Friday, February 16, 2018

Mr. Padre's Neighborhood

August 3: The Arrival

Petco Park
San Diego, CA
August 3, 2016
Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Diego Padres

The drive from Anaheim to San Diego takes a little less than two hours if there is no traffic, and at 10:45 at night there is no traffic on I-5 South. Leaving Angels Stadium everyone was still having a good laugh about the "salad" conversation, which had just taken place in the Angels' team store, so we were all in a good mood. We laughed, joked, played some music, and just enjoyed the late night drive, but the fun and games ended as soon as we tried to check into the motel we would be calling home for the next 36 hours.

It all started when we pulled into the parking lot, to find there was no parking available.

"This doesn't bode well," I said to Tony, as he double-parked outside the motel office.

"You check us in, I'll wait here," he told me, as I got out of the van, and headed towards the lobby.

When I walked in, there was already someone arguing with the desk clerk, about the place overbooking and him now not having a room, as he hadn't requested a late check-in. This was not the thing I wanted to hear, at 1 a.m., but I patiently waited my turn, while fearing the worst and hoping for the best.

In the end, most everything turned out fine. I say most everything, because though our reservations were secure (apparently, we did ask for a very late reservation), we were not in adjoining rooms, as requested, and there was a no parking left on the deck. We would be forced to use a city lot, a block away, which didn't seem to be a problem, until we actually tried to access it.

When I was told we would be parking in a city lot (at no extra charge), I assumed we were talking about an outdoor lot, in an open area. I assumed wrong. When we got to the lot, it was actually a garage, which wouldn't have been a problem if we were in a car, but we had rented a 12-person passenger van, which wasn't exactly known for maneuverability and squeezing into tight spaces. It took me about 15 minutes to navigate the small, cramped garage, but I did it.

"It's a good thing the ballpark is only a mile away," I told Tony, as we walked back to the motel.

"You're not moving that thing again, until you have to?" he laughed.

"You got that right. No way I'm, going through that again."

By the time we got back to the motel, Nicole and the boys (Ryan, Brendan, and Kevin) had our room set up, and were already lying in bed, while Nick was fast asleep in their room, having not even waited for Tony to get there. I said good night to Tony, reminding him we had to get up early and do the laundry in a few hours, and headed towards my room. He muttered something undecipherable, which, to me, sounded like "Okay, looking forward to it." At least that's what I told myself.

Padres History, While Washing Dirty Laundry

The morning light came in through the motel room windows way too soon for my liking, and I cursed the fact there had been no laundry facility in L.A., which would have made this morning unnecessary and allowed me to sleep for another two-to-three hours. Nevertheless, it wasn't going to do itself, so I climbed out of bed, being careful to awaken no one, and grabbed the bag that had been left at the door for me, the night before.

No one was stirring, as I walked to Tony's room and gently knocked, so as not to wake Nick. Tony came to the door, eyes at half-mast, muttering something about how he hated laundry and needed coffee. Together we walked across the street, to the sister hotel, where we could clean this mountain of dirty clothing, and, hopefully, grab a bite and some coffee at the breakfast buffet.

"I thought San Diego was supposed to be sunny, all the time," Tony bitched, staring at the slate-gray sky.

"I don't know, it doesn't look promising," I replied, scanning the clouds for a break in them.

"Wouldn't that be our luck?" he complained. "No sleep, no coffee, a load of dirty laundry, and now no sun."

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" I wanted to know. "We'll be in the basement of the hotel, with the washing machines."

He, again, muttered something unintelligible, which I chose to ignore.

Once inside we dumped the laundry into the four washers, leaving none for anyone else, but we didn't really care. It was 6:45 a.m.; we were tired, hungry, and grumpy, and just wanted to get this chore over as quickly as possible.

After filling the washers, putting in the money, and making sure the machines worked (THAT might have been the final straw, for both of us), we wandered into the breakfast buffet, only to find people were none-to-thrilled to see the two of us, disheveled, still dressed in pajamas, and me with no shoes on. We grabbed a plate and quickly headed back to the laundry room, before someone could figure out we weren't actually staying there, and ask us to leave.

Once back in the laundry room, we whipped out the iPad, and decided to peruse the history of the team we were going to see in a few hours, the San Diego Padres. This is one of the things I do once we reach any city, usually with Ryan, but this time it was a way to while away the time, while doing something neither of us really wanted to do.

San Diego Baseball: PCL Days

Padres baseball did not begin in San Diego when MLB placed a National League franchise there, in 1969. The team has a history in the city, dating back to 1936, when the Padres (named after the Franciscan friars who founded the city, in 1769) played in the Pacific Coast League, which was as close as the area got to Major League baseball until the Dodgers and Giants came west, for the 1958 season.

The PCL Teams: 1936

The PCL was a professional league, but it was considered a minor league, with MLB teams using these cities and teams as a farm system for their own league. The league came to fruition in 1902, and quickly grew, sporting teams in Los Angeles (the Angels and the Hollywood Stars), Oakland (Oaks), San Francisco (Seals), Sacramento (Senators), Portland (Beavers), Salt Lake (Bees), Vernon (Tigers), San Diego (Padres), and Seattle (Indians).

For years the league and its teams thrived. After all, they were the only "real" baseball played west of St. Louis, so, in essence, they were major leagues to every fan west of the Mississippi. Over the years the amount of talent the PCL sent to the Major Leagues was tremendous: all three DiMaggio brothers (Vince, Joe, and Dom), Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Paul Waner, Billy Martin, Lefty O'Doul, Frank Crosetti, Casey Stengel, and a host of others.

Ted Williams, as a Padre
The Padres began operation in 1936, and kept in operation until 1968. They were affiliated with many organizations over their time in the PCL, first for the Boston Red Sox (1936) - which is how they were able to secure the rights to Ted Williams - then the Cleveland Indians (1949-1951, 1957-1959), then Chicago White Sox (1960-1961), before moving on to the Cincinnati Reds (1962-1965), and finally; the Philadelphia Phillies (1966-1968). During these years, they would also be classified as Double-A (1936-1945), Open (no classification, 1952-1957), and Triple-A (1946-1951, 1958-1968). The team wouldn't be considered a powerhouse, but they did manage to win titles in 1937, 1962, and 1967.

The most famous Padre, from the PCL days, is undoubtedly Ted Williams, who played there for the 1936-1937 seasons, found his way into 180 games, and had 561 at-bats, 161 hits, 32 doubles, 4 triples, 23 home runs, and batted .286 at the age of 18-19. Based on this small sample, the Boston Red Sox purchased Williams' contract from the Padres and, as they say, the rest is history.

Becoming an MLB Team

In 1967, the Padres' owner, Arnholdt Smith, was awarded an MLB expansion franchise for the city, starting in 1969, and after the 1968 season the PCL franchise was moved to Eugene, Oregon. Smith, who had bought the team a decade earlier, kept the name "Padres," and entered the league with the Seattle Pilots (who have since become the Milwaukee Brewers), the Montreal Expos (who are now the Washington Nationals), and the Kansas City Royals.

First Draft Pick: Ollie Brown

MLB held an expansion draft, so the four teams could fill their rosters with players, over the course of two days in October (14-15) of 1968, with the National League drafting on the first day. The Padres won the coin toss, allowing them to select first. Buzzy Bavasi, the team's first G.M. who came over from the Dodgers, chose Ollie Brown of the San Francisco Giants. The team would go on to select players such as: Dave Giusti, Jerry Morales, Nate Colbert, Ron Slocum and Dave Roberts, while passing on such notables as Maury Wills, Manny Mota, Jack Billingham, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Bill Stoneman, and Jesus Alou.

Humble Beginnings

Jack Murphy Stadium, 1977
The team would play their home games at San Diego Stadium, located in the Mission Valley District, near Interstate 8 and Interstate 15. The ballpark is still in use today, as the home of the San Diego State Aztecs, though it would undergo a few name changes over the course of its lifetime (San Diego Stadium, from 1967-1980; Jack Murphy Stadium, 1981-1997; Qualcomm Stadium, 1998-2017; and San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, present . Over the years it has been home to the Aztecs (NCAA), the Chargers (NFL, until 2016), the San Diego Sockers (NASL, 1978-1984), and hosted the Poinsettia Bowl (NCAA football, 2005-2016) and the Holiday Bowl (NCAA, 1978-Present). The original Padres, of the PCL, played there in 1968, before the MLB team took over in 1969.

Since the original park already had a baseball tenant, the field dimensions didn't need to be altered for the MLB Padres, and stood at 330' to left and right fields, 375' to left and right-center fields, and 420' to dead center. Over the years there was one realignment, in 1982, where left and right fields were moved to 327' feet, and left and right-center fields moved to 370' feet. Center field, on the other hand, has seen a few changes, moving to 410' (1973), back to 420' (1978), and, finally settling on 405', in 1982.

The Padres' first official MLB game, in San Diego, took place on April 8, against the Houston Astros. Dick Selma would start for San Diego, and would go nine innings, collecting the win, despite giving up a first-inning run. The Padres would tie the score in the fifth, on an Ed Spezio home run, and score the eventual game winner the next inning, when Ollie Brown doubled in Roberto Pena.

Despite the initial excitement of the team, and a home-opening win, the Padres would prove to be inept over their first six seasons, finishing dead last each year, losing over 100 games four times, and compiling a record of 354-608.

The Savior: Ray Kroc
Things were so bad over the first few years, the team was almost relocated. At the dawning of the 1974 season, Smith was close to selling the Padres to Joseph Danzansky, who planned on transferring them to Washington D.C. to become the Washington Stars. The sale, however, got held up in litigation, and Smith turned instead to the founder of McDonald's, Ray Kroc. The sale, for $12 million literally saved baseball in San Diego. As an owner Kroc was very outspoken of his team; in fact, at his first-ever home game he grabbed the public address microphone, in front of a packed house, and apologized to the fans, saying; "I have never seen such stupid ball-playing, in my life." At that very moment, a Padres "fan" decided it would be a good time to streak across the outfield. Kroc responded by yelling: "Throw him in jail," much to the audience's delight.

Despite the new owner's bluster, and his being more of a fan than a "traditional" owner, the team couldn't seem to make headway in the standings. They would finish above the basement, for the first time, in 1975, in fourth place, but they would continue to be around the bottom of the standings for the rest of the decade, finishing in three times in fifth (1976, 1977, and 1979), and twice in fourth (1975 and 1978). During this time, however, the Padres did have a few good players, as well as "grow" their own superstar, which kept the fans coming back to the ballpark.

Randy Jones Mural, in Petco Park
Randy Jones and Dave Winfield both joined the team in 1973, and helped lead San Diego out of the
basement within two years. Jones, a California kid, was a left-handed pitcher, who the Padres took in the fifth round of the 1972 draft. He made his Major League debut in June of the following year, but by 1974 was looking like a bust, after sporting an 8-22 record. He was able to turn things around, starting in 1975, when he went 20-12, becoming the first Padre pitcher to win 20 games in a season. He was also selected to the All Star Team that summer, and recorded the save for the National League in the Mid-Summer Classic. Jones was even better in 1976, posting a 22-14 record, with a 2.74 ERA. He was selected to start the All-Star Game, making him the only pitcher on record to record a save in one year and then start the very next year. Going into the game, Jones had a record of 16-3, which no one has equaled since. Unfortunately he suffered an arm injury in his last start of the season, which required surgery, and was never the same again. He would play for San Diego through the 1980 season, after which he was traded to the Mets, where he retired after the 1982 season at the age of 32. He would eventually have his number, 35, retired by the Padres, and be enshrined in the team's Hall of Fame, in 1999.

Dave Winfield Mural, in Petco Park
As great and popular as Jones was in San Diego, no star shone brighter than that of outfielder Dave Winfield. Winfield, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a gifted athlete, who excelled at many sports, and lettered in baseball and basketball at the University of Minnesota. During his time at "The U," Winfield was named an All-American, and led his basketball team to a Big Ten Championship (their first in 53 years), as well as the College World Series, where he was named the tournament's M.V.P., as a pitcher.
After completing college, Winfield was drafted by four teams in three sports. He was taken in the NBA's Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, the ABA's Draft by the Utah Stars, the Padres selected him fourth overall (as a pitcher), and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings took a flier on him, even though he never played college football. In the end Winfield chose baseball, and the Padres promoted him directly to the big club, completely bypassing any minor league "seasoning." Even though he was drafted as a pitcher, the Padres turned him into an outfielder. This way they could have his potent bat in the lineup every day.

