their last season there.  The Fashion Valley Mall is now on the site.  Fashion Valley Transit Center station on the Green Line.

* San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium.  Since 1967, this has been the home of the Chargers and the San Diego State football team, the Aztecs.  It was built to the east of Westgate, at 9449 Friars Road at Mission Village Drive, just off Interstate 15, 5 Green Line stops away from Westgate/Fashion Valley at what's now Qualcomm Stadium station.

Met fans, take note: It was beloved broadcaster Bob Murphy's brother, Jack Murphy, sports editor of the old San Diego Union newspaper, who advocated for the city as a major league sports site, and when he died in 1980, the stadium was named for him -- at least, until the city sold off the naming rights.  Statues of Jack and his dog Abe remain outside the stadium.  It's hosted the Holiday Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl, and has hosted 3 Super Bowls: XXII (won by the Washington Redskins), XXXII (Denver Broncos) and XXXVII (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

The Chargers have only reached the Super Bowl once, in the 1994-95 season, although they are usually in the Playoff hunt.  The PCL Padres played their last season here, 1968, and then in 1969 the NL Padres came in.  Holding 47,000 for baseball for most of its history, it was expanded to 65,000 by 1996, and during the 1998 World Series between the Padres and Yankees, the noise was remarkable for an open-air facility -- not that it helped the Padres.

The Padres moved out after the 2003 season, and the Chargers are looking to get out, hopefully into a downtown stadium.  If they can't, they may well move, possibly up the Coast to Los Angeles, from whence they came:

* Balboa Stadium.  After starting in the AFL at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960, the Chargers moved to San Diego for 1961.  Barron Hilton, son of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton -- and the first brother-in-law of Elizabeth Taylor, and the grandfather of Paris and Nicky Hilton -- ran the Carte Blanche credit card company, and named the team after the card, sort of: The Chargers, although a horse (also a "charger") and a lightning bolt (which gives off a "charge") has always been the team's logo.  He's still alive, now 84, although he no longer has anything to do with the team.

The existing Balboa Stadium, built in 1914 in Balboa Park (named for the Spanish explorer), was expanded to 34,000 seats for the Chargers.  While it had a lot of atmosphere, including a columned front gate, and was home to the Chargers' 1963 AFL Championship team, it was too small for the proposed AFL-NFL merger, so what's now Qualcomm Stadium was built.  In 1965, at Balboa, Jim Ryun became the first American high schooler to break the 4-minute mile.  On August 28, 1965, the Beatles played there.  The old stadium was demolished and replaced in 1978, and now hosts high school football and track.  Russ Blvd. & 16th Street.  Number 7 bus.

Adjacent is the Federal Building, which hosts the San Diego Hall of Champions, honoring area natives such as Ted Williams, Bill Walton and 1970s Yankee star Graig Nettles, as well as stars from area teams.  Padres honored are Nettles, Jones, Winfield, Fingers, Gwynn, Bavasi and Gossage.

* San Diego Sports Arena.  Built in 1966, this was the home of the NBA's San Diego Rockets from 1967 to 1971, until they moved to Houston; the NBA's San Diego Clippers from 1978 to 1984, until they moved to Los Angeles; and the World Hockey Association's San Diego Mariners from 1974 to 1977.  It hosted the 1975 NCAA Final Four, which included John Wooden's last 2 games as head coach at UCLA, winning his 10th and final National Championship.  Elvis Presley sang here on November 9, 1970; April 26, 1973; and April 24, 1976.

The Arena was recently renamed the Valley View Casino Center, although it is not a casino.  3500 Sports Arena Blvd. at Kemper Street.  Blue Line light rail to to Old Town, then transfer to the Number 9 bus, which drops off outside.

In understand there's also a noted zoo in San Diego...


So, if you can afford it, go on out and join your fellow Met fans in going coast-to-coast, and enjoy the Mets-Padres matchup, and enjoy the sights and sounds of what former Mayor, Senator and Governor Pete Wilson called "America's Finest City." Even if the games aren't good, the weather will be.

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