Petco Park rocks, even in a loss

Petco Park

It was loud, it was fun and it was what Padres baseball was meant to be when Petco Park was an etching on a cocktail napkin. The Padres said “hello” to San Diego on Thursday and what took you so long?

After an offseason like no other, a spring training that teased the Friar faithful and a dramatic, opening series in Los Angeles, the Padres checked in at their downtown digs. And what a blast it was in 12 innings of nail-biting baseball.

Yep, the dreaded Giants won, 1-0, proving again they aren’t weighed down by yet another world champion ring.

There were close calls, stare downs, tight pitches, strategic moves, great plays, key errors and it was all shown on a new vivid and plus-sized video board.

“It was fun today,” starter Ian Kennedy said. All the while thousands of San Diegans playing hooky absorbed it like a sponge does water.

“Your home opener is special,” manager Bud Black said. “There’s that early-season buzz….everything is new and fresh and it’s exciting for all of us. It’s cool.”

What’s hip is the vibe at Petco, there place where now, the patrons can’t wait to go.

“It’s real and you can feel it,” Black said. “It’s great for the city, organization, fans and players.”

It was a packed house, a sell out and the first of many upbeat outings in the ol’ ball yard hard by Gaslamp Quarter. Give no quarter, was what the Padres did in a tight, old-school baseball game where runs were tougher to find than extra tickets.

Not many people left early, despite a game-clocking more than four hours. But where could they go to match the enthusiasm which flowed out of Petco like a tipsy reveler losing beer from a full cup?

“The crowd was really into it,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who once worked Petco’s home side. “It was a good atmosphere.”

Among the game’s best vignettes was when new reliever Craig Kimbrel and Giants center fielder Angel Pagan went macho. Pagan got into a spirited discussion with catcher Derek Norris and it was clear there weren’t they exchanging cell numbers. Finally plate umpire Greg Gibson got between them, like a school teacher breaking up a playground skirmish. It got so heated that Gibson, who got his share of double-takes for his work, warned both benches to tap the brakes.

Once calm visited, Kimbrel cranked it up again. He buzzed Pagan with a high and tight fastball not far from 100 mph. Message delivered, even if Pagan wasn’t plucked. Pagan answered with a triple, but when Kimbrel retired the side it came with a demonstrative fist pump and him glaring into the Giants dugout.

But all those yells went for naught with the Padres leaving the go-ahead run on third in the ninth and 10th innings. But everyone wearing all the Padres’ colors were in full throat.

“You feel the support,” said Black, who got the heave-ho, along with Will Venable, by Gibson. “It makes you feel better. How much it will help, I don’t know.”

It was the Giants’ batters needing a hand against the Padres’ pitchers. Six of them trotted to the mound and the Giants had but six hits to show for it despite three innings of bonus baseball.
But what the Padres’ locker room revealed, post game, was a gimpy Kennedy. He was pulled after 33 pitches, a balky left hamstring ending his outing early.

“I’ve never had this before,” said Kennedy, who could be headed to the disabled list. Bummer.

But put Petco on your must-see list, as it is nothing like before.

“It all started with the scoreboard,” Kennedy said. Yep, the big screen is just that, dominating the San Diego skyline despite the skyscrapers behind it.

Again, the Padres dropped an opener after losing the season-opener to the Dodgers. But in falling on Thursday, they did so with their chin up and shoulders back.

Maybe “Beat S.F” isn’t far behind, considering the intensity showed, despite the calendar shouting April.

“We try to play each game all out,” Bochy said. “Tonight, both teams did that.” Yes they did.

When done before a gathering which was as bright and loud as the bunting covering the ballpark, it’s all good. Save the final score.

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