All I really wanted to do on my family vacation to San Diego in mid-April was take my kids to their first Major League Baseball game in hopes it would be something memorable. I secretly hoped something historic would happen, you know, for my six kids' sake. Something they could tell their grandkids about.
Turned out it was a memorable and historic night — in ways I never could have imagined. Like they say, be careful of what you wish for.
A couple of weeks earlier, I purchased eight $8 tickets to the April 17 game between the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies. It seemed like a bargain, though the seats were located in the left-field stands. I felt like a hero, even for a guy who earns a living by getting into games for free.
My wife and children were thrilled to get out of town for spring break, especially after a harsh Utah winter. We swam at the hotel, soaked up the sun, played at the beach and spent a day at SeaWorld. But what I was looking forward to most was the Padres-Rockies showdown at Petco Park, a stadium I had never visited before.
Despite hitting some traffic (what else is new?), we got settled into our seats about 10 minutes before the opening pitch. I was happy to see that we weren't as far away from the field as I had feared. The view was good, especially for $8 tickets. As we settled into our seats on a balmy spring evening in San Diego, my kids gawked at the lavish surroundings of 5-year-old Petco Park.
Things were great until the bottom of the first inning, when a group of rowdy, ribald college kids showed up and planted themselves in the row directly behind us. I knew they would be trouble from the start. They were all carrying big cups of beer and one of them accidently spilled some down my wife's back as he attempted to sit down in his seat behind her. The kid apologized and tried to clean up the mess, but my wife had to move one seat down, forcing one of our boys to sit on my lap for the duration of the game.
Things only got worse from there. It didn't take me long to realize why those tickets were so cheap.
As the game progressed and the hooligans behind us kept sucking down beers. It was like watching a scene from "Animal House." I thought it somewhat ironic, that the name of the Padres' manager is Bud. Bud Black.
While I spent $64 for tickets, I'm sure one those guys spent at least that much on beer by the fourth inning.
Right below our seats, playing left field for the Rockies, was Matt Holliday, the runner-up in the National League MVP voting in 2007 and the reigning 2007 National League Championship Series MVP. Unfortunately, the beer consumption by the guys behind us hadn't impaired their memories any. They knew, of course, that Holliday had scored the controversial winning run against their Padres the previous October in a 13-inning, one-game playoff at Coors Field in Denver.
Holliday slid headfirst into home plate and was ruled safe for the game-winner, though replays were inconclusive. They weren't inconclusive to Padres fans, however. They are convinced he did not touch the plate and that the Padres were robbed of the opportunity to advance in the playoffs. And they are also convinced that the Rockies' victory is part of some Major League Baseball conspiracy.
Throughout the game, the drunken fans derided Holliday incessantly. They called him a cheater, among other things not suitable for a family newspaper (or for my family). Occasionally, Holliday, who undoubtedly heard the taunts from the stands, would look up toward our section and just stare for a moment. That he acknowleged them only goaded these guys on.
Let me just say these college kids had very limited vocabularies. Alcohol sales were cut off at the end of the seventh inning, but by then, the damage was already done.
As the game progressed, the taunts became louder and cruder, further proof that idiocy and alcohol are not a good combination. These kids were making fools of themselves, but didn't care. In fact, I think they were proud of their obnoxious, unruly behavior.
Their goal was to become so inebriated that they would be ejected from the ballpark. At one point, when a security guard appeared at the bottom of the portal, one of them said, "They're kicking us out already?"
I'm not a Rockies fan or a Padres fan. But those guys were so annoying, I turned into the biggest Rockies fan in the San Diego metropolitan area that night. I hoped that Holliday would crush a home run right into the left-field section, preferably in the mouths of one of those louts.
Meanwhile, down on the field, the Padres and Rockies were putting up matching smoke rings. Zeroes across the scoreboard. I had warned my family we could be looking at a low-scoring game because San Diego was throwing their ace, Jake Peavy, and the Rockies had their No. 1 starter, Jeff Francis, on the hill.
But I certainly didn't expect the game to be deadlocked at 0-0 at the end of nine innings. Three Rockies pitchers retired 23 consecutive San Diego batters from the second to the 10th inning. I remember thinking that this game was going by way too fast.
No such luck.
By the end of 10th inning of the scoreless game, we decided we had heard enough. We were leaving. Not the stadium, but that section.
As we departed, the hooligans knew we were leaving because of them and they seemed to take pride in that.
"We're real sorry," one of them slurred sarcastically. I learned later that one of them said to my 8-year-old son as he left, "Someday, you'll grow up to be just like us!"
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Padres fans.
OK, I understand not all Padres fans are like this. And I'm also sure that you could find guys like this in any arena or stadium at any sporting event in America on any given night.
We exited our section in left field and started heading toward the myriad open seats elsewhere at Petco. After all, the game was already 10 innings long. What's wrong with moving to better seats with more classy, family-friendly fans? We headed toward the rows of empty seats down the left field line.
The first usher my wife talked to turned us down flat, explaining that the seats were reserved. Reserved? For who? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Amelia Earhart?