Winfield more than justified the Padres' faith in him, playing 1,117 games over 9 seasons, with the club. During this time, he hit .284 with 1,134 hits, 79 doubles, 39 triples, 154 home runs, 626 RBIs, and 599 runs scored. He was an All-Star from 1977-1980, finished twice in the Top Ten MVP voting (1978-1979) and won Gold Gloves in 1979, and 1980. He was also named team captain, in 1979.

Despite the many wondrous things Winfield brought to the table the team would only put together one winning season (1978) between 1969 and 1980, and he would leave for the Yankees, via free agency, after the 1980 season. When Winfield finally retired, after the 1995 season, he had played for six teams (San Diego, the Yankees, California, Toronto, Minnesota, and Cleveland), being named to 12 All-Star Teams, winning seven Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, and becoming a World Series Champion. He would be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, as the Padres' first representative, as well as the Padres Hall of Fame, and have his number retired by his original franchise. He has also been voted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, and is one of the NCAA's Men's College World Series Legends.

The 1980s: The Same, But DIFFERENT

As the 1980s opened, the team seemed to still be in their "stalled pattern." They would begin this decade as they had the previous one, with a last place finish. In fact they would finish last in 1980 and 1981, but things would slowly improve as the team would climb to .500 records in 1982 and 1983; big things were just on the horizon.

Gossage and Nettles
Steve Garvey
The team's transformation had begun the year before (1983), when the Pads ponied up $6 million to acquire free agent first baseman Steve Garvey, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Garvey, who had been a mainstay in L.A. since 1969, when he broke in with the team, as a third baseman. He made the switch to first in 1973, after Wes Parker retired. From that time on, Garvey was part of the legendary Dodgers' infield of Ron Cey (3B), Bill Russell (SS) and Davey Lopes (2B), who would play together for' almost, nine seasons. This was the foundation" move the Pads hoped would catapult them to the next level, and it had worked. By March 30, 1984, the team would be completely transformed, having signed free agents Rich Gossage and Sandy Alomar, Jr., and trading for Al Newman, Craig Lefferts, Carmelo Martinez, and Graig Nettles. These players, along with Kevin McReynolds, Terry Kennedy, Gary Templeton, and a third-year player named Tony Gwynn, formed the nucleus of a very strong team.

The veteran leadership, provided by players such as Garvey, Nettles, and Gossage, helped keep the ship on the right course, but it was the youthful Tony Gwynn who, now and for the rest of his career, was the engine that propelled the vessel.

Tony Gwynn Mural, in Petco Park
Gwynn, who was born in Los Angeles in 1960 and moved to Long Beach at the age of nine, was a stand-out athlete throughout his childhood, and in college (San Diego State), where he was an all-conference player in both basketball and baseball. He was chosen by the Padres, 59th overall, in the third round of the 1981 draft, and made his MLB debut in 1982. Over the course of his 20-year career (all with San Diego), he would win eight batting titles (1984, 1987-1989, and 1994-1997), be a 15-time All-Star, win seven Silver Slugger Awards, five Gold Gloves, collect over 3,000 hits (3,141), and hit .338, with 135 home runs and 1,138 runs batted in. He holds 17 Padres records, seven National League records, and one MLB record, and has had his number retired by the organization, in addition to being a member of the Padres and National Baseball Halls of Fame. He was known throughout baseball as "Mr. Padre," and is synonymous with the city of San Diego because of the way he represented it. He was also someone who was respected for the way he played the game, as well as how he carried himself as a person. When people talk of role models, Tony Gwynn is the person you always wanted to model yourself after.

Before spring training even began that year, the Padres were dealt a blow. On January 14, 1984, Ray Kroc passed away from heart failure, and team control went to his wife, Joan. The Padres would wear a special patch with Kroc's initials (RAK) for the season, and he was among the inaugural inductees to the Padres Hall of Fame in 1999.

The team came out of the gate on fire, going 9-2 to start the season, and never lost control of first place after June 9th. The team gelled and played well all through the summer months, but the most memorable game that season was not for a win, but for a nasty fight-filled afternoon, in August, against Atlanta.

The Braves were supposed to be contenders that year, but things didn't work out and the team found themselves down by 9 1/2 games on that rainy afternoon. The contest was delayed by weather, for two hours, before the teams took the field, and when they did, sparks flew from the get-go.

Pad's second baseman Alan Wiggins was plunked with the first pitch of the game, and when the Braves went up 2-0 in the bottom of the inning, the Padres were in a nasty mood.

In the bottom of the second, the Braves pitcher who had hit Wiggins, Pascual Perez, came to bat and was thrown at by San Diego pitcher Ed Whitson. Perez started towards the mound, bat in hand, but was restrained by the home plate umpire. The Braves scored another run that inning, increasing their lead to 3-0, further enflaming the Padres.

When Perez came to bat again in the fourth inning, Whitson threw at him, getting himself, and manager Dick Williams, tossed by the home plate umpire. He was replaced by Greg Booker, who gave up two more runs, before he faced Perez in the sixth. During this at-bat, Booker, too, threw at Perez, getting himself and the acting manager, Ozzie Virgil, tossed in the process.

Padres/Braves Brawl
In the top of the seventh Nettles would homer for the Padres, but this would cause even more trouble later on. By the eighth inning the new pitcher, Craig Lefferts, decided it was his turn to throw at Perez, and he and the second acting manager, Jack Krol, were now removed from the game. This, however, was the final straw, as both benches emptied and side-fights popped up in various locations around the diamond. The fighting went on for ten full minutes, and even fans got into the action, jumping out of the stands and pouring beer on the players during the fracas. By the time the melee was contained, two Braves (Rick Camp and Gaylord Perry) and two Padres (Champ Summers and Bobby Brown) were now ejected.

As if this wasn't enough, Nettles was intentionally hit when he came to bat in the top of the ninth (because of the home run he hit in his previous at-bat), which ignited another brawl. By the time the dust cleared Braves manager Joe Torre, as well as players Donnie More, Steve Bedrosian and Rick Mahler were ejected, as was Rich Gossage, for the Padres.

As if that wasn't enough, right after the final out of the game a Braves fan tossed beer at Padres outfielder Kurt Bevacqua, and he attempted to go into the stands, but was restrained by security. Lost in all of this was the fact the Braves won the game, 5-3, but it never derailed the Padres.

By season's end, San Diego finished with a record of 92-72, which was good for first place in the N.L. West, 12 games better than Atlanta and Houston, who finished with identical 80-82 records.

The 1984 N.L. Championship Series was the first time the Padres had ever reached the post-season, and they would face the winners of the N.L. East, the Chicago Cubs, who would be back in the playoffs for the first time since 1945, when the "Curse of the Billy Goat" took effect.

(Jim Note: Think about this for just a minute. At this time, the ATLANTA Braves were considered an N.L. West team, while the CHICAGO Cubs were in the East. You cannot make this stuff up.)

The Cubs, led by manager Jim Frey, had finished atop the N.L. East with a record of 95-65, and had a talented roster that included players such as Ryne Sandberg, Ron Cey, Gary Matthews Jr., Leon Durham, Larry Bowa, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Lee Smith, and Bill Buckner. They had won the division by 6.5 games, over the New York Mets, and were looking to make quick work of San Diego.

They won the first two games at home, 13-0 and 4-2, before heading out to San Diego to finish off the Padres and move on to the World Series. The problem was that no one told the Padres they were dead, and if it had been communicated they weren't listening.

Back home at Jack Murphy Stadium for the final three games of the series - this was the last year of the best-of-five-type series, and even though the Cubs had the better record the Padres got the last three games at home, as having the first two games in Chicago was considered to be "home field advantage - the Pads staved off elimination, winning Game 3, 7-1, and setting the stage for Steve Garvey's dramatic home run in Game 4.

The Padres took a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning of Game 4, only to see the Cubs rally for three and take the lead in that inning. San Diego tied the game in the fifth, and scored two more, taking a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh, only to squander that in the top of the eighth, when the Cubs again tied the game. In the ninth, with the score tied, Gwynn singled off Cubs closer Lee Smith and Garvey capped a five-run game with a two-run walk-off home run into the left field stands. The Padres had come back from the dead, and had forced a winner-take-all Game 5, the next day.

The Cubs jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings, thanks to home runs by Leon Durham and Jody Davis, but San Diego fought back with two of their own, in the sixth. With nine outs to go it looked as if the Cubs might actually win the series, but the Baseball Gods were not about to let that happen.

Carmelo Martinez started off  the seventh inning with a walk, before being moved to second by a Gary Templeton sacrifice bunt. Pinch hitter Tim Flannery was sent to the plate and hit a ground ball to first, where Leon Durham bent over to make a routine play. It was at this time "The Curse of the Billy Goat" reared its ugly head, and bit the Cubs in the ass. The ball somehow scooted under Durham's glove, allowing the tying run to score and Flannery to reach first safely.

1984 N.L.C.S. Champs
Cubs fans couldn't believe it, but by the time they had gotten control of their collective emotions Alan Wiggins had singled, moving Flannery to second, and Tony Gwynn doubled on a hard ground ball which somehow ended up bouncing over Sandberg's head. "BAAAAAAAAA...," that damn goat had done it again, and by the time the dust had cleared the Padres had scored four runs, taking a 6-3 lead. The Cubs tried to put it behind them (the fans never have), but they could get nothing off Gossage, and the Padres, improbably, had won the game, and the series, sending them on to the Fall Classic.

In all honesty, the 1984 World Series wasn't as much of a baseball series as it was a bloody mess. The box scores say the Padres played the Detroit Tigers, but it might as well have been the Greek Gods. The series was that one-sided. Detroit had finished the season with an MLB-best record of 104-58, having won the A.L. East, over Toronto, by 15 games, and had blown through the Royals in the ALCS, three games to none. Led by fiery skipper Sparky Anderson and a bevy of talented players such as Kirk Gibson, Allen Trammel, Lou Whittiker, Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, Willie Hernandez, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox, the team had started the year 35-5, and had won the American League "wire to wire."

The teams split the first two games in San Diego, with the Tigers taking Game 1, 3-2, and the Padres trying the series with a 5-3 victory the next night, but it was all over as the teams flew to Detroit for Games 3-5. The Padres just didn't know it, yet.

Over the next three games the Tigers outscored San Diego 17- 8, even though they both finished with 25 hits in that time span, but it wasn't even that close. The Tigers showed why they were the class of baseball, and the defining moment came in Game 5 when Kirk Gibson strode to the plate, with two on, and Dick Williams called for an intentional walk. Gossage, a proud man, talked Williams into letting him pitch to Gibson, and Gibson made him pay dearly, hitting a ball that might still be orbiting Detroit, to this day. When Tony Gwynn flied out to end the game, and the series, the Padres' "Cinderella" season came to a close, just short of a championship. The organization, and the fans, thought they would be able to take that next step.
They were all wrong.

1985 started out well enough. The team would have eight representatives at that year's All-Star Game (Dick Williams, Rich Gossage, Graig Nettles, Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, Terry Kennedy, Gary Templeton, and LaMarr Hoyt), but the team faltered down the stretch and finished in third place, behind the Dodgers and Cincinnati.

The rest of the decade didn't play out any better, as Williams was let go right before spring training in 1986; Gossage was suspended that same year for saying the front office "wanted choirboys, and not players who wanted to win," as well as telling the world the team president (Ballard) does "only what Mom (his mother-in-law, Joan Kroc) wants, and not what's in the best interest of the team," as well as taking a shot at Kroc herself, when he said Kroc was "poisoning the world with her cheeseburgers"(McDonald's was owned by Joan, at the time.) Aside from that, the G.M. (Chubb Feeny) would be forced to resign after giving the fans the finger when they held up a sign that read "SCRUB CHUBB" on Fan Appreciation Night, and the team finished dead last, in 1987.

