Thursday, August 04, 2005 | I was never a fan of putting a 45,000-seat baseball park between Sixth and 10th Avenues in the heart of downtown, so I had not been to a game there until last week.
Then friends, and they are dear friends, gave us tickets, and parking directions, and promised traffic wouldn’t be bad if we went early. They were great tickets in the Toyota Terrace Club Level behind first base. I hope this does not sound ungrateful, and I don’t mean it to, but the game – Padres vs. St. Louis – was a totally new experience for me.
Well, not totally new. I took a bite out of a bratwurst and momentarily considered placing it back in its plastic container and taking it to Mike Aguirre to see if there were any laws against calling a very pale, cool to the touch length of dense protein colloid a bratwurst and selling it for $7.95 in a public place.
But I went ahead and ate it. No sense having Aguirre stalking the concourse, waving handfuls of dense protein colloid under the noses of employees, when I’ve eaten equally remarkable fare at any number of sports events in San Diego. No one who has spent several hundred dollars over the years on what stadium concessionaires call “Nachos” can speak too severely against the Petco bratwurst.
What was new was the tenuous hold that the game of baseball had on the event. Since I last attended a major league baseball game – four years, at least – the half-innings of actual play seem to have become miniaturized intervals between promotions. Looking around the place, I thought about pinball machines I played as a kid, including one that was a baseball pinball game. Lots of lights flashing, and lots of noise effects, and, oh yes, the game itself.
That’s how this event felt. If Petco is the typical ballpark of the 2000s, baseball’s executives have engineered for real baseball the look and sound and feel of having a seat behind first base inside a pinball game.
But it was more comprehensive than that. The ultimate business model of entertainment media technology is to turn the outdoors into the indoors, the ominous “virtual reality.” You get a feel of that sitting outside at Petco.
In the old days – 10 years ago – it was the difference between going to a live event and watching it at home on television. At the live event, the viewer enjoyed the freedom of subjective choice. At any moment, your eyes could go where they would, in the setting before you, to a player, to the dugout, to the sideline, to the stands, to the moon. Watching it on television, you lost that subjective freedom. The cameras and the screen objectified the view: you could only see what the camera was showing you.
At Petco, there were constant demands for your attention. It never stopped: screens and bright quick-cut montage visuals demanding attention from your eyes, enforced by booming digital-fidelity surround-sound commands from extremely high-energy speakers. Before last week, the loudest sustained noise I ever heard at a sports event was the crowd at Jack Murphy Stadium in 1984 when Steve Garvey hit the home run off Lee Smith to win Game Four of the NLCS.
That was a natural sound, the analog output of 55,000 throats, and lovely to plunge into and get squeezed and scoured by until you couldn’t breathe or feel, and eventually surface into the night air and survival, carrying with you out of the ballpark a sound you would tell about for the rest of your life, because there was a reason for it.
At Petco, the sound was ear-ringing but couldn’t compete on the Garvey scale for loudness. As sustained sound, however, it was surpassing, and tireless, barrages of sub-woofing, subjectivity-gobbling sound scouring you not in a passage of glory, but with promotions, commercials, goofy quizzes, heavy metal riffs and aggressively mediocre humor shots. Just like TV. Visuals and sounds, objectifying space. On the field, interludes of baseball. Beyond the outfield, a city skyline. Both were hard to see, through the digital blizzard.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at