Story by Krista Moore – Photography by Lazaro Jimenez
Flying into the airport you can catch a glimpse of it through the skyscrapers that make up downtown San Diego and over the last fifteen years it has become a second home to those who are native to the city.
Petco Park has come to represent what longtime Padres fan Tyler Gruning describes as “hope, family and happiness” to the city of San Diego, bringing together those across a variety of backgrounds including from natives and transplants to the military presence that has been apart of the city’s culture for years.
The history, fans, community, the team and even the mascot are the things that make the stadium more than just a giant structure. It has become “a beacon of what the modern stadium should be,” as described by fan Zach Carson.
After being idealized in 1994, plans for a new ballpark in downtown San Diego were set in motion in 1998. After the ballpark was completed in April 2004, the Padres moved into their new home and started a new chapter in their story
In its young fifteen year history, the park‘s Western Metal Supply Co. building has been one of the more prominent features, standing tall and marking fair and foul territory in left field.
“It was the original starting point of the park, we built (the park) from the corner of that building,” said Atoine Predock, the architect of the stadium. Built 95 years before the ballpark in 1909, it’s the oldest part of the stadium.
The rooftop party deck has some of the best views and is a favorite spot for many fans. “That has to be one of, if not the, best spots in the park,” San Diego native Mitchell Seeley said. “I would definitely recommend it if you have a chance.”
Along with the Western Metal Supply Co. the ballpark also features the “Park at the Park,” a mini baseball diamond and a large grass area behind center field is a place that has become a fan favorite for families attending the game. Before it was the grassy family friendly area that is known today, the area was inhabited by The Showley Brothers Candy Factory, which the architects opted to move one block to the east instead of tearing it down in an effort to preserve the city’s history.
The ballpark has continued to change throughout the years with new addition of the Craft Perir, celebrating the craft beer industry in San Diego and the San Diego Beach area.
“Most nights you have to stand to watch, but I love the vantage point,” Carson said. “(It) feels like you are playing rover to the outfielders in right center field.” The designers of the park have created a way to make you feel as though you’re playing in the game too.
With the community in mind the Padres have continued to add to the history with features like the San Diego Section of CIF baseball and softball that was created to highlight local high school teams and players.
They also added the Breitbard Hall Of Fame, established in 1953 by Robert Breitbard. The hall honors native San Diego athletes who have excelled in their respective sports.
Located on the main concerns of the Western Metal Supply Co. Building, the hall has 140 inducted members representing 20 sports, and has become one of the most prestigious accolades for local athletes throughout the county.
Even with the team hardships, people still show up to the stadium with a chance to see their names on the wall.
Aspects of the military presence in San Diego has influenced Petco for many years. The Padres were the first team to establish a Military Affairs Department in 1995 and have elaborated on their efforts ever since moving into the park.
In 2000 the Padres integrated their camouflage jerseys, rotating them in on Military Opening day and have since become a regular appearance on every Sunday home game, known in the city as “Military Sunday.”
In addition to the jerseys, the team honors the armed forces with a “Flight Deck.” Located behind the right field seats is a wall developed by the Director of Military Affairs, Captain John C. (Jack) Ensch, USN, Ret., that pays tribute Major League, and Negro League baseball players that served in the military, as well as a replica of the USS Midway.
While the park was built for the team to play in and not have to share with the San Diego Chargers, it was also built for the fans. Even with a team that hasn’t given much for its fanbase to root for, the residents of San Diego have never given up on the team.
“I grew up in a time where I wore number three and grew my hair out long as to attempt to emulate and watch the slick fielding Khalil Greene,” Carson said. “So I also have fond memories of the mid-2000’s and going to Petco Park and watching him glide along the dirt.”
For other fans it’s as simple as spending the day there with one special person. “Any day I get to spend at the ballpark with my dad is my favorite memory,” Gruning said.
The park has provided memories for everyone even if its not at a ballgame, and for Seeley it was sitting on the grass at a Paul McCartney concert and getting to see a friend play there before the big leaguers moved in.
It has become a place for generations of fans to root for a common cause. “The Padres mean a lifetime of memories from my youth to now and in the future,” fan Shane Maher said. “And hopefully with my kids, like my parents did with me.”
Situated on Tony Gwynn Dr. and Trevor Hoffman Way, Petco Park continues to grow in the hearts of those who inhabit the city. With a bright future for the team ahead, fans still show up to hear Mr. Padre himself greet them at the beginning of every game just as he did that day in 2004- “Welcome home, Padres fans.”