The Padres would field some good players - Benito Santiago (1987 Rookie of the Year), Roberto Alomar (who debuted in 1988), Mark Davis (1989 Cy Young Award winner), and, of course, Tony Gwynn, who just kept hitting - but it was the negative publicity that would overshadow the team.

The 1990s: A Reversal of the 1980s

As the 90s began, the Padres were languishing in the middle-to-bottom of the division. They would finish fifth, third, third, seventh, fourth, and third from 1990-1995, but things began to turn around in the second half of the decade. Before that could happen though, Joan Kroc announced she was willing to sell the team, but she wanted a promise the new ownership would keep them in San Diego. Eventually she sold to a TV producer, Tom Werner, for $75 million. Werner wouldn't have the team long: he would sell an 80% share to a partner, John Moores, in December of 1994.

By 1996 the team was playing an exciting brand of baseball, still led by Tony Gwynn, now joined by Wally Joyner, Ken Caminiti, Ricky Henderson, Greg Vaughn, and Steve Finley. They would finish the year in first place, with a record of 91-71, managed by former catcher Bruce Bochy. They made the Division Series after a thrilling sweep of the Dodgers, in Dodger Stadium, during the last weekend of the season, but bowed out in the playoffs, getting swept, themselves, by the Cardinals.

1997 was a very down year, as the team slipped to fourth place, finishing with a record of 76-86, 14 games behind the N.L. West-winning San Francisco Giants. Though it was frustrating and depressing, it set the stage for a 1998 season, which would be a thrilling one for the team, and fans alike.

1998 was interesting from the start. The team was putting pressure on the city to build a new ballpark, and to do so they knew they would have to provide a winning team to show fan support and win the city over. In doing so they made moves with their eyes on two things: providing a winner for 1998, and not getting bogged down with long-term contracts. The decision was made to bring in quite a few players on one-year deals, who would be motivated to play hard for a big contract in 1999, but not necessarily re-sign those players for the coming years. In doing so, the organization put together a team comprised of Tony Gwynn, Gregg Vaughn, Jim Leyritz, Kevin Brown, Sterling Hitchcock, Trevor Hoffman, Ken Caminiti, Wally Joyner, John Vander Wal, Rubin Rivera, and Steve Finley.

The idea worked, as the Padres finished with their best record ever, 98-64, and winning the N.L. West by 9 1/2 games over the Giants, and having the fourth-best overall record in MLB, behind only the Yankees, Atlanta, and Houston.

The team waltzed through the divisional series, beating the Astros three-games-to-one, and moving on to face the Atlanta Braves in the Championship Series.

The Braves, led by manager Bobby Cox, were returning to the NLCS for the seventh-straight year and were heavily favored. They were the class of the National League and their players were some of the best known in the game: Gregg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Andres Galarraga, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, and Ryan Klesko. The organization had a long and storied history, which reached back to the early 1900s, through three cities (Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta), and they were in the midst of a mind-numbing stretch of playoff appearances and division titles. To say they were a heavy favorite was an understatement.

Surprisingly, the Padres came out of the gate on fire, quickly taking a three-games-to-none lead in the series behind the pitching of Trevor Hoffman, Kevin Brown, and Sterling Hitchcock. They won Game 1, 3-2, in 11 innings; Game 2, 3-0; and Game 3, 4-1. All of a sudden the baseball world sat up and took notice, but the Braves were not about to go down quietly. They rallied, winning the next two games, 8-3 and 7-6, but this only delayed the inevitable.
1998 N.L. Champs

Game 6 was knotted at 0-0, going into the fifth inning, when the Padres lowered the boom. With a handful of walks, singles, and errors, the Padres put a five-spot on the board, and the San Diego bullpen pitched the rest of the way, scoreless, to send the Padres to their second World Series. The Braves, and their fans, didn't know what hit them, but the city of San Diego didn't care; all that mattered was that their team was playing for the championship. Unfortunately, a juggernaut stood in their way.

The 1998 New York Yankees were an historic club. Rightfully compared to the 1927 Murderer's Row team, the '98 version could dismantle teams with hitting, pitching, or both. Led by skipper Joe Torre, they were comprised of some of the best names in the game: Chuck Knoblauch, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Shane Spencer, Chili Davis, and that was just the fielders. They could trot out pitchers Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, David Wells, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, and the closer, Mariano Rivera. They would finish the season with a record of 114-48, 22 games ahead of second-place Boston, and eight games ahead of the next-best team in baseball, Atlanta. They were, in all senses of the word, a monster.

No one gave the Padres much of a chance, and rightfully so. On paper the Yankees were far superior, but San Diego was up 5-2, and coasting, heading into the bottom of the seventh of Game 1, at Yankee Stadium. What came next, however, set the tone for the rest of the series.

The Yankees would tie the score on a Chuck Knoblauch home run, after Bochy had removed Kevin Brown from the game. Later in the same inning the Yanks would load the bases, and after a borderline call, with two strikes and the bases loaded, Tino Martinez would hammer the next pitch deep into the Bronx night, for a Grand Slam, all but ending the Padres' hopes.

Brosius Homers Off Hoffman
The Padres did have leads at various times during the series, but the Yankees always came back and won the game. They even "got to" the Padres' "untouchable" closer, Trevor Hoffman, more than once. In the end the Yankees swept the series, and broke the Padres hearts without breaking a sweat. They had done this all year long, so this was nothing new, and finished the year with a record of 125-50. Regardless of the outcome, it was a good year for the Padres; they had finished with their best record ever, had deposed the mighty Atlanta Braves, had made it to the World Series, and had even hung tight with the Yankees for a while. Now they turned their attention to getting the okay for their new ballpark.

Sliding Backwards Into a New Ballpark

As the organization had hoped, the successful season in 1998 helped grease the skids for the construction of a new ballpark. Architects (HOK Sports), and general contractors (San Diego Ballpark Builders, which was a joint venture between Clark Construction Group, Nielson Dillingham Builders Inc. and Douglas E. Barnhart Inc.) had been chosen, a site had been picked out (near the convention center, and across from the city's light rail's main terminal), which would hopefully help revitalize the city's downtown area, and the ballot had been put forward, which was voted on and approved, breaking down the city's responsibility of the financing. All that was left to do was put the shovels in the ground, and then legal and political challenges arose. A court challenge nullified the original ballot that had been voted on, and the fact that the Western Metal Supply Co. building, which had been slated to be demolished, had been declared a historic landmark in 1978, put everything on hold.

Eventually everything got sorted out; a new ballot was voted on, and again approved, and negotiations with the preservation community allowed for the Western Metal Supply Co. building to be renovated (in compliance with standards set by the Secretary of the Interior) and used as part of the new stadium, but it set back construction, and completion of the project, by two seasons. The team would be forced to stay at Qualcomm Stadium through the 2003 season. 

During the years of sorting out the new ballpark, the team was, again, floundering on the field. The goal had been to load up the team with a lot of one-year contracts for the 1998 season, so they could "win approval" for the new stadium, but when the crash came, starting in 1999, no one expected it to last until 2004. Right away players who had contributed to taking the team to the World Series found themselves new homes; free agents Kevin Brown, Steve Finley, and Ken Caminiti went to the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks and the Astros, respectively, while Greg Vaughn and Mark Sweeney were traded to the Reds, and Joey Hamilton was sent to Toronto. The players brought in to complete the roster weren't horrible, but they certainly weren't going to help defend the National League Championship, and the team slipped to fourth place (74-88) that year. The lone bright spot that year was Tony Gwynn's 3,000th hit (a single), which came on August 6, against the Montreal Expos.

Gwynn Says Goodbye
The next few years were no better for the Padres, who finished fifth, fourth, fifth and fifth, from 2000-2003, with a record of 285-363, a whopping 78 games under .500. The low point came on October 7, 2001, when the team lost its iconic player, Tony Gwynn, to retirement. Gwynn's final hit, a double, had come the previous day, when Rickey Henderson collected his 3,000th hit. Gwynn would not be out of work long, as he would be named head baseball coach of his alma mater, San Diego State, starting in 2003. He would remain the coach until he had to step aside for salivary gland cancer treatments, in 2014. Unfortunately he would pass away in June of that year, at the age of 54.

A New Ballpark, and Back-To-Back Division Wins

On March 11, 2004, Petco Park opened its doors for the first time. The Padres had sold naming rights to the San Diego-based pet supply retail company, who paid to have their name on the stadium until 2026. This prompted a protest by the animal rights group PETA, which has a long-standing disagreement with Petco, over their supposed treatment of animals. 

The first-ever ball game played here was not for the Padres, but rather was the first game of an NCAA tournament between San Diego State, and Houston. Headlining the day was the San Diego State manager, Tony Gwynn, who "christened" the new park with a win for the hometown Aztecs. 

First Game at Petco Park
The Padres took the field for the first time on April 8, 2004, against the San Francisco Giants. Gates opened at 4 p.m. that day, and although many Padres fans jostled to be the first one in the door, the first recorded guest was a Giants fan, 17 year-old Brent Walker. Padre Brian Giles recorded the first hit in the new ballpark, a single, in the bottom of the first, and Sean Burroughs drove in the first RBI, with a ground rule double in the bottom of the third. On the mound, hometown boy David Wells kept the score 1-0 through seven innings, giving up only four hits and one walk, but Trevor Hoffman couldn't nail down the save, giving up two runs in the ninth. The Padres came back and tied the game in the bottom of the inning, on a Sean Burroughs single, but Antonio Osuna gave up a home run in the tenth. The Padres, though, refused to lose, scoring two in the bottom of the tenth, on a Miguel Ojeda ground rule double, and another Sean Burroughs RBI single. The Padres had prevailed and won their first-ever game, at Petco.

The first Padre home run at the new park came on April 15th, off the bat of Mark Loretta, but there was little else to cheer for that year. Though the team finished higher in the standings (third place), and above .500 (87-75) for the first time since 1998, they still missed the playoffs, though over 3,000,000 fans came out to see the new park, which was a million more than had come to see them play the year before. Petco was a hit with the fans; now the team needed to give them a reason to keep coming out. That started in 2005. 

The 2005 season will go down as a strange one for the Padres. The team wasn't really respectable, not by a long shot. They flirted with a .500 record over the course of the season, but didn't secure that record until a win on September 30th gave them their 81st of the season. This was embarrassing, to say the least, as they turned out to be the best of the worst division in baseball, winning the N.L. West by five games over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Three teams in the East finished with better records, but the Padres went to the playoffs as a division winner. It was there, however, that they were completely dismantled by the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game sweep. Despite their record (82-80), the fans embraced the team, the ballpark, and were thrilled to be back in the playoffs. They also had pitchers Jake Peavy (N.L.strikeout king) and super-closer Trevor Hoffman, who notched his 400th career save, to cheer for.

The 2006 Padres didn't exactly come out of the gate on fire, going 9-15 in April, but they turned things around with a record of 19-10 in the month of May, and took over first place for good. They would end the season with a record of 88-74, tied with the Dodgers, but their 13-5 record against the Dodgers won them the division. This would be the team's first-ever back-to-back division titles.

Once again the team drew the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, and once again the Cards sent them home in the first round. The Pads did, however, manage to win a game this time, Game 3. After losing the first two games, the Padres took Game 3, 3-1, before bowing out in Game 4. This proved to be the last game as manager for Bruce Bochy, who went to San Francisco, and was replaced by Bud Black. During this season Trevor Hoffman became the all-time save leader in Padres history, when he recorded his 479th on September 24th, breaking Lee Smith's record of 478. He would finish the season with 482. The Padres' pitching, in fact, was what kept them in the race all year long. The staff had a 3.87 ERA, which was tops in the National League, and only behind the Tigers for the rest of baseball. Fans believed the team was finally on an upswing.

