I thought there would be grass.
This was baseball, after all, and even though it was February, it never occurred to me that the green fields of San Diego’s Petco Park would be replaced with mounds of…dirt. What I didn’t know was that on the weekend of our tour the park had been transformed into a monster truck racing event called Monster Jam. What seemed to be an endless amount of dirt had been brought in for the event, and it seeped into the air and crunched under our shoes, confusing the senses as to where we actually were.
As we waited by the entrance for the tour to start, I still didn’t have any idea that we wouldn’t be able to sit in the Padres’ dugout or see the view from home plate. We had invited friends who were visiting from out-of-town and love baseball as much as we do. I thought it was a perfect idea for a San Diego outing with them. And it was. It just wasn’t quite what we all had expected.
We were greeted by a friendly guide named Sara and began the tour in a long corridor of behind-the-scenes offices – including Guest Safety (the jail – yes, they really have one there) and Security (someone is keeping an eye on things 365 days a year) – and hundreds of miles of electrical wire. We walked through the visiting team’s locker room and toured the private Lexus Club, an exclusive bar and restaurant for roughly 200 high-paying season ticket holders. We peeked at a batting cage through a window of the Lexus Club (The batting cage we were supposed to see was locked). The experience reminded me of being backstage in a theater when a play is still in rehearsals and the sets are not quite finished. Everything was a little unkempt, a little not-quite-ready, a little impacted by the dirt outside.
On the field, we saw the park from the players’ view. The rows of blue seats, the grassy Park-in-the-Park, the oversized scoreboard – the third-largest video display in baseball – and the beautiful old red brick Western Metal Supply Company building. It was all there amid the dirt and the crashed cars. We squeezed past a folding chair to step into the visitor’s dugout. We listened to Sara’s commentary. But there was a huge brown elephant in the room, and it was hard to get beyond that.
The tour seemed to change course for all of us when we entered the Press Box, a clean and bright space with long rows of comfortable-looking chairs and curved desks. The wrap-around view from the desk-to-ceiling open windows offered a different perspective of the park. I think everyone would have been happy to have pulled up a chair and stayed there for a while.
We left the Press Box and headed to our last stop on the tour: The Western Metal Supply Company building, a 1909 historic landmark that was incorporated into the design of Petco. We took an elevator to the top floor to the Hall of Fame Bar & Grill, where Western Metal Supply’s original service elevator and slide for moving heavy items from one floor to another are displayed. On the terrace outside is a seating area with restaurant service called the Rail, where bar stools can be purchased to watch a game, offering a different vantage point of the park.
Our family has cheered on the Padres at Petco Park many times over the years – including the park’s Opening Day in 2004 – but this was my first behind-the-scenes look at the stadium. It would be easy to return for another tour after the season starts and the field is green again. But for our out-of-town friends, this was the time they had. Our little outing got me thinking about weekend trips and long vacations and how the experience at Petco Park was actually a metaphor for travel.
When you are traveling somewhere, that is the day you have, that is the time you have, that is the moment you have. And it’s a good idea to make the best of it. If you will be visiting Washington, D.C. this spring, the Capitol dome will still have scaffolding around it. If you will be passing through Paris on a Tuesday, the Louvre will be closed.
Knowing your limitations in advance gives you an edge for accepting disappointment. It allows you to create a back-up plan and sometimes flip-flop your days. It’s the surprises that are tricky. The best bet is never to assume anything. Even showing up at the baseball park, expecting to see grass.