Original exterior and concourse design, superior sightlines, along with near perfect setting, create unmistakable feel, despite shortcomings in interior aesthetics
July 31st 2009: Premier Club
By Cole Shoemaker
Petco Park is the J.D Drew of ballparks.
People often form spirited arguments that much of his criticism is unfair, as he is actually a highly productive player in all aspects of the game. All things considered, he is a good, borderline great player overall. But ultimately, considering the hype and potential, he should have been a Hall of Fame player, a perennial all-star that shapes the sport. And he could have been with the right work ethic and demeanor. It’s really all about expectations.
I feel the same way about Petco Park. It has all the tools: incredible originality, a great location, a great atmosphere, great amenities, great sightlines, the best climate, beautiful landscaping, a never before seen gorgeous exterior, authentic interior elements rooted in context (mostly), and a solid concept to build around. It could have been up there with Camden, PNC, and AT&T in the consensus top 3.
Straight up: Petco Park should be the best park in baseball. The idea of removing the restaurants and other amenities away from the seating bowl, thus carving out an open air, canyon-like circulation concourse, is a welcome innovation. You’re basically splitting the ballpark up into a number of structures. Other concepts such as “neighborhood seating,” suite towers, and the park in the park are undoubtedly novel.
As a design concept, it’s the most original and ambitious of the era. Yes, more so than Camden and PNC.
But it doesn’t come together to provide the ideal experience.
The park in the park is a great idea, but where are the pink flowers and palm trees of San Diego? Where are the beautiful views? Where’s anything that says San Diego? Why did they build the ballpark around a brick warehouse, and then reframe it in sandstone? And what’s with the sandbox? What’s with the contrived notch? You’ll read the specifics later, but the outfield isn’t as visually unified as it could have been. As a general theme, the ballpark is too disjointed.
Or maybe it’s that there are one too many instances where functionality is sacrificed for aesthetics. Yes, the design of the concourse is visually gorgeous, with cascading gardens and greenery adorning various structures, but it doesn’t help that the concourse itself is not continuous and difficult to navigate. The towers in the upper deck and the warehouse look nice, but they obstruct some views.
Don’t get me wrong; Petco Park is still a great ballpark all things considered. Few teams have successfully built such an aesthetically beautiful structure so conducive to its setting and culture. And no one had the ambitious design vision we see in San Diego.
Its upper decks are impressively cantilevered and the seating geometry is unusually perfect, generally providing the best sightlines in the majors. Some of its amenities are spectacular, as the Toyota Terrace Level is now open to everyone. I was blown away by the sheer number of options that fans have in terms of restaurants/sit down areas. This is another one of those ballparks that would take multiple days to truly explore. And remember, Petco Park has truly rejuvenated the area and the local scene is now as strong as any in baseball, meaning it will always be seen as a success and a timeless ballpark in a community.
Its enduring assets clearly outweigh its miscues. But it could have been the best. And no park ever had that much potential. At the end of the day, its still top 5, so maybe it’s fairer to say Petco Park is the Dave Winfield of ballparks.NEXT - Setting