Downward Spiral: 2007-Present

Staff Ace, Jake Peavy
The 2007 Padres season can only be referred to as "painful" by the fans and the baseball world. At the beginning the season the team announced they had agreed to terms with star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, on a four-year deal. The pitching, led by Jake Peavy, David Wells, Greg Maddux, and Trevor Hoffman, kept the team in the thick of things, all summer long. In May, Peavy was named N.L. Pitcher of the Month, after having gone 4-0, with a 0.79 ERA, and Hoffman was named Reliever of the Month, as well. Hoffman would, on June 6, become the first closer to record 500 career saves, with 498 of them coming as a Padre (the first two were as a Marlin). 

The team would have a hold on a Wild Card spot until late in September, when one of their "go-to" players, Milton Bradley, tore his right ACL while being restrained during an argument with umpire Mike Winters. Bradley, who got into a verbal altercation with Winters over a supposed bat-tossing incident, says Winters used profanity while addressing him and made a move towards the umpire, but fell while being restrained by manager Bud Black and tore the ligament in his knee. He would miss the final week of the season, where the Pads gave up the Wild Card spot and finished tied with the Rockies, forcing a one-game playoff. 

The Rockies would win the playoff game on a controversial play, but not before the Padres squandered an 8-6 lead in the thirteenth inning. On the sacrifice fly that ended the game, it seems that Rockies player Matt Holiday never touched home plate, but the umpire ruled that catcher Michael Barrett was blocking home plate before he had possession of the ball, so Holiday was ruled safe, regardless. In the end, the season was a bitter disappointment for the team and its fans, and they had quite a few questions going forward, such as whether Trevor Hoffman could continue to close games, after the age of 40 at this rate, and whether Jake Peavy could continue to pitch as he had, with no offensive help.

Franchise Saves Leader, Trevor Hoffman
The next two years, 2008-2009, were seasons the fans would like to forget. Decimated by injuries and lackluster play the team would finish fifth and fourth, respectively, 21 and 20 games behind the first-place team in the West. They would part ways with Tony Clark, Xavier Nady, Greg Maddux, and, most notably, Trevor Hoffman, who left when the team rescinded its $4 million offer, and signed for two years with Milwaukee. Despite the team's struggles, the dugout staff was given a vote of confidence when the club renewed the contracts of Bud Black, as well as his coaches, Darren Ballsley (pitching coach), Darren Akerfelds (bullpen coach) and Glenn Hoffman (3B coach). Only Craig Colbert (bench coach) and Wally Joyner (hitting coach) were not brought back.

2010 would be the last "high water mark" for the franchise, in recent times. Though they were picked to finish dead last in the N.L. West, the team surprised everyone. On August 25th they were 76-49, in first place by 6 1/2 games; unfortunately, what followed was a ten-game losing streak, and by the time the final game was played on October 3, they were officially eliminated from the post-season, despite having spent 148 days in first place. They would finish two games back of the Giants, at 90-72. It would be the last time they would finish higher than third place to date. 

Between 2011 and 2016 the Pads have finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The have never finished closer than 16 games back (2013) and have continually been the butt of jokes around baseball. Players such as Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Rizzo, Andrew Cashner, Mat Latos, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, and Matt Kemp have all come and gone. The front office has also undergone changes in the last few years, with Jed Hoyer, Josh Byrnes, and A.J.Preller all having sat in the G.M. chair, and John Moores and Ron Fowler owing the club. 

Amidst all this, however, is Petco Park, where fans still continue to come out to watch baseball, enjoy the downtown area, soak up the perfect San Diego weather, and spend a day/night out with family and friends, in one of the premier ballparks in the country.

A Great Day for Baseball

Before we knew it all the laundry had been done, folded, and we had even managed to grab a cup of coffee and a small bite to eat, from the small cafe in the hotel. We quickly walked back across the street, packed away the laundry, and made sure everyone was up and ready to start our day. 

Twenty minutes later, we all met outside the motel's office and were ready to start our trek to Petco, which was about 1.5 miles away. It was a beautiful San Diego day; the sun was shining the clouds had burned off, and there was a gentle breeze blowing, which made sure no one was going to be too hot. Wanting to enjoy this perfect weather, we had decided to walk, rather than take the van, lose our parking spot at the motel, and pay to park on top of it. So off we went.

The game had an early start time, 12:40, so we had given ourselves plenty of time for the walk, and the exploration of the stadium, both inside and out, so we could afford to take our time. Going to the park, from our motel, was all downhill, which meant walking back uphill on the way back, a fact noted by Ryan, much to everyone's chagrin.

"This walk isn't bad now, it's all downhill, but it's gonna suck going back," he laughed.

"Thanks for THAT," Brendan said, rolling his eyes. 

"Don't you have anything positive to say?" Tony asked him.

"This part of the city is nice, the weather is great, and everyone here seems so friendly," I countered, as someone else said "good morning," as they passed us on the street.

"After the game we're going to the zoo, right?" Brendan asked, already knowing the answer.

"Absolutely," Nicole told him. "The tickets are back in the suitcase, so we'll head back, grab them, and make sure you get to see the world-famous San Diego Zoo."

This was the part of our trip Brendan had been waiting for since leaving New Jersey. He'd enjoyed the baseball, and the beaches, and the other things we had done, but it was the San Diego Zoo and Sea World he was most excited for. Everything else was just ancillary to him, but he was a good sport waiting for his favorite things; animals. I held out my hand and he quickly slipped his into mine, looked up, and smiled. I was excited for him; I knew what the zoo and Sea World meant and I was going to make sure he got as much time to enjoy it as he wanted.

"I'm looking forward to the zoo, too, B. We're gonna have a blast," I promised.

He just smiled at me, and I knew this was going to be a great day.

It took us about half an hour to walk to the park; we were in no hurry and enjoying the morning, and as we approached it from the back it was decided to bypass that area and start our "tour" at the home plate gate, in the front.

Petco Park

Petco, From Across the Tracks

Located at 19 Tony Gwynn Drive (no surprise there), between 7th and 10th Avenues, just south of J Street, the front of the park faces the San Diego Trolley Station, which provides ample opportunity to use the mass transit system to get there. 

2016 All-Star Game Banner
At first glance something is different about Petco, when compared to other new "retro" stadiums that have been constructed in that last 25 years. Those ballparks are styled in red brick, to give the old-time feel, but Petco eschews that in favor of the "flavor" of San Diego. The ballpark is a sandstone color, with stucco, and the metal structures that are visible are colored white, with the seats inside being a dark blue color. This perfectly captures the beach vibe of the city, with the sandstone and stucco representing the sandy beaches, the blue seats being the cool waters of the Pacific and the white being the puffy clouds in the sky, or perhaps the sails on all the ships seen in the water. It's both aesthetically pleasing and soothing, to say the least. Also, the 2016 All-Star Game had just been played at Petco, about two weeks earlier, and the logo to the "Midsummer Classic" (the city's skyline) was also incorporated into the outside of the ballpark, as well.

Jerry Coleman Exhibit
As we walked around the outside of the park, from the Home Plate Gate around the ballpark, we came across a memorial to the beloved Padres former broadcaster, and manager, Jerry Coleman. Coleman came to baseball prominence as a member of the New York Yankees (1949-1957), where he was an All-Star in 1950, and a four-time World Series Champion (1949-1951 and 1956), before becoming a broadcaster for the Yanks, the California Angles, and, starting in 1972, the Padres. He would be the Padres' broadcaster every year from 1972 until his death in 2014, except for one year (1980), when the team made him their manager for one year. Some of his most famous catchphrases were "Oh, Doctor!," "You can hang a star on that one, baby," "And the beat
goes on," and "The natives are getting restless." He was awarded the Ford Frick Award, for broadcasting excellence, and is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, for his work, but what he was most proud of was his service to his country, as a Marine fighter pilot, during World War II and the Korean War.

Coleman, like Ted Williams, was a true American Hero. His career was interrupted, twice, to be of service to his country, Coleman's ability to earn money at his livelihood was severely affected, but never once did he complain, or grouse. He put down his glove, donned his fighter pilot gear, and flew off, answering "the call." Coleman's years of service stretched from 1942-1964, and he wasn't given a cushy desk job, pushing paper. He flew fighter planes, on all sorts of missions, winning numerous awards along the way. He flew during the Solomon Islands and Philippines Campaigns during WW II, and the entire Korean War along the way, to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross (twice), the Air Medal (three times), the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. In 2011, Coleman was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, for his combat service. He passed away in 2014, after a fall in his home, at the age of 89. Today he is interred at Miramar National Cemetery. 
Fighter Pilot Statue

In 2012, the Padres unveiled their tribute to Coleman, which we were now in front of. Located at K Street, at the East Village Gate to Petco Park, it is a 7 '5" tall bronze statue of Coleman, dressed in his fighter pilot uniform, and gear, from the Korean War. The statue, however, is not the only part of the exhibit, but rather the centerpiece. Behind Coleman's likeness are three four-by-eight foot panels, which tell the three stages of Coleman's life: Marine Corp Aviator, MLB Player, and Hall of Fame Broadcaster. When observing the unveiling, Coleman fought back tears, saying, "I was stunned when I saw the size of it. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. This means more to me..." After a moment to catch his emotions, he continued: "Reaching back into the past brings tears to my eyes...I have always had two loves, the people whom I love and love me, and my country..." That was Jerry Coleman, to a T.

Gwynn Statue, in the "Park in the Park"
After spending a good amount of time at the Jerry Coleman Memorial, we walked around to the rear of the stadium and came to the area known as the "Park at the Park." This grassy area is just beyond the outfield fence, which is enclosed on game days, where fans can come to watch the game from beyond the stadium for $10. When there are no games being played the enclosures are opened, and the area serves as a park for anyone who wants to come down and enjoy it. The centerpiece of the "Park at the Park" is the Tony Gwynn statue, which stands 9.5 feet tall, is sculpted in bronze, and was erected in 2007. The statue was created by William Behrends, shows Gwynn in his famous batting motion, and reads "Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre" on one side, and has a quote from Gwynn's father, on the reverse, which says "If you work hard, good things will happen," which was Gwynn's mantra until the day he passed away. Gwynn was overcome with emotion, on dedication day, and told the collected audience that he was "thrilled to death" by the honor. Of course Ryan and I had to have our picture taken with Mr. Padre. After all, how could we come all the way to San Diego, visit Petco Park, and NOT stand with him?

"Hey, look!" Ryan pointed.

"A wiffleball stadium," all four kids yelled, almost in unison, and started running towards the object of their affection.

Bumble Bee Ballpark
Bumble Bee Park, From CF
Sure enough, as I looked down the grassy slope there was a miniature baseball stadium, where Padres' employees were pitching, catching and fielding wiffleballs, which were being hit by excited fans of all ages. Bumble Bee Park, sponsored by the tuna of the same name, is an enclosed "stadium" inside the "Park in the Park," just off the left field wall, where everyone can be a power-hitting threat. It has a dirt and real-grass infield, with about ten feet of "outfield" that butts up against fences that have sponsor pennants hanging from the walls, just as in a real stadium. Ryan and Nick had played in something similar, in 2013, in Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, and had a blast. This time Tony and I were going to join the kids and get our cuts in, as well.

Ryan Gets His Hacks
As we got in line to wait our turn, a funny thing happened; kids and adults from all over the area decided to come down and watch the "old guys" take their turns at the plate. Ryan went first and hit the outfield walls with every pitch, but he didn't put one over. We all had a chuckle at that, much to his unhappiness, especially after Nick put his first shot over the wall in left. Brendan was next, and as he strolled to the batter's box he decided to trash-talk his older brother.

"Man, I'm gonna hit at least two out," he told him, laughing.

Ryan laughed...until he did put two out, over the right field fence, and then I knew it was on.

"Where do you think you're going?" Brendan asked him.

"I'm getting back in line. If you can hit two out, I can hit three."

Big D, With The Long Ball
Kevin Hits a Bomb
Everyone laughed, as Kevin got into the box and quickly took his cuts. He hit three out, flipped the bat, and walked away from home plate with a giant grin on his face, as Tony picked up the "lumber" and dug into the box. He managed to hit two as well, even looking a little like a right-handed babe Ruth with his follow-through. I was up next, and it seemed like all eyes were on me. The kids, and Tony, decided now would be a good time to heckle me, but I paid them no mind as I dug in. Three pitches came in, and three balls went over the fence.

