Photos by Drew Cieszynski, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Tony Gwynn Stadium
5500 Campanile Dr
San Diego, CA 92115
Year Opened: 1997
Gwynn from Ear to Ear
Sometimes all it takes to build a great experience at a stadium is pride. At Tony Gwynn Stadium, there is more than enough pride in a quietly storied Aztecs program to go around. Tony Gwynn, the stadium’s namesake, is the hero of the Aztec faithful partly due to his time at San Diego State as a player and manager at San Diego State and also because of his legendary tenure with the hometown Padres.
But he’s far from the only legend to play between the lines at Gwynn Stadium. Mark Grace and Stephen Strasburg are Aztec legends in their own right. Along with Gwynn, one of the most notable things about an Aztec baseball game is their presence.
Tony Gwynn Stadium was originally named Smith Stadium in honor of longtime Aztecs coach Charlie Smith. In 1997 it was rebuilt and renamed Tony Gwynn Stadium, with the field retaining the Charlie Smith name. The $4 million stadium seats 3,000 and was funded mostly by John Moores, ex-owner of the San Diego Padres.
Food & Beverage 4
Food options are local and delicious at Tony Gwynn Stadium. In the general grandstand, your options include hot dogs ($4), nachos ($6), chili cheese nachos ($7), chili cheese bread bowls ($4), PB&J sandwiches ($3), chicken caesar wraps ($5), pulled pork sandwiches ($5), pretzels ($4), peanuts ($4), churros ($2), buttered popcorn ($5), kettle corn ($5), and frozen lemonade or ice cream ($3).
The more interesting options are found at the other stands around the small concourse. Belinda’s Mexican food offers a variety of tasty Mexican items including burritos, quesadillas, street tacos, nachos supreme, and customizable plates. The meats are your choice and ready to serve in front of you and no matter your choice, the meal will cost you under $8.
There is also a local pizza place that sells gigantic slices of pizza. There is also a Jamba Juice stand as an additional option. Overall, there are a lot of available options for food compared to most college parks around the country.
While there are bigger and more beautiful college ballparks around the country, there’s something special about the sense of local baseball history at an Aztecs game. The aforementioned Tony Gwynn is more than a San Diego State legend and stadium namesake, he’s a symbol of the program and fans.
His stamp on the program is as ingrained as any you’ll see in the collegiate ranks. From the mural on the outfield wall to the merchandise sold behind the grandstand, and into the hall of fame near the 3rd base seats, Tony Gwynn is omnipresent. The atmosphere here starts and ends with him.
But the outfield wall is adorned by more than just the image of Gwynn. Stephen Strasburg’s image on the wall is a more recent face of the program. But names like Travis Lee, Aaron Harang, Chris Gwynn, and Mark Grace speak to the tradition as well.
The park itself is the centerpiece of the SDSU athletic complex and is adjacent to the lacrosse and softball fields. The area is a hub of athletic activity, so you’re likely to get a couple of sports events for the price of one. Fans are proud of their past and show up in pretty good numbers to cheer on the Aztecs. They aren’t always as rowdy as some of the best fan bases in baseball, but they hold their passion in their way.
Some of the coolest features of the park tie into that tradition as well. Behind the 3rd base grandstand is a spectacular program Hall of Fame full of jerseys, photos, and memorabilia from their rich past. Hall of Fame banners, plaques, and images surround the ballpark.
On the field, Aztec pride is strong as well. The team takes the field to “Welcome to the Jungle,” and plays with intensity from that point on. Add the reliably beautiful San Diego weather, and you have a recipe for success and an enjoyable day at the ballpark.
It’s San Diego, enough said….right? Well, while San Diego offers a huge variety of local options and beautiful weather, the area immediately around San Diego State doesn’t quite meet the top-level college town vibes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like in the area.
A variety of Mexican options and burger joints make for typical college-level food venues around College Avenue. The real options are in downtown San Diego though. The Gaslamp Quarter is the most “happening” part of the city and consists of so many hotels, clubs, bars, and restaurants that you’ll have difficulty picking the right one.
Some of the more popular options for you include Searsucker, Barleymash, Meze, and Neighborhood, but you won’t go wrong with other options there either. Seaport Village is not far either and offers shopping and food on the water. Overall, it’s hard to top San Diego as a setting for any athletic event.
The numbers will be there. Fans show up sporting Tony Gwynn and Aztec gear in pretty solid numbers. They aren’t particularly loud or intimidating, but they show up. Word also has it that they travel pretty well for road games. All of this is respectable and has a lot to do with the tradition and pride around the program.
Getting to Tony Gwynn Stadium is as easy as one can expect in southern California. If traffic isn’t a nightmare (particularly if you’re coming from the north), it’s easy to get to. Located east of San Diego just off of I-8, it’s just a short drive from Qualcomm Stadium.
Once you get to campus, there’s a parking garage located just outside of the athletic complex. While convenient, the garage itself is poorly planned. The ticket booths are $1 per hour and require the purchased ticket to be displayed on your dash.
Oddly, all of the ticket booths are located on the stadium side of the garage. If you happen to park across the garage, prepare to hike back to your car to display the stub on your dash. My best advice? Stop the car at the ticket booth on your way in and grab your ticket before you park, as this can be an inconvenience for the first-time visitor.
Just a short walk from the garage past the lacrosse field will take you to Tony Gwynn Stadium at the heart of the athletic complex. The walkway behind the grandstand is open and nice, making it easy to get around to your seat. Due to crowds and the lack of redundancy on concession stands, expect lines to get food. You’ll be better served to take in a few innings before eating to let the lines die down.
Return on Investment 4
Prices are across the board better than average for big-time college baseball. Parking will cost you anywhere from $3-$5 and game tickets are $6 for General Admission only (that’s right, sit wherever you’d like). All of the food items will run you less than $8, so put it all together and you have a very reasonably priced athletic event.
Extras here are pretty exclusively related to the tradition of the program. The plaques and banners boasting their famous players greet you at every turn. Tony Gwynn has a large raised stone plaque directly behind the home plate. But the jewel of the stadium is the Stephen and Mary Birch Baseball Museum.
This museum is overflowing with everything the baseball lover would want to see, including Tony Gwynn Aztec and Padre jerseys, bats, pictures, and baseballs from events dating back to the beginning of the program. Get there before the 7th inning though, because the door is locked late in the game.
Tony Gwynn Stadium is one of those parks that exceed expectations. While it doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of some of the more well-known college baseball venues, it inspires an “I didn’t know the program had this much tradition” reaction that grips you from your first step into the stadium. Stop by the stadium, catch a game and buy a Tony Gwynn souvenir from the early days of his greatness. You won’t regret it.