I was getting frustrated. This game was turning into a nightmarish experience for us. I didn't want the game to end, especially on that note, being forced out of our seats by a bunch of drunken fools. So I approached another usher. I was prepared to lay it on thick.
"Look, my family and I have driven 800 miles, all the way from Utah, to watch this Padres game. We have endured sitting in front of the rudest fans in sports history. They're cursing like sailors, spilling beer on us. Now, if you don't let us sit down here, I'm going to speak to the Padres owner myself."
I was prepared to mention that I was a member of the fourth estate and tell her about the power of the press and all that nonsense. I was desperate.
But I didn't have to say any of that. When I simply asked if we could sit in those empty seats, next to the same reserved seats the other usher told us we couldn't use, the woman simply replied, "Sure."
My wife, my six sons and I found a row and took our seats. It was as if we had walked out of purgatory and through the Pearly Gates. It was quiet. The closest fans were 10 rows away. I took a deep breath. Finally, we could enjoy this baseball game in peace.
What made the move even better was when we saw the commotion where our seats had been. It appeared a fight had broken out (shocker!) between the beer-guzzlers, and the whole lot of them were escorted out of the stadium by security. We left at the right time, apparently. I noticed that Holliday shot a glance up that way and I'm sure he was just as happy as us that the hooligans were booted from the premises.
At the top of the 11th inning, realizing that we had to get up early to check out of the hotel and make our way back to Utah, my wife asked how long we were staying.
"No longer than 18 innings," I joked.
We weren't the only ones with travel plans. Both teams had planes to catch. That night, the Rockies were scheduled to fly to Houston and the Padres were headed to Phoenix to start new series Friday night.
It wasn't until the top of the 14th inning that someone finally crossed the plate — Brad Hawpe drew a bases-loaded walk that forced in Colorado's Willy Tavaras from third.
I figured it was over. Yeah, right. The fun hadn't even begun.
The Padres tied the game in the bottom of the inning on Josh Bard's bases-loaded single that scored Kevin Kouzmanoff.
By this time, two of the kids were sleeping in my lap and my wife's lap. Some of the older kids, who had been so excited some five hours earlier, were starting to complain. "Can we go?" they asked.
"Not yet," I said. "We've got to stay till the end to see who wins."
I happen to be a baseball purist. I hate the designated hitter rule. I'm still a little skeptical of interleague play. I've always said pitchers' duels were the most exciting type of baseball game.
But this was ridiculous.
After 18 completed innings, I made good on my promise to my wife. We stood up and shuffled out of the ballpark. Not many of the crowd of 25,984 that were there earlier remained, including our friends in the left-field stands. In fact, there was absolutely zero traffic as we left Petco Park.
I read later that after the 18th inning, after midnight, the sprinklers came on on the grassy knoll beyond the bleachers in right-center at Petco. During the 18th, the Padres entertained themselves by taping up the head of a stuffed ram and placing it on the front bench of the dugout.
We arrived at the hotel in time to see the final out of the game at the end of 22 (count 'em) innings.
The Rockies won, 2-1. In the top of the 22nd, Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki belted an RBI double with two outs that brought in Taveras, who scored both of the Rockies' runs. Tavaras set a team record for at-bats, going 3-for-10. He reached base on an error by Padres shortstop Khalil Green. A high throw by Green pulled 6-foot-7 Tony Clark off the bag. Tavaras later stole second and advanced to third on catcher Josh Bard's throwing error.
The Padres went down quietly in the bottom of the 22nd.
Well, some of us saw the final out. Most of our kids had long been asleep.
The game ended at 1:21 a.m. Friday. It lasted 6 hours, 16 minutes — one minute shy of matching the Padres' longest game, and it was the longest when measured in innings.
Talk about a long day's journey into night. It was the longest game in Rockies history as well. The longest in Major League history was 26 innings, a 1-1 tie between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves on May 1, 1920, at Boston. But that game took only 3 hours, 50 minutes.
In this Padres-Rockies game, there were 659 pitches and, amazingly, each team used only one catcher. It was the longest game in the majors since Aug. 31, 1993, when Minnesota beat Cleveland 5-4 in 22 innings. It's tied for the eighth-longest contest in major league history. It ranked among the 17 longest games in major league history by inning. The two teams used a combined 15 pitchers. San Diego tied a team record with 20 strikeouts while Colorado recorded a team-record 17 strikeouts. The Rockies stranded 16 runners and the Padres stranded 14.
"That was an incredible baseball game," Padres manager Bud Black told the media afterward. "It will go down as one that everybody who was here will never forget."
Except maybe those drunk guys. Or those, like my kids, who fell asleep.
In the end, it was worth the $64 spent on tickets, especially considering we watched the equivalent of 2 1/2 games for the price of one. I did the math. It ended up costing my family only $2.90 per inning for a Major League Baseball game. Not bad for a frugal family from Utah County.
The next morning as we loaded up the Suburban, I told my kids, "Wasn't that great last night? We can say we watched one of the longest games in Major League Baseball history."
They just looked back at me blankly. Some people just can't appreciate historic events.