"I still got it," I laughed, as I handed the bat to the next person in line.

"How 'bout we each take one more turn and see who can hit the most?" Brendan asked.

"Home Run Derby? I'm in," Ryan answered.

Nick and Kevin were quick to agree, which ensured Tony and I did as well. We decided the order would be Brendan, Nick, Ryan, Tony, Kevin and me. This was decided on because of the outcome of the first round, from least homers hit, to most. Well, that and the fact I just wanted to be last, so I could watch and heckle as long as possible.

Brendan, at the Bat
Brendan quickly stepped in and deposited two more over the right field fence, in his five pitches. Next up was Nick, who boomed three over the center and left field fences, while Ryan and Tony did the same with their five, to various fields in the ballpark. Next up was Kevin, who was deadly serious as he powered four over the left and center field fences.

"Have fun," he laughed at me, as he handed me the bat and walked outside the field of play, to watch.

"OOOOOOOOOOOH," was the laugh I heard go up from the other four knuckleheads, as I stepped into the box.

"I like the ball waist-high and a little inside," I told the pitcher, who promised to try his best to put them where I had instructed.

Tracking the Pitch
Follow Through
The first pitch was right where I had wanted, and I wasted little time hitting it over the left field wall. The next one was in, about, the same spot, but that one went out to center. The third and fourth pitches were a little more inside, so I pulled those just inside the left-field foul pole (I actually hit the pole with one of the two). Now was the moment of truth, the fifth pitch. Could I put one more out? Would I beat Kevin? Would I act like a rampaging nine-year-old if I won? The answer to all of these was a resounding "YES!" as the fifth ball flew out of the park, I dropped my bat, raised my fists in the air, and circled the bases in celebration.

As I touched home plate, everyone came out to greet me, and offer up high-fives...especially Kevin, who was laughing and shaking his head at the same time.

"Alright, enough of this," Nicole instructed us. "I'm getting a little warm, and could use a cold drink. Let's head over to the Padres Museum; it's probably cooler inside."

The Padres Hall of Fame and Museum is located under the left field stands, with its entry gate inside the "Park in the Park." It's not as big as the museums in St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Kansas City, but is along the lines of the one the Yankees have created at The Stadium, or the one the Mets have at Citi Field.

Gwynn's HoF Plaque
Padres Hall of Fame
The first thing you notice on the outside of the edifice are the words "Padres in Cooperstown," with Baseball Hall of Fame-like plaques hanging underneath. The only two Padres enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame as of 2016 are Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield, and their plaques are replicas of what can be found in Cooperstown, but there are plenty of other Hall of Famers who played in San Diego as well, are in the Padres Hall of Fame as well, and have modified plaques hanging on the wall.

The Wizard
The Kid's Plaque
These plaques have the player's Hall of Fame plaque on one side, with a "bust" of the player in his San Diego cap/uniform on the other. Some of the notable players in this group included Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame cap), Rich Gossage (Yankees Hall of Fame Cap), Willie McCovey (SF Giants Hall of Fame cap), Bobby Doerr (Red Sox Hall of Fame Cap, also played for the Pacific Coast League Padres), and Ted Williams (Red Sox Hall of Fame cap, also played for the PCL Padres).

Baseball History, in San Diego
As we walked into the Padres Hall of Fame, the first thing we noticed was a history of baseball's presence in San Diego. This was broken up into three chronological timeline sections, detailing first the early history of the game in the city, followed by another section dedicated to the Pacific Coast League Padres, and finally the last section, which told the story of the Padres of the National League. There were pictures, as well as memorabilia and descriptions of what you were looking at, to break down the story into small, but interesting, snippets.

Padres All-Time Leaders
The room was divided into, what looked like to me, an outer and an inner rim, with Padres' memorabilia in/on each. The outer rim was actually the walls of the room, and consisted of famous moments in Padres history, along with player memorabilia and leader-boards, which listed the team's all-time leaders in the different baseball offensive and defensive categories, such as: batting average, hits, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, stolen bases, innings pitched, earned run average, strikeouts, and saves.

The "Inner Sanctum" of the Museum
The inner sanctum, however, was what the museum was all about. Here was housed the stories, pictures, and memorabilia for the players who were enshrined into the Padres Hall of Fame. Each player had his own oversized "monument," which included action pictures on each side, with one side telling the player's story and the other giving his induction year, along with his records as a Padre. To say it was well done was an understatement, and we enjoyed all the different pictures and stories, which were more in-depth than the Hall of Fame plaque could ever be.

After we finished wandering through the Hall of Fame, we wandered into the team store. Here we made sure to grab a program, a scorecard, and whatever else anyone might find desirable.

Ryan, Tony, and Nick come to the games prepared, having gotten the team cap before arriving at each ballpark (this way they can wear it all over the city we are currently in), while Brendan does the same, but with batting helmets, which is his favorite headwear. Nicole found herself a 2016 All-Star Game hat, which had a surfboard logo, while Ryan, Tony, and Nick found All-Star Game t-shirts, and Kevin grabbed a Padres shirt. All of the All-Star Game memorabilia was half-off, so we scored a deal on that, and we wouldn't have to waste time at the store after the game, when Brendan would be pulling us out of the park to get to the zoo.

Finally, it was time to head into the park itself, and let me tell you, Petco does not disappoint.

Padres Baseball Mural
The first thing we noticed was that everything was a representation of the beauty of the city. There was a beautiful painting of the ballpark, from across the water, during a sunset, showing palm trees, sailboats, and motorboats with the ballpark and city skyline, in the background (That picture is at the top of this posting).. There was also a mural of a grouping of official MLB baseballs, with the team name super-imposed over them, just in case you forgot what sporting even you had come to see, and which team played here.

Trevor Hoffman Mural
As we walked deeper into the park, from left field
towards home plate, we saw giant wall murals of the different stars in Padres history. There was Tony Gwynn (of course), Dave Winfield, Randy Jones, and Trevor Hoffman, to name a few. These murals were wall-sized, and had the player's name and uniform number alongside, in case you weren't a big enough Padres aficionado to know them on sight.

Even the Signage for Concessions is "Beachy"
Aside from the murals, the stadium was colored to make one think of the beach; the walls were a sandy brown, with splashes of aqua-green and sky-blue everywhere. There was even a seaside market eatery that had a wall-sized beach motif, complete with a painting of a palm tree at sunset over the water. It really did make for a "beachy" vibe, and let you know exactly what city you were in. In fact, it may have been the stadium most tied to its city that we have been to, so far. It also helped that there was a kiosk that gave a history of the neighborhood where the ballpark now stands, complete with storyboards and memorabilia.

Our first stop was the Home Plate entrance, where we always get a picture taken, and get the first opportunity to really soak in the ballpark, and Petco would be no exception. As we walked down the steps and saw the park before us, it struck me how beautiful this place really was. I literally stopped in my tracks and just stared at the park, and the city skyline, that stretched out before me.

I don't know if this happens often, but it did get a chuckle out of the usher, who asked if this was my first time at Petco. I nodded yes, and launched into one of my favorite pastimes: telling our story, where we had been, where we were going next, and asking for suggestions around the city. The man, whose name was Robert, was more than happy to talk to us and take our picture, so as we all walked towards the home plate area (to get the perfect shot), he gave us a quick history of the park.

The park, as we knew, opened in March of 2004, with an NCAA game, and the first Padres' game was against the Giants on April 8 of that same year. Other notable events, however, were on October 8, 2005, when the Padres played the ballpark's first playoff game (a 7-4 loss to St. Louis); March of 2006 saw the ballpark host a World Baseball Classic Game (it happened again in 2009), the first rain-out occurred in April of 2006 (against the Giants), and in 2007 Barry Bonds (the Giants, again) tied Hank Aaron's home run record of 755. In April of 2008, the park hosted its longest game to date, a 22-inning match between the Pads and the Rockies, which Colorado won, 2-1; in 2012, Ryan Braun (Brewers) was the first player to hit three home runs in a game, while 2013 saw the first no-hitter, thrown by Tim Lincecum (Again, those pesky Giants), and about two weeks prior to our arrival, the park hosted the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.

While Petco is a baseball-only facility there have been a few other sporting matches held here, such as: rugby (2007, 2008 and 2009), a Davis Cup tennis match (2014) an NCAA basketball game (2015) and a par-3, nine hole, golf course, every November since 2015. Along with sporting events the park has also hosted concerts, such as: The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Metallica, The Eagles, Taylor Swift, and Aerosmith.

Left Field Line
Right Field Line
As we got closer to the field Robert talked about the park, itself, its dimensions, and its makeup. From 2004-2007 Petco had a capacity of 42,445 people, but that has fluctuated over the years. From 2008-2012 it held 42,691, and then has changed every year by a few hundred, until we got there when it was at 40,162. The dimensions of the park have stayed the same since it was opened: 334' down the left field line, 357' to left field, 390' to left-center, 396' to center, 391' to right-center, 382' to right, and a short 322' down the right field line. The grass used for the playing surface is BullsEye Bermuda, which is kept full, rich, and luxuriant all year round.
View to Center

In 2015, the organization installed a state-of-the-art video replay board, which is almost 62 feet tall and can show replays, live game action, statistics, animation, or a combination of all of the above, as it can be split into different sections, at one time. There are also eight miniature scoreboards, under the overhangs in the seating areas, along with 60' inch Sony TVs that give fans in the back of the sections a chance to see, as well.

Western Metal Supply Co. Building
Over in left field stands the iconic Western Metal Supply Co. building, which is over 100 years old and was slated for demolition with the construction of the new park, but was built around, and now houses private suites, a restaurant, rooftop seating, and the team store. The inner corner of the building actually serves as the park's foul pole, and has a strip of bright yellow iron that protects the brickwork.

Jerry Coleman Broadcast Center
Behind us stood the Jerry Coleman Broadcast Center, named for the Padres former Hall of Fame Broadcaster; after his passing in 2014. This is where all broadcasting for radio and television is done, as well as the press box which houses local, away, and national writers and reporters. Above the press box, and circling the stadium, are the names and numbers of all the members of the Padres Hall of Fame.

After thanking Robert immensely for the ballpark's history, we took a picture of all of us at home plate. We try to do that at every ballpark and have even had to "bend" some rules to do so, at such places as U.S. Cellular Field and Dodger Stadium, which you can read about in our other blog posts.

We decided to also snap a shot of just the four boys, with the ballpark in the background, and were thrilled with how well it came out.

Padres Who Have Served
MLB Players Who Have Served
As we continued our journey towards the right field line we came to a picnic area, just before the concourse opened up into the open-air outfield walkway. San Diego is a Navy town, hosting the largest Naval base in the United States (the 32nd Street Naval Station), and is the home port for the Navy's Pacific Fleet, and as such prides itself on its military connection. The Padres consider themselves the team of the military, going so far as to sound a replica of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan's horn every time a Padre player homers, or the team wins. This little picnic area is an homage to the naval presence in San Diego and the walls are decorated with military pictures, a complete listing of all MLB players who served in the military, as well as pictures of players from San Diego who served, as well. In the center of the facility is a scale model of the nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, whose home port is San Diego. This, we decided, is where we were going to eat lunch, which was apparently the next thing on the "to-do list."

"Is anyone besides me hungry?" Ryan wanted to know.

"You're always hungry," Tony laughed at him.

"Yeah, but you like to eat too and it's about that time," he replied.

"I want to eat, too," Brendan announced.

"Yeah, let's eat," Kevin and Nick agreed.

"I guess that settles it," I told them. "Let's eat."

"What are we having?" Nicole wanted to know.

"Don't you think Jim and Ryan have this all planned out?" Tony asked her. "They'll tell us what to eat," he laughed.

"I know just what we're having," I told them all, "and I know just where it is. Follow me."


