The Park at the Park

Each time I visit San Diego, I find something else to fall in love with.  Last year, I wrote about the Martin Luther King walk.  This trip, it’s Petco Park.

Petco was my first love in San Diego. I still get emotional when I try to describe the way I felt on my first visit two years ago. Retired players’ numbers aren’t painted on the side walls, as they are at most ballparks. Here they’re three-dimensional objects – lit from within – and at night they glow amid the lights of the downtown skyscrapers so the city itself becomes part of the ballpark and the ballpark part of the city.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for inclusivity.

Well, I’m back in San Diego and walking past Petco a couple of nights ago I saw a strange signboard: “The Park at the Park is Open.”

In New York, “the Park at the Park” would be some sort of overpriced garage, right?  Well, in San Diego it’s an actual amenity nestled behind left field. If you miss your Padres while they’re on the road, head to the Park at the Park to watch the out-of-town game on a big screen TV with fellow fans while lolling on a grassy hill. Or play a couple of innings on the Little League-size field, presided over by a bronze statue of “Mr. Padre,” the great Tony Gwynn.

In plenty of other markets, you’d be paying a hefty admission fee for a space like that. And there’d be concessionaires trying to sell you $10 hotdogs. In San Diego, it’s free. It feels like the team’s gift to the city. And there’s nobody selling anything. It’s just a lovely space.

I’m a big fan of any kind of art – whether it’s architecture or writing – that draws you in, invites you to participate in an experience. Petco Park does that better than any other ballpark I’ve seen.

The Padres are back in town tomorrow. Who cares that they’re terrible this year? I can’t wait to catch a game.

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