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As many folks already know, I have a half-season ticket plan for the San Diego Padres, with front row seats right next to the visiting team’s bullpen. They’re really great seats; unobstructed and close to the action, even though I’m a little way down the right field line. 41 games a year is a lot of baseball, so I don’t generally squeeze in extra games unless there is proper incentive, like an especially cute plus-one or the opportunity to sit in a luxury box. While working for Qualcomm I’d usually see at least one or two games a year from the company suite, which was tucked away back of the field level behind home plate. There you had catered food, a stocked refrigerator, private restroom facilities, a small lounge area, and a private seating area with a somewhat obstructed view of the field (most fly balls and popups would get lost above the terrace level stands that overhang the box). Very posh! Of course, I left Qualcomm at the beginning of 2010, and there I lost my annual luxury box connection.

Until, that is, this past Tuesday when I had the opportunity to do one better than a mere luxury suite. My financial advisor from Bank of America invited me and two other clients to be his guest in BofA’s seats in the Petco Park Home Plate Club. These are the drool-worthy seats you see on TV right behind home plate with only a net protecting you from foul tips and wild throws. Yeah, I could squeeze in an extra game for that!

My ticket and a parking pass arrived via Fed Ex a couple of days before the game, and the first thing I noticed was the price. Take a look:

My ticket to sit in the Home Plate Club... behind home plate (hence the name)

$325! Yowza! So what do you get for that princely price? Service fit for a king!!

First up, let’s talk parking. I pride myself in never paying for parking when I go to a Padre game, choosing to find free street parking anywhere from 4 to 10 blocks away from the ballpark rather than park closer in a pricey pay lot. As such, I ALWAYS take my 1987 Honda Prelude to baseball games. It’s my park-it-anywhere car, and I don’t mind if I return to my car to find a homeless person asleep on the hood (which actually did once happen). The parking pass for the Home Plate Club said “valet”, so — for the first time EVER — I decided to drive my “nice” car to the game. I discovered, though, that the term “valet” was misleading. I drove to the specially designated lot and there was no one there waiting to take my keys. No… in this private lot a smiling attendant looked at my pass and directed me then to… a reserved parking space! Yes, this ticket came with a parking space that was reserved for me and only me. I had parking space “2” which put me… here.

My car in “Space 2” with the front entrance to the ballpark across the street

Ooooo! Ahhhh! In the words of George Constanza, “Would you look at that space? Bring over the baby so he can see the space.” Pretty cool to park right across the street from the ballpark and leave plenty of dent-buffer all the way around. There would be no homeless person on my hood on this night.

Concierge desk inside the entrance to the Home Plate Club (glad they get an A rating...)

After having my ticket scanned I found the entrance to the Home Plate Club where my ticket was punched and my hand was stamped with a special black-light mark that would give me access to all the hidden, underground amenities of the Home Plate Club. As this was my first ever visit, a friendly concierge gave me a little tour of the secret lair beneath the ballpark, which includes a relaxing lounge, a bar, and a private restaurant.

After the quick tour, I was escorted to the restaurant where I met up with the rest of my party. Dinner (or lunch, for day games, I suppose) is served in the restaurant for ticket holders in the Home Plate Club before every game up through the end of the first inning.

View from the restaurant into the Padres batting cage beneath the stands

The restaurant has windows that look into the Padres indoor batting cages, so you can watch players hit while you relax and enjoy your meal. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much action going on in the batting cage, just someone stretching before the game, which is just as well since the photo I took is pretty horrible. At least you can sort of look past the reflections in the glass and — from the nets —make out that it is indeed a batting cage.

The restaurant was very nice and comfortable, with a waiter coming by to take drink orders, and a fancy buffet that I’d place on par with a high-end cruise ship. Everything I had was quite tasty! What really struck me, though, was the fact that all this was included in the price of the ticket — including beer and wine, whereas the catered food and drinks provided in a corporate luxury box gets charged back to the company at the end of an evening’s entertainment. Dude! I can hear you thinking, The @#$%&* ticket was three HUNDRED bucks! You’d have to eat 75 hotdogs just to get your money’s worth! Well, yeah, that’s true, but don’t rain on my gravy train parade, okay? Instead, here’s a peek at the restaurant.