Pacifico Beer Stand, in the Outfield Concourse
As is always the case, we have a good idea of what we want to eat before we go into a ballpark. Anyone can get hot dogs, burgers, chicken fingers, etc., but we prefer to get something indicative of the city we are in, and Ryan and I had been researching this particular ballpark for the last month, so we knew what we wanted.

As opposed to Angels' Stadium, which offered little-to-nothing imaginative (thankfully we found the Angels Wings), Petco has a lot of great foods. There are fantastic sandwiches at Board and Brew, BBQ at Randy Jones' stand, Mexican Food at Lucha Libre, fresh fruit and other healthy foods at Paradise Bowls, along with a huge assortment of craft beers at The Porch, and Craft Beers of San Diego, all which are worth a look, but Ryan and I decided on the fish tacos, at Rimels Rotisserie, and the Tri Tip sandwich at Phil's.

"I don't want either of those," Brendan complained.

"Whaddaya mean, you don't want either of those?" I asked, befuddled. "You eat both of those things."

"I want a burger. THAT burger," he said pointing over to Hodad's, which is a famous San Diego burger joint.

"Okay, that works for me," I told him. "It's huge, and it's local."

"YEAH!" was his excited, one-word, answer.

View From the "Park in the Park" Concourse
We walked around the back of the ballpark, to the open-air outfield concourse, which was actually the "Park in the Park" area, and found our food stands. I was really falling in love with this ballpark, the sights, the amenities, the color schematics, and the architecture, which now included old-world Spanish-style stands where we were grabbing some food and beer.

We ordered Pacifico beer (hey, when in Rome), four fish tacos, four tri-tip sandwiches, and the super-burger, for Brendan, before heading back to the military-influenced picnic area, to sit down and enjoy our feast.

We split everything up evenly, except for Brendan's burger which only I was able to get a bite of, but what a bite it was. Hodad's is a San Diego institution, opening in 1969 in Ocean Beach, steps from the warm sand and rolling surf. Over the years these ginormous burgers have become legendary, and the establishment has expanded to three locations, including the one in Petco Park.

The burger itself was amazing, hot with mounds of bacon and cheese dripping all over the place, and served with a huge side of fries. One bite of this masterpiece told me Brendan had ordered the perfect meal for him.

"Guard that burger with your life," I told him. "If the others find out how good it is, they'll want some."

"Not a chance," he laughed, stuffing a big bite into his mouth, only to have cheese drip down his chin.

Ryan Digs Into a Fish Taco
Fish Tacos
I turned my attention to the fish tacos from Rimel's Rotisserie, another San Diego restaurant, which opened its doors in 1993, in La Jolla. The concept behind the restaurant, run by Matt and Jackie Rimel, is simple: they only use all natural, healthy, ingredients, which are locally grown. All their foods are cooked over oak, which comes from their local ranch, and the original store is now a bustling business of four stores, including the one here at the ballpark. The Mahi Mahi tacos come as a pair, on fresh corn tortillas, salsa, a spicy spread, cabbage, and a green chili garlic sauce, topped with an insane amount of Mahi Mahi.

Nicole Tries a Fish Taco
Kevin, Enjoying Lunch
Fish tacos are native to Southern California, and a delicacy that is savored, here in San Diego. There was more than enough fish, but that was enhanced, not overpowered, by all of the other ingredients. I was genuinely surprised by how big the portions were and how small the price was, especially at a ballpark, but the portions didn't last long. Ryan, Kevin, Nicole, and I went to town on this amazing dish, devouring it and enjoying every moment.

Tri Tip Sandwich
Our next culinary dish was the Tri Tip Sandwich, which we purchased from the Seaside Market, out by the right field line. This sandwich is a San Diego delicacy, which I had been told is a must-have, sometime during the trip. Made from the bottom sirloin sub-primal cut of beef, which is rich and flavorful while also being lower in fat content than the rest of the steak. The meat is smoked, slathered in barbecue sauce, and then served on a warm garlic roll. You can choose to have a cheese dipping sauce, though we did not as the man behind the counter says that's sacrilege to a true San Diegoan.

With our first bite I could tell why this was a favorite; the meat was tender with a full, rich, smoky flavor, which was only enhanced by the garlic roll. It was served with kettle-fried chips, but no one was paying much attention to those. Both Ryan and Kevin attacked their portions as if they hadn't had the fish tacos, or anything else in the last three days for that matter.

"Whaddya think?" I asked.

"Can't talk, eating delicious food, leave a message and I'll get back to you when I awake from my food coma," Ryan said with a full mouth.

I laughed and looked at Nicole, eyeing her uneaten half.

"Not on your life, buddy-boy," she said, picking up her sammich and digging in.

Only Brendan was willing to share, and I am not sure whether it was because he felt bad, or was full and couldn't eat any more. Beggars can't be choosers, and I wasn't really interested in differentiating, so I gratefully accepted what he was offering and enjoyed it.

Scale Model of the U.S.S. Reagan
After lunch the boys got a closer look at the scale model of the U.S.S. Reagan, as well as the other military artifacts hanging on the walls of the picnic area. It was quite an impressive collection of names of those MLB players who had served, led, of course, by Ted Williams and Jerry Coleman. We spent a while checking everything out before heading to our seats, as the game was about an hour from starting, but we wanted to go soak up the sun, take in the views from our seats (upstairs, behind home plate), and snap a few pictures of the whole ballpark.

View From BEHIND The Park
When we got to our section, the view BEHIND the ballpark was spectacular. It was a view of the bay, and the residential area/neighborhood close by. I couldn't believe how amazing every aspect of this ballpark was, and how much thought had gone into the planning of everything.

1984 N.L. Champion Ball
Right in front of our section were to replica World Series balls, one from each time the Padres had made it to the Series, 1984 and 1998, which had signatures from all the members of those teams on them. I wondered why they were placed here, as it would seem that they should have been somewhere on the lower concourse, maybe near the Home Plate Entrance, and I hadn't really remembered seeing anything like that, anywhere.

Starting Lineup

Jim Kulhawy
Nicole Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Brendan Kulhawy
Kevin Johnston
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo

View From Our Seats
As we came through the tunnel and saw the ballpark from above, for the first time, it literally took my breath away. It was one thing to see it from field level, but from this perspective it was truly gorgeous. The field of play, itself, was a sight to behold, but it was more than just that. It was the way the "Park in the Park" sprawled out behind the outfield walls, with the city skyline behind that; it was the giant video board over the left field stands and the Western Metal Supply Co. building, with its three terraces and rooftop lounge area, built into the park. Even the light stantions and the flagpole caught your eye, and held your gaze. There wasn't a wasted space in this picture; everything was perfect, right down to the sunshine and the temperature, for which San Diego is famous. In fact, aesthetically, this was one of the most beautiful ballparks, and surrounding areas, I had seen in all our trips.

We quickly found our seats, and the cameras came out. No one wanted to miss a picture, and everyone had a different shot they wanted to take.

"OH MY GOD, HOW DID WE MISS THAT?" Nicole wanted to know, pointing to right field.

"What did we miss?" I asked, confused.

"THAT," she, again, pointed out.

Quicksilver Surf Bar
I grabbed my camera and set up the telephoto, to get a closer look at what she was so excited about. It didn't take long to find the source of her excitement. Out beyond the right field wall I spotted the Quicksilver San Diego Beach Bar. This little oasis came complete with a sand floor, high-top tables, and a bevy of surf boards along the back wall, some decorated with the likeness of retired Padres players. This would have been the perfect place to grab a drink before the game, but, somehow, we had missed seeing this and it was too close to game time to go running down, now.

The Swinging Friar
As I looked around the ballpark, I noticed the Padres mascot, the Swinging Friar, entertaining folks along the third base line. The Friar has been linked to the team since 1958, when the Pads were a Pacific Coast League team. Based on the Franciscan monks who founded the city, in the 18th Century, the character is short and chubby, with the traditional haircut, and dressed in the cloak and sandals, with the rope around the waist of a traditional friar, though on Sundays he wears a camouflage robe, to honor the military personnel of San Diego. A lot of folks mistake the famous San Diego Chicken as the Padres mascot, and though he does make the occasional appearance he has never been the official mascot of any San Diego franchise.

Play Ball!
All of a sudden we heard an announcer tell us it was time to get the game started, and to do so we all needed to turn our attention to the giant video board, in left field. On the screen we saw a father and son, standing in front of a bell, located on the Western Metal Supply Co. building. Apparently, a different fan gets to ring the bell and say "Play Ball" before each game, and today was no different.

"I wish we could have done that," Brendan said to me, as the son called for the game to begin, and the father rang the bell.

"That would have been fun, but we've done some pretty cool stuff, and there's a lot more coming," I reminded him.

With that, it was time to begin the game.

The Game

First Pitch

We all settled in, relaxing and ready to enjoy a fun afternoon. The sun was warm and the weather was perfect, it was another beautiful San Diego day and we were going to sit back and watch baseball. We wanted the Pads to win, but didn't hold out much hope. The team was 46-61, but as Tony pointed out, the Brewers, at 49-57, weren't any better. All in all, we were looking for a fun game and hoping to be entertained. We got our wish.

Edwin Jackson was toeing the rubber for San Diego, and he came into the game with a record of 1-2, while the Brewers would send Junior Garcia, who sported a record of 7-2, to the mound. Needless to say it wasn't looking good for the home team, but we were going to root hard for San Diego (one of our rules is that we always root for the home team, unless the home team is the Red Sox), and have a blast, regardless of the outcome.

Jackson came out strong, setting the Brewers down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, which made the hometown fans happy as the Pads came up to bat.

The Padres got the crowd on its feet right away, as Travis Jankowski led off the game with a double. The second batter in the lineup, Ryan Schimpf, struck out swinging, but Wil Myers came through with an infield single, moving Jankowski to third. With one out the Pads had runners on first and third, and the crowd solidly into the game. Yangervis Solarte then grounded into a fielder's choice, but Jankowski scored and San Diego took a 1-0 lead. This must have rattled Garcia, who walked the next two batters and then gave up a two-run single to Christian Bethancourt. It was quickly 3-0, Pads, and the fans were going nuts. Garcia got the final out, but we were excited and completely vested in the Padres at this point.

Jackson again set the Brew Crew down 1-2-3, in the bottom of the second, and though the Pads did nothing in the bottom half of the inning, the fans were up their feet yelling, screaming, and cheering for more action. They didn't have to wait long.

In the third, Jackson set Milwaukee down in order yet again, which got Brendan thinking about the "N Word."

Do you think we could possibly see a no-hitter?" he asked excitedly.

"Don't say that, you'll jinx him," Ryan chimed in, quickly.

"That would be great," I told him, "but I think it's a little early to start talking like that."

The Pads added another run, on back-to-back doubles, to start their half of the third, which only made us, and the rest of the crowd, wild with excitement. They did put two more on, but consecutive strikeouts stranded the runners, and ended the third with the score 4-0, good guys.

Ryan Braun got the first Brewers hit, a single, in the fourth inning, but he was quickly stranded when the next batter struck out to end the inning. Neither team did much of anything for the next few innings, though they both put runners on, until the Pads extended the lead, in the bottom of the sixth.

Time For Ice Cream
The inning started out innocently enough, when Jose Rondon popped out, but the pitcher who had come in to relieve Garcia, Jhan Marinez, committed the cardinal sin when he walked the pitcher. The lead-off hitter, Jankowski, singled Jackson to third, but things were still under control when Schimpf flied to left for the second out of the inning. That didn't last long, as Jankowski stole second and Wil Meyers singled, scoring them both. The next batter, Solarte, then homered, and before you could blink the Pads had put four runs on the board, upped the score to 8-0, and sent the fans into hysterics.

The Brewers again failed to score in the seventh, and while the boys were enjoying some ice cream the Padres blew the game wide open, in the bottom of the frame, scoring three more times and upping the score to 11-0. It started right away, with a lead-off homer from Jabari Blash, and continued with a single by Bethancourt, a double by Edwin Jackson, and another double by Schimpf. The inning ended with a Wil Myers strikeout, but we were too busy jumping up and down, yelling, and high-fiving, to notice.

