As you might imagine, the finale at Qualcomm was a bittersweet event. Although I’ve never been a great fan of the stadium (especially since the Chargers cut off the view of Mission Hills to accommodate the Super Bowl folks), I have many fond memories of the place and it is odd to think that I’ll never see a baseball game there again.
We arrived around 1:15, for a 2 PM start. The place was packed, and yet there were seats still available. The game was a microcosm of the season itself. The Padres had numerous opportunities throughout the afternoon and put themselves in position to win, but ultimately they squandered their chances and gave the game to the opposition.
Jake Peavy pitched well in spots, made one crucial mistake, and turned the ball over to what looked suspiciously like the inept bullpen from April and May. Xavier Nady hit the final homer of his rookie campaign. Deposited it in almost exactly the same spot as his first big-league bomb. Mark Loretta drilled a solo shot in his last at-bat of the year to break Roberto Alomar’s club record for hits in a season by a second baseman. Bruce Bochy got thrown out of the game arguing a very close call at first base. Trevor Hoffman, entering to AC/DC’s "Shook Me All Night Long" (not to the familiar "Hell’s Bells") worked a scoreless ninth. The Pads even managed to put the first two runners on in the ninth, before Gary Bennett struck out on a 3-2 pitch from Justin Speier to end the season. Bennett had a great at-bat, though, giving Speier more of a fight than I expected. As the game was a representation of the 2003 season, so Bennett’s at-bat was a representation of the game. He gave it all he possibly could, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.
After the game, the grounds crew were driven in by Marines from behind the right field fence. The crew then proceeded to remove home plate from the playing field and hand it first to Padres CEO John Moores, then to Mayor Dick Murphy. The mayor then presented it to the Marines, who drove it off to Petco Park. (About half an hour later we saw a live shot from Petco, with Mayor Murphy handing home plate to the stadium work crew.)
Next up came video highlights of great moments at the Q, followed by an introduction of former players. The obscure (Rob Nelson, Broderick Perkins), moderately popular (Kurt Bevacqua, Gene Richards), and legendary (Tony Gwynn, Randy Jones, Dave Winfield) all were represented. The biggest cheers went (in alphabetical order) to Ken Caminiti, one of Mike Darr’s sons (riding on the shoulders of Gary Matthews Jr.), Dave Dravecky, Steve Garvey, Mark Grant, Gwynn, Jones, Wally Joyner, Ozzie Smith, Garry Templeton, and Winfield.
The current squad followed the former Padres. After all the players ran out to their positions (more or less), the words "Trevor Time" appeared on the scoreboard and "Hell’s Bells" began blaring over the stadium sound system for one last time. Hoffman came trotting in from the bullpen, with fireworks shooting off behind him along the left-field line. Kinda cheesy, but very cool. The crowd (which had been doing the wave and throwing beach balls as recently as the ninth inning) was totally into it. For me, it was pretty surreal. Kind of a cross between Field of Dreams and the Grateful Dead show I saw in Vegas back in ’91.
We screamed, we clapped. We screamed some more, we clapped some more. Then Gwynn came out and threw the final pitch at Qualcomm to manager Bochy (who also got a huge ovation). After that, the former and current Padres made their exit behind the right field fence. Jerry Coleman then came out to a mike stand at second base and thanked everyone for supporting the Padres over the years. Then he walked away and the stadium lights were shut off.
My wife and I stood there a good deal longer. It was finally hitting me that maybe the Q wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I mean, it is not a good baseball park. But we’ve had a lot of great times there and now we’ll probably never go there again (not being big fans of football, monster trucks, or Billy Graham).
Here are my fondest memories of the Q (games I attended only; 1998 playoffs aren’t represented here, although watching the fans pay tribute to the Pads after they were swept by the Yankees in the World Series was pretty awesome):
- Late-70s: First live baseball game ever. Remember Dave Winfield playing, Gene Tenace hitting two homers, asking my dad what quarter it was at some point, and generally being bored. I believe it may have been this game but I’m not sure.
- 1993-94: Heading out after the Fire Sale and sitting pretty much wherever we wanted on weekdays.
- 1997: Sitting near the visitors’ bullpen, listening to a drunk guy ride Pirate lefty Matt Ruebel all game. (One of the least creative hecklers I’ve ever heard. His entire repertoire consisted of, "Hey Ruebel! We own you! You’re nothing!" It was almost like a mantra. Sad, but funny at the same time.)
- 1998: A bunch of guys from one of my Scoresheet leagues caught a doubleheader against the Mets. At some point we all decided to hold a mini-draft during one of the games. Basically each of us agreed to cut our four worst players and throw them into a pool. We then drew for draft order and proceeded to pick players until the pool was empty. It didn’t end up accomplishing much, but heck, what else are you gonna do at a doubleheader, right?
- 1998: The Mariners make their first trip to San Diego. We score tickets right behind first base. Ken Griffey during one at-bat launches his stick into the seats. He ends up drawing a walk. When he reaches first, he locates the area where his bat landed, finds the person it hit, and yells, "Are you okay?" It may not mean much, but he didn’t have to do that. Also remember Randy Johnson getting a hit, then taking about four strides going from first to third later that same inning.
- 1999: As Tony Gwynn approaches 3000 hits, I calculate roughly when I expect him to reach the plateau and buy tickets in the right-field bleachers for the entire homestand. Gwynn lands on the DL just after I purchase the tickets and we end up seeing a lot of Mike Darr for a week and a half.
- 2002: A friend of mine hooks us up with seats (see July 17 entry) directly above the Padres dugout. Oliver Perez is pitching. We can see his eyes as he’s coming off the field. By far the most involved I’ve ever felt at a big-league game.
Those are some of my memories of the Q. What are yours?