The restaurant under the stands where Home Plate Club ticket holders are treated to a pregame buffet

Close by the restaurant is a private bar. I’m not a real fan of the decor, but at least it matches the chairs, carpet and paneling in the restaurant.

The private bar where fans can cry in their beer after a tough Padre loss

Look closely at the picture of the bar to the right. See those squares in the wood paneling on the far wall? Those are lockers. Yes, every member of the Home Plate Club gets a private locker, I suppose in the spirit of a country club, where the owner can keep personal items for the game. I understand where this would be useful at a country club where a member would likely keep their golf clubs, spikes, and a change of clothes. I’m not exactly sure what one would keep in a private locker at a ballpark. His or her lucky cap? Maybe a windbreaker? I’m not sure, and I didn’t think my ticket would actually allow me to peek into the locker that’s matched to the season seat for the ticket I was holding.

Hallway leading to the stairs that take you beneath the field level stands

After dinner it was time to head off to the seats for that night’s game against the Kansas City Royals. The entire facility is spread across two levels beneath the field level sections, with the main lounge actually below the level of the playing field.  You get from the restaurant and bar to the lounge and seats by following a long descending hallway, past photographs of Padre Glories Past (yes, cynics from around the baseball universe… the Padres do have a handful of past glories).

It’s a nicely dramatic walk, no doubt factored into the ticket price along with everything else (game $100, dinner $40, wine $15, parking $25, locker $20, concessions $20, dramatic walk… $105 — yeah, it pencils out).  While heading to the field one of the members of our party snapped this photo of me standing next to the portrait of current Padre TV broadcaster Dick Enberg.

At the end of the hallway is an elevator and a set of stirs that takes you down to the Home Plate Club Lounge. If you watch a Padre game from Petco Park on TV you may see the people immediately behind home plate occasionally  step back from their box seats and walk down some stairs.  Here is where they end up:

The Padre Home Plate Club Lounge

Inside this comfortable little lounge is yet another buffet, this one with an excellent mix of ballpark food (hotdogs, nachos, peanuts, Cracker Jack, etc) and fine dining cuisine (stuffed mushrooms, sushi, canapes, etc).  They also have a fantastic array of desserts!

A sampling of the desserts available in the lounge

I rather like dessert, so here’s more:

Cake!

Chocolate covered strawberries!

Candy!

I know what you’re thinking… Uh, John, isn’t the whole point of going to a baseball game to actually watch the game?!?! With all these great amenities doesn’t everyone just veg out in the lounge stuffing their faces until they grow to proportions that exceed even the extra big, and super comfortable seats provided behind homeplate?

Good point, and I can see how you might get that impression, especially since the lounge photo posted earlier shows several tables of lazy fans in mid concession gorging veg. Ah, but I’ve yet to write about the best feature of the dugout seat…

In Seat Service!!

Every inning or so, as I sat in my seat watching the ballgame, a helpful attendant would stop by asking if I needed anything. And to make “anything” easier, a handy menu is available at every seat listing the gastric fare for that particular game. Yes, that included all the usual concessions like pretzels, pizza and popcorn — but also all the specialty things like sushi, lemon creme tarts, and Red Bull (yes, Red Bull is on the menu). Just ask, and the attendant would cheerfully bring it back to your seat without missing a bit of the action.  How cool!! So taken, was I, by this uncommon luxury, that I only had a single hotdog the whole night (though I did wander down to the lounge in the 7th inning and returned to my seat with a heaping plate of cookies and pastries).

Just how good was the view behind home plate? WOW!! Quite seriously it is an entirely different experience than sitting anywhere else in the park, as you are literally right on top of every pitch and the crack of the ball hitting the bat is startling in the way it splits through the air. Very, very cool!

View of home plate from my seat

View of the Wester Metal building from my dugout seat

View of the field, looking out toward centerfield

And that’s it!  Play ball!!

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