The Scoreboard Says It All
The Brewers ruined the shutout, scoring three in the top of the eighth, on a double from Jonathan Villar, a single by Scooter Gennett, and a homer by Ryan Braun, to make it 11-3. This made us a little unhappy, but it was hard to be mad considering the Pads had an eight-run lead, and were winning the game unless an unreal collapse occurred.

The final run of the game came in the bottom of the eighth, when Solarte walked, was moved to second on a walk, and found himself on third after the next batter was hit by a pitch. He came around when Bethancourt grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and when Buddy Baumann set the Brewers down 1-2-3 in the ninth, the Padres came away with the 12-3 win, and sent us out of the park in a very good mood.

Post-Game Wrap-Up

Box Score

It had been a great day at the ballpark, wandering around, exploring every nook and cranny, eating some fantastic food, and seeing a Padres win, and it was only 3:45 as we walked out of the park and headed back towards the motel. Going back was a little more difficult than going to Petco, as we had to walk up some steep hills to reach the hotel. It's strange, but one doesn't think of hills when they think of San Diego, and while it's not what I have been told San Francisco is like, it was a hike none-the-less. 

When we got back to the motel we all retired to our rooms, to drop off our souvenirs, use the restroom, clean up, and just relax a little. Now when I say we "all" did this, I am not counting Brendan. He was now in hyperactive, impatient mode, as our next adventure was going to be an evening at the San Diego Zoo and he had been waiting for this throughout the whole trip.

Now for those of you who don't know, Brendan is my animal kid. He loves anything/everything animal-related (zoos, aquariums, nature preserves, etc.), and would be thrilled if this was a zoo and aquarium tour. Don't get me wrong; he loves baseball, as well as other sports, but not as much as he does his animals, which is why we HAD to make sure that while we were in San Diego he got to see the zoo and SeaWorld. Needless to say, he was excited and was bouncing off walls trying to get us out the door.

Tony and I went to get the van, which was still in the "mini" garage, as we had no desire to go through the machinations to move it unless it was absolutely necessary, while Nicole gathered the rest of the boys up for the ride over. We could have walked, as it was only about two miles, but no one wanted Brendan to spend time walking over, and back, that he could have spent in the zoo. It was also helpful, as we would be able to go out for dinner directly after finishing up at the zoo, but that wasn't the main concern. Brendan's happiness was.

At The Zoo

San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is located in San Diego's Balboa Park, opened its doors for the first time in 1916, so we were visiting for its 100th Anniversary. It boasts one of the largest memberships in the world, with over 250,000 household memberships and over 130,000 child memberships, which accounts for half-a-million people. It is home to over 3,700 animals, from 650 different species and subspecies, on 100 acres of land. The zoo was one of the first, worldwide, to promote the idea of open-air, cage-less exhibits that recreate the animal's natural habitat. The zoo is so large there are guided bus tours, as well as an overhead gondola ride; called the Skyfari. 

"Welcome to the Zoo"
The minute we walked in Brendan raced ahead of all of us, turned around, and announced:


We all laughed as he grabbed a map and became our tour guide, even though he had never been here before. The light in his eyes, and the smile on his face, was infectious, as he led us thorough the exhibits around the zoo. We walked through the Monkey Trail and Forrest Tale exhibits, where he pointed out the different animals from the rain forests of Asia and Africa, such as the monkeys, the pygmy hippos, crocodiles, tortoises, hissing cockroaches and many other species of animals indigenous to these areas.

Tiger, Looking For Dinner
Our next stop was the Urban Jungle exhibit, where we got to see rhinos, wild hogs, cheetahs, giraffes, gazelles, and red kangaroos. One of my favorite exhibits was the Tiger River section, where we got up and close with some Malayan Tigers, who were out and about, looking for dinner. I had given Brendan one of the cameras, as he also loves to take pictures, and he was having a ball with it, taking pictures of anything and everything he could. It was a joy to see him so interactive and happy; as we wandered from exhibit to exhibit, all over the zoo. 

Bren's Fave
Elephant Odyssey
As we walked, I knew exactly where we were headed. Brendan's favorite animal of all time is the elephant, and even without a map I had no doubt that was next on his list. This exhibit, named Elephant Odyssey, is at the heart of the San Diego Zoo, and it's massive. Checking in at 2.5 acres (which is more than four times larger than the zoo's previous elephant area), this exhibit houses four elephants (two African and two Asian), as well as fossilized remains of ancient animals indigenous to the San Diego area (mammoth, saber-toothed cats, giant sloths, American lions, and eagles).

Sleepy Lion
Elephant Odyssey not only holds elephants, but other animals as well. While they all do not share the same space, for understandable reasons, they are close in proximity and habitats. Here you will see lions, jaguars, llamas, wild horses, capybaras, burros, rattlesnakes, tapirs, tarantulas, many species of bugs, camels, frogs, and turtles, but we were only interested in one thing...the elephants.

Brendan was in his glory, so we just sat back and let him alone, to roam through the exhibit with his camera. He got some fabulous pictures of the elephants, from both up close and farther away, and led me around the exhibit explaining all about the history of these majestic animals. We even got to watch one eat its dinner, while another scratched his back on a tree inside the enclosure. Occasionally one would come close to the fence, unafraid of the people reaching out. We spent, easily, 45 minutes here before moving on, but there was a lot more to see and we wanted to do so before it got dark.

Polar Bears, With a Polar Bear
Our next stop was the Polar Bear Plunge, where we were able to see not only the three bears, but other specials such as reindeer, arctic foxes, caribou, and others. We got to see the bears take a dip in their 130,000 gallon pool, as well as take pictures with a polar bear statue, and a walrus habitat. All in all, the kids were having a blast, and Brendan was giddy with happiness. This was turning out to be the perfect day, and there was still a lot left to do and see, but the boys were starting to get hungry.

"What are we doing for dinner?" Nick wanted to know.

"I hadn't really thought about it. Are you guys hungry?" I asked them.

"Yeah, we haven't had anything to eat since the ice cream, in the seventh inning," Kevin reminded me.

"I'm starved," Ryan informed us.

"You don't count, you're always hungry," Tony told him.

"We're not leaving now, are we?" Brendan asked, growing concerned.

"No," Nik assured him. "We'll go when the zoo closes, but we do need to think about where to eat."

"What do you think about authentic Mexican, in the Old Town section," Tony suggested.

"That sounds great," I told him. "But where?"

"We'll look some places up, as we walk to the next exhibit," Nicole and Tony said.

After scouring the Internet, researching reviews, and reading menus, we came away more confused than ever. Overhearing our dilemma, a woman next to us suggested Casa Guadalajara. She told us she and her husband had lived here for 30 years, and this was the best, most authentic Mexican restaurant in the area. We looked it up and found out it was only 20 minutes from the zoo, and when a local resident offers a recommendation like that, we had to try it. We thanked her, from the bottom of our stomachs, and, much to Brendan's happiness, kept moving along, throughout the zoo. 

All of a sudden everyone came to the same conclusion; we were exhausted. We had been walking all day and decided it was time to take the tour bus so we could see a bit more before darkness fell and we'd have to head out. So we hopped one of the double-deckers and let the driver give us a guided tour, while we sat upstairs and relaxed. This turned out to be a great idea, as it was an on-and-off bus, and there were others we could catch all over the park. 

The sun was starting to set, as we hopped on a bus to bring us back to the main entrance. Brendan, of course, was in no hurry to leave, and the boys wanted to know if we could take the Skyfari, which was one of the stops on our route. After thinking it over for about .5 seconds we decided it would be great to see the zoo, and Balboa Park, from the air, so we hopped off the bus and onto the gondola ride.

This ride is a MUST, when visiting the San Diego Zoo. It's not long, maybe 10-15 minutes total, but well worth it. I thought the zoo was amazing from the ground, but seeing it from above puts it in a whole new dimension. You can see the different tree and plant life, as well as some animals, from a different perspective than on the ground. Four people can fit into each gondola car, and while the lines may look long, it's always moving, so the wait is never very long. 

Cabrillo Bridge
California Tower
From above you not only get to take in the sights of the zoo, but Balboa Park, in which the zoo is located, as well. This amazing park houses museums, performing arts centers, gardens, shopping locals, and places to stop for food and beverage. Some of its main attractions are the California Tower, the Cabrillo Bridge, the world-famous carousel, the Mineral and Gem Society, the Photographic Arts Building, and the Spanish Village Arts Center, a few of which can be seen from above. The park sits on 1200 acres of land, has been open to the public since the 1880s, and is a major attraction in the city of San Diego. Millions of people enjoy the park every year, and although we didn't get to spend time in it that is on the agenda the next time we visit San Diego.

Better Than Mouse Ears, Minnie
The final zoo-stop of the night was "Main Street," where the employees put on a must-see parade to end the evening. We got there a little early, so we visited the gift shop where we grabbed quite a few San Diego Zoo souvenirs. We made sure Brendan got anything and everything he wanted (within reason), as he wasn't one who asked for anything at the baseball stadiums. He was most certainly a happy kid, and gladly helped empty our wallets in the shops.

After Bren was loaded up with trinkets, we staked out the perfect spot to sit and watch the parade. We managed to grab a front-row picnic table at the mid-point of Main Street, and sat down to watch the festivities commence. The parade took about 30 minutes and was filled with singing, dancing, acrobats, animals, stilt-dancers, and lots of music. It was well worth staying and I'll do it again, the next time we get to the San Diego Zoo. All in all, this was an amazing experience and Brendan might have been the happiest kid I had ever seen.

"Thanks for a great day," he said, as he went from Nicole to me, hugging us tightly.

It's moments like these that you live for, as a parent, and I knew he'd remember this experience for the rest of his life. This is what I imagined Disney was like, if you enjoyed that genre, and this was, most certainly, Brendan's Disney World.

Ahora Comemos

Casa Guadalajara

By now everyone was starving, and we were all excited to have some dinner at an authentic Mexican restaurant in San Diego's Old Town. Tony plugged the address into the GPS and off we went, in search of Casa Guadalajara. 

Dining Room
Antique Bar
Located at the corner of Juan and Taylor Streets (4105 Taylor Street), with its beautiful mission-style architecture, sits Casa Guadalajara. This beautiful restaurant is decorated in the colors and styles of old Mexico, and boasts a large outdoor courtyard, complete with running fountains, where guests can dine al-fresco, as well as a large dining room, or a private garden room to choose from. The decor that adorns the walls is authentic-made Mexican art, which seems to transport you back in time to a scene from the Old West. There is a large oak bar, also festively decorated, where you can order the famous margaritas, or possibly a homemade sangria, or Mexican beer. It truly was an amazing-looking place, and if the food was as authentic as the style, we'd be eating like "Reys."

Old Mexico, in San Diego
Once we were seated, our waiter, Juan (I kid you not), brought over a bowl of freshly-made chips, salsa, and guacamole, which the boys were diving into before they even hit the table. Juan laughed and told us he'd be right back with more, this time for the adults, as well as our drinks. Nicole and I had iced tea, but Tony ordered a sangria, and when we saw the size of the glass (it was more like a pitcher), we were awestruck. Of course, he offered to share, and we both graciously accepted his offer. My only thought after taking the first sip was, "OH MY GOD!" I am not a wine guy, but I do like sangria every now and then, and this was amazing. The red wine was rich and flavorful with a copious amount of fruit, which only enhanced the taste and made this one of the best glasses of sangria I had ever had. I also, finally, got some of the chips, salsa, and guacamole, and those blew me away, as well. The chips were warm, crispy, and lightly-salted, while the fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, and lime juice in the salsa made my mouth water while eating it. The guacamole was the best I have ever eaten, handmade at our table-side. Just these few small appetizers, assured me dinner was going to be something special.

Nom, Nom, Nom
I decided to go with the Guadalajara Chimichanga, which is a large flour tortilla filled with either chicken,
beef or picadillo (I chose beef), rice, and beans, deep-fried. It is topped with salsa roja, cheese, and sour cream, and served with rice and beans. I can put down a good meal with the best of them, but I was certainly not prepared for the amount of food that came on my plate when it was served. There was no view of the ceramic plate, as it was completely covered with food, but I was determined to finish everything set before me. 

