I spent the last weekend of August in San Diego where the weather was, as always, idyllic. I had several good reasons for being there: 1) My daughter Meredith and her family live there; 2) I participated in a memorial service on Saturday, the 24th of August, for my dear pal, the late George Mitrovich, who was the founder and keeper of the flame of the Great Fenway Park Writers' Series, the only literary series in the country sponsored by a baseball team, the Boston Red Sox (of course); and 3) The Sox were out there for a series against the San Diego Padres.
I was at all three games at Petco Park and was reminded what a great ballpark it is. It's located right in downtown San Diego in what had been a run-down section of the city. The stadium, though, has been the catalyst in transforming it into a vibrant neighborhood, filled with restaurants, hotels, and -- most of all -- people. It is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when public and private interests work together toward a common goal.
As for the park itself, it's terrific. I go there every time I'm in the city during the baseball season. The sight lines are all great, seats are comfortable, there is plenty of leg room; all are tilted toward the infield so there is no craning of the neck to see the action, and the aisles are wide enough to accommodate hand rails. Larry Lucchino and architect Janet Marie Smith are justly famous for the creation of Camden Yards in Baltimore and for the restoration of Fenway Park, but Petco Park is an equally great accomplishment. Petco is kind of like the '07 Red Sox, it tends to get lost in the mix of all the other great triumphs of Lucchino and Smith.
My seats were located beyond third base up in the back (Row 43 is not exactly field level) but I was perfectly comfortable and could see everything on the field with ease.
It was what I saw on the field that created problems. The Red Sox and Padres were decked out in the most outlandish uniforms imaginable, the Red Sox in all-black and the Padres in all-white, with white numbers on the white jerseys -- totally illegible from the stands. What in the world could they have been thinking?
The Padres players all wore white caps, except for the pitchers, who wore black caps. The Red Sox players, on the other hand, all wore black caps, except for the pitchers who all wore, er, black caps.
On Friday and Saturday nights the umpires wore black shirts and gray slacks, so that when the Sox were on defense it looked at first glance like the second base ump was a fifth infielder. Then the public address announcer made things even worse by announcing batters from the home team Padres by the nicknames on the backs of their uniforms rather than by their actual names. For example, Manny Machado was announced as "El Ministro." El Sinistro might have been a been a better choice because he's a sinister character. It was he who ended Dustin Pedroia's career two years ago with a dirty slide into second base. I don't blame the PA guy for the cockamamie introductions, I'm sure he was only following instructions.
It was only after Friday's game that I became aware that the idiocy that occurred at Petco had gone on throughout major league baseball. It was all dictated by MLB, and it's been unanimously panned. I expect that heads will, or at least should, roll. But it shouldn't be the heads of the guys who came up with the idea, bad as it was. Idea people are forever coming up with faulty concepts. When they do, they should be sent back to their windowless cubicles and told to come up with something better. The people who should be held responsible are the guys with rugs on the floors of their offices who signed off on the stupidity of having every home team and every visiting team dressed exactly alike, and in god-awful ugly uniforms, no less. Just think, the Dodgers and the Yankees, playing up the street in Dodger Stadium, were forced by MLB to wear nearly identical uniforms as those being worn in Petco Park -- and everyplace else.
I'm sure there was a marketing aspect to all this, getting people to run out and purchase these new and different jerseys. But in three days at Petco I did not spot a white on white Padres jersey in the stands. I did see one guy in a black Red Sox jersey that said "Mookie" on the back, but not a single El Ministro, thank God.
The normal Red Sox road uniform is a utilitarian gray with a simple "Boston"on the front and only the hanging socks logo on the arm as a distinguishing characteristic. Pretty dull, to be honest. But how I longed to see it over the weekend in San Diego. The Sox's home uniform, on the other hand, is one of baseball's most iconic and has remained essentially unchanged for more than 80 years. They better not monkey with that, or with the dreaded Yankee pin stripes, for that matter, or else I'll -- well -- I'll be very upset.
What started a couple of years ago as a creative but questionable concept of allowing players to put nicknames on the backs on their uniforms for a weekend has spiraled down into a horror show of MLB demanding that they all dress up in garish costumes. It looks for all the world like Major League Baseball is in full panic mode, like they are flailing around wildly in an effort win back fans.
You know what might be a better idea? Put on some decent games, played in reasonable periods of times. But that might be asking too much.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.
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