Petco: Lessons Learned
As beautiful as the setting and architecture of Petco Park is, the ballpark is not without its faults. Like just about every ballpark built in the last 20 years, it could’ve benefited from a a few design changes and a better sense of scale. None of the criticisms I have are anything more than minor, but it’s something to think about when planning for a new A’s ballpark.
Its capacity of 42,691 is at least 2k too much for the market, though that’s easy to say in hindsight. The Padres eclipsed the 3 million mark only once in their 8-year history at Petco. Attendance per game has dipped below 30,000 in the last couple of years. If the team were to do it again they might have dropped the capacity to 40,000. There may be a solid argument to reduce the capacity to 37-38,000, but let’s be serious about this – when many of these parks were planned out a decade ago a capacity less than 40k would’ve been considered defeatist. PNC Park was the only park of that sara with a 38k capacity, and it made sense considering the Pirates’ place as a small-market, third tier team in a football town.
8 years is enough to establish Petco as the most pitcher-friendly in the majors. It was even worse when it first opened, when the right-center dimension was a fly ball-killing 411 feet. The only change was in bringing that fence in to 400 feet, which has had little effect. During Wednesday’s game I saw three balls that would’ve been out elsewhere that were caught on the warning track. There’s already talk of bringing in the fences again, though I expect that it’ll be another similar half-measure. To give hitters a chance, new fences will have to be drawn up for the entirety of lett field and right field. The corners can remain the same since they’re fair. The right field wall is around 382 feet in the power alleys, and the wall itself is 12 feet high. Both are much too large. If they Padres add four rows and lower the wall to 8-9 feet it’ll be a much more fair park. This can be done taking the notch of seats that juts out from the corner and even it out through the rest of the wall. The place is probably due to replace the incandescent scoreboard with a full color LED model like the video board to the left, so there’s an excuse to make the change. The four rows could come from cleaving the top rows from the second deck in RF. A similar treatment can be done in LF. Net effect: more fair ballpark, no change in capacity. While we’re at it, the top rows of third deck (grandstand) could also stand to be removed. Removing four rows would bring the capacity down to 40,000.
Even with those quibbles, Petco still has a great deal of positive attributes that I didn’t get to in the previous post:
- The front rows of the second deck (Toyota Terrace) are uneven from the infield to the outfield. It looks strange from afar. When you’re standing along the field level concourse it makes all the sense in the world. An extra 2-3 feet of vertical clearance opens up the viewing angle so that fans down the LF and RF lines can see the scoreboard across the way and more of the stadium. Standing fans along the infield are closer to the action so they don’t need such a treatment. Instead they get small scoreboards of their own and a host of HDTVs to check out replays, all tucked under the second deck.
- The Western Metal Supply building, which was to be demolished in the original plan, was preserved and integrated into the ballpark. It’s the perfect example of the burgeoning trend of party suites in ballparks, and a fantastic example of adaptive reuse.
- Suites are tucked under cantilevered upper decks, which are something of a mixed bag. From a practical standpoint, that placement reduces the load and allows for greater seating capacity in the second deck, and to a lesser degree, the lower deck. These are definitely not the closest to the field among new ballparks, though that aspect may not matter much to the consumers of suites. It’s not like there’s much local competition for premium seating as there is back in the Bay Area.
- The whole grandstand feels overbuilt, and that’s a show of strength. Massive trusses support the cantilevers and are confidence-inspiring. They also appears to be something of a tribute to the numerous large steel ships, including Navy vessels, in the nearby harbor.
- The towers which hold suites don’t seem to be as much of signature pieces as I thought they would be when they were initially unveiled. Perhaps this because they hold suites and not more publicly accessible areas. Maybe it’s because the towers don’t continue all the way down the stadium to grade. Whatever the case, they’re striking but at this point, mostly a visual affectation.
- There are still a lot of old standard definition CRT TVs scattered throughout. I suspect that a tech upgrade is due soon, with the scoreboards and TVs done in a package deal.
- Under the outfield seating decks are two sets of tributes. In right is the military tribute, including a scale model of the USS Midway. In left, behind the Western Metal Supply building, are tributes to the history of baseball in San Diego, and the history of the Gaslamp Quarter. The latter is whitewashed to a Disney-esque sheen, but it’s still informative. There are also large photos and quotes from past Padres, including some guy you may be familiar with.
If I have any say over it, someday Rickey will have a huge statue and a room in a museum dedicated to his exploits.