I couldn't believe the flavor, which exploded upon first bite. The beef was tender, with a slight hint of salt and lime, and the tortilla had a deep corn flavor, which was accentuated by the melted cheese on top. When a little bit of sour cream was added, it took things to a new level. The beans were re-fried and covered with cheese, which is a way I had never had them before, but in my opinion everything's better with cheese, so I wolfed those down quickly. The Spanish-style rice had a bold taste to it, but I decided to mix the beans and cheese with the rice, and create my own new flavors, which I greatly enjoyed. 

It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't heard a peep out of anyone in quite a while, and when I looked down the table everyone was buried in the meals. I knew they were all enjoying because they weren't asking to try anyone else's, so I didn't ask, either. By the time we all finished no one could move, and not another bite could be had by anyone. Even Nicole had finished her whole meal, which is saying a lot, and nothing was going to be coming back with us. Juan asked if we wanted dessert, but we all just laughed, asked for the check, and waddled out of the restaurant, fat and happy. 

By the time we got back to the motel we had three sleepy boys, and one, Nick, who was already asleep. We luckily found a spot on the parking deck, and quickly headed to the rooms, and bed. It's my opinion that we were all in a walking food coma, and sleep was going to come quickly when we got into bed. I hit that nail right on the head, as the three boys were down for the count 15 minutes after getting into the room, while Nicole and I weren't that far behind. It had been a long, fun-filled, busy day, and tomorrow was going to be even longer.

August 4: SeaWorld and the Desert


We all got to sleep in the next morning, which for us meant until 8 a.m. This was another big day for Brendan, as we were going to SeaWorld and that was another cause for him to be excited. As I said before, the only thing as exciting as a zoo, for Brendan, is an aquarium, and Sea World was an aquarium on steroids.

This was going to be our last day in San Diego; we were leaving for Arizona as soon as we were done at SeaWorld, so we had to make sure everything was packed and put in the van before we left. Ryan, Kevin and I hauled all the suitcases downstairs, as Nicole and Brendan went through the room, one last time, to make sure nothing was left behind. Tony and Nick took care of their room, and within 20 minutes we were all in the van, for the 15-minute ride to Brendan's water world.

SeaWorld is a chain of marine mammal parks, located in Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California. The parks feature shows starring killer whales, sea lions, and dolphins, as well as an assortment of other marine animals, plus thrill rides such as roller coasters and splash down rides. The parks were originally owned by Busch Entertainment Corp. (a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch), but were sold to the Blackstone Group in 2009. Over the years the animal collections have come under fire, publicly, especially after a trainer was killed during a killer whale show, in Orlando. This led the company to announce it was phasing out its killer whale shows, and ending the in-house breeding program of these marine animals. 

SeaWorld also operates an animal rescue and rehabilitation program, cooperating with the Department of the Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service, and various state agencies. This program was developed to comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973), and has helped rescue more than 29,000 animals to date. 

As we walked into the park we were given an overview by an employee of SeaWorld. The San Diego location was the first of the SeaWorlds, opening in 1964 and featuring shows with dolphins, killer whales (Shamu being the most famous), sea lions, otters, and other marine animals. In addition to the animal shows, SeaWorld also has rides, such as Shipwreck Rapids (a rafting ride), Manta (a roller coaster), and Journey to Atlantis, which combines the characteristics of a log flume and a roller coaster. That one intrigued all of us, and we made sure to mark its location on our map for later.

Shamu Stadium
Our first stop of the day was Shamu Stadium, to see the killer whale show, and we made it just in time. The stadium had filled up quickly, so we didn't get the seating we wanted (down in front, and in the splash zone), but we were pretty close none-the-less. The killer whale shows have been a SeaWorld staple for years, starting with Shamu, whom the stadium was named after in 1965. Shamu was the first capture of a live orca, and was a fan favorite until her retirement, in 1971. 

That's a Large Mammal 
For the next 30-45 minutes we watched the whales swim with their trainers, jump, waive, splash folks with their tails, and perform all sorts of creative tricks, while the trainers worked with them. They were very entertaining, and kept a close eye on Brendan watching them, as well. He really was in his glory, as excited here, today, as he had been the previous evening at the zoo. He had a big smile on his face, and was enthralled with what was going on before him. I noticed Nicole was watching him as well, and she, too, had a smile on her face as she watched him having so much fun. I was glad we got here this year, as this was going to be the last year of the killer whale shows, and Brendan was able to get to see it, once.

After the killer whales were finished there was a 30-minute break before the dolphins and the pilot whale show began. A lot of people decided not to stay, so we moved our seats and found a section in the front row where we were sure to get wet, though none of us could anticipate HOW wet that would be.

Ready to Jump
Serious Hang Time
The dolphins were the first out into the tank, swimming with their
trainers (unlike the killer whales). They did synchronized swimming, forwards and backwards, high jumps, came to the edges of the tank to greet the fans, and balanced on their tails while swimming backwards. Their favorite trick, however, was to swim to a spot in the tank and then splash the crowd with copious amounts of water by slapping their tails. We couldn't wait for them to come and try to splash us...until they did. We got drenched, and I do mean drenched. We were soaked from head to toe, but we loved every minute of it. All three boys were having a blast, and were super-excited to have been "interactive."

More Than a Little Wet
The final marine animals into the tank were the pilot whales, who did a lot of the same tricks as the dolphins, but swam even closer to the crowd than the dolphins did, and got the crowd even we soon found out. Apparently, Brendan caught the eye of a trainer, as he was having so much fun during the shows, and she instructed a pair of pilot whales to swim directly to us, get up on their tails and "waive" to us, before sitting directly in front of us and splash us, continuously, for about 45 seconds to a minute. Nicole, holding the camera, ran away, as fast as possible, but the rest of us stayed and took our "shower" in the playful way that it was meant. By the time they were done we were so wet we might as well have been in the tank with them, but no one cared, as we were having a blast.

As the show ended the trainer came over and told us how good we took the soaking. We thanked her for making us a part of the show, and she posed for a picture with us as Nicole took the shot, laughing the whole time.

Shipwreck Rapids
Next, the boys wanted to hit Shipwreck Rapids. We all managed to pile into a family-sized raft and floated down a "river," spinning in circles and putting someone under flowing water at any given time. The ride also floated past water jets, which could soak you, as well as bounced down rapids, which would splash up and get you wet, as well.

By the time we were done with Shipwreck Rapids, Brendan was the most wet. He had managed to be the one who got hit with the majority of the jets, ended up under the most waterfalls, and got the worst of the rapid splashing. The biggest problem was that he had been wearing sneakers which were now soaked through and unwearable, so we stopped into the gift shop and picked him up a pair of flip-flops, which he named Sham-Flops, after Shamu.

Turtle Reef
Sharks Above Us
Brendan decided we were in need of seeing Turtle Reef, which is the walk-through aquarium where you can see all kinds of marine life, including sharks. We are members of Adventure Aquarium, in New Jersey, and it is another of Brendan's happy places, so any time he has the opportunity to see another he insists. It was a cute aquarium, about 10 minutes to walk through, and the highlight is the sharks, of which there are plenty. The main attraction is the shark tunnel, where the patrons walk below the sharks swimming above them. It's a little disconcerting to see a shark directly above you, as you walk through the tunnel, but it was enjoyable.
Sea Lion Show

We decided to hit one more show for the day. This one was called Sea Lions Live and starred Clyde and Seamore, as well as a playful otter who stole the show. The premise of the show was a mystery, with the sea lions helping their trainers to follow the clues, to determine who the guilty party was. (It was the otter) The show was funny and cute, lasted for about 30 minutes, and kept everyone entertained. There were laughs and smiles from every one of us.

View of the Bay

I will admit to being distracted during the show by the view behind the facility, which was the bay, and made for a fantastic view. I made sure to snap a shot of the bay, by itself, as well as one with the show facility in the foreground. It definitely caught my eye, and, once again, provided me with an idea of how beautiful San Diego was.

After the show we looked at the time, and discovered it was getting late. We weren't planning on staying here all day, but we were having such a great time we lost all track of the day. We had a six-hour ride ahead of us, without traffic, and decided it was time to start heading to the exit, but got detoured along the way.

"Hey, you guys said we could go on the Journey to Atlantis," Brendan reminded us.

"You're right," I told him. "Let's head that way."

"Really?" he asked, surprised. "Don't we have to get going?"

"Yes, but we said we go on that ride, so let's go on it." I replied. "You guys wanted to do it, and I am not rushing you out of here, when you're having fun, to sit in the van."

I did want to get on the road, but we didn't want to disappoint the kids and there really was no hurry to sit in a car. We were having a great time, and I didn't want there to be any regrets.

Journey To Atlantis
By the time we got to Journey to Atlantis, I could see we made the right choice. This ride was a combination log flume and roller coaster, based on the story of the lost underwater city of Atlantis, and is an exploration of that city. The boat you ride in floats out of its station, and you ride into a temple, where it will be taken on a roller coaster track up and around the city. Then after a wild ride the boat will enter a dark chamber, where an elevator-like mechanism will lift it, at high speeds, to the top of a flume track, where the boat will bounce around until it comes to a giant drop, which plunges it into the wading pool below, and sends a huge splash up, and back, onto the riders, and those standing and watching the ride. The line was long, but this was going to be worth it. 

The ride was phenomenal; we had a blast, and everyone got wet. The most humorous moment, however, came when the boat flowed into the dark chamber and the door closed behind us. No one knew what was coming next, because you can't see, from the outside, once the doors close. When that happened, Tony wasn't so thrilled.

"What's going on?" he wanted to know.

We all laughed.

"Why are the doors closing?"

We laughed again.

"Why are there no lights?' He asked.

A loud CLANK, was his only answer. All of a sudden the boat was whisked upwards, in the dark, much to his unhappiness.


This just made everyone laugh harder, and when Brendan said "Stop, or I might wet myself," it just made us all laugh harder, still.

Bring It On
The splashdown was epic, and even though we were soaked Ryan and I decided we were going to stand right in the kill zone, as soon as we got off the ride. Nicole tried to dissuade us, but to no avail. We wandered out and watched the next boat come to the top of the hill, and then stood there as it threw a wall of water at us, drenching each of us to the bone. If that wasn't enough, we did it two more times, before agreeing to leave.

As we got back to the main entrance, we decided to grab a few souvenirs. I found the boys a Shamu t-shirt, and Nicole got them a thermal SeaWorld cup as well. Tony and I, in need of an adult beverage grabbed an Angry Orchard cider and headed over to a pool filled with little fish, to drink up.

Doctor Fishing, With Ryan

"What the hell are all these people doing?" I asked Nic, as I saw they were dangling into the fish pool.

"Those are known as doctor fish," Nicole told me. The actually eat the dead skin off you."

"Really?" Tony asked, making a face.

"Yeah, they've been used in spas for manicures and pedicures. It helps to soften the skin on your hands and feet" she replied. "You should try it."

"Jimmy, what do you..." he started asking, only to look over and see Ryan and me dangling our arms in the water.

"I could lay naked in here," I laughed.

"Please don't," Nicole shot back.

"NO!" I heard Tony, Kevin, Nick, and Brendan say, at the same time as Nicole.

"You guys are no fun," I told them.

No one laughed.

Finally it was time to go. We had a six-hour ride, and it was already after 5 p.m., so we headed out to the van, changed out of our wet clothing, and started our trek across the desert. I climbed into the driver's seat, adjusted the mirror, and pulled out onto the highway.

"What did you think, Bren?" I asked.

"That was the most amazing two days ever," he told me. "The San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld were the best part of this trip," he smiled, putting his head back and closing his eyes.

"Petco Park was pretty amazing, as well," Ryan chimed in.

Don't forget the food at the restaurant, last night," Kevin added.

I smiled to myself, looked in the mirror again, and saw Brendan was fast asleep.

"Yeah, buddy," I thought. "It has been a great two days, and there's more to come."

Next Stop
Saturday, August 5, 2016
Phoenix, Arizona
Chase Field
Milwaukee Brewers vs Arizona Diamondbacks