The Park at the Park

Each time I visit San Diego, I find something else to fall in love with.  Last year, I wrote about the Martin Luther King walk.  This trip, it’s Petco Park.

Petco was my first love in San Diego. I still get emotional when I try to describe the way I felt on my first visit two years ago. Retired players’ numbers aren’t painted on the side walls, as they are at most ballparks. Here they’re three-dimensional objects – lit from within – and at night they glow amid the lights of the downtown skyscrapers so the city itself becomes part of the ballpark and the ballpark part of the city.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for inclusivity.

Well, I’m back in San Diego and walking past Petco a couple of nights ago I saw a strange signboard: “The Park at the Park is Open.”

In New York, “the Park at the Park” would be some sort of overpriced garage, right?  Well, in San Diego it’s an actual amenity nestled behind left field. If you miss your Padres while they’re on the road, head to the Park at the Park to watch the out-of-town game on a big screen TV with fellow fans while lolling on a grassy hill. Or play a couple of innings on the Little League-size field, presided over by a bronze statue of “Mr. Padre,” the great Tony Gwynn.

In plenty of other markets, you’d be paying a hefty admission fee for a space like that. And there’d be concessionaires trying to sell you $10 hotdogs. In San Diego, it’s free. It feels like the team’s gift to the city. And there’s nobody selling anything. It’s just a lovely space.

I’m a big fan of any kind of art – whether it’s architecture or writing – that draws you in, invites you to participate in an experience. Petco Park does that better than any other ballpark I’ve seen.

The Padres are back in town tomorrow. Who cares that they’re terrible this year? I can’t wait to catch a game.

Public Speaking

A lovely walking path follows the curves of the harbor across the street from San Diego’s convention center.  The path offers something for just about everyone: art (an arresting silver sculpture), nature (a small dog park with the prettiest dog-level drinking fountain I’ve ever seen), a reflecting pool (surrounding yet more art).  But the most interesting feature to me were the square granite plaques spaced every few feet along the path, with quotations engraved on them.

Now, San Diego is not the only city to do this: The public spaces in Manhattan’s Battery Park City feature passages by Walt Whitman and Frank O’Hara, celebrating what one web site calls “the exhilarating spirit of New York City.”   But those passages are actually about New York City.  The quotations in San Diego’s park were not created for or about San Diego; the man who wrote the words never lived there.

From the written word to the art inspired by it, the entire park – its official name is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade – celebrates the spirit and the vision of this great leader.  And the fact that San Diego has placed this tribute in such a prominent location, across the street from its Convention Center, where tens of thousands of tourists encounter it every day, gives even casual visitors a real sense of the culture and priorities of this beautiful city.

I can’t wait to go back.