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South Bay celebrates home opener Robert Moreno | Sat, Apr 13 2013 12:00 PM

The calendar marked March 20 as the first official day of spring, but ask San Diego Padres fans and they’ll say spring doesn't start until the baseball team plays their first home game.

"Opening day kicks off the spring season," Chula Vista resident Antonio Garcia said. "It is the kickoff to the baseball season; the season hasn’t even started until today."

The Padres opened up the major League baseball season playing six road games before their home opener on Tuesday.

Opening day is just one game out of 162, but what makes the first home game of the season that much more significant than a ballgame in July?

Both games count in the standings, and a win or a lost on the season’s opening game is as important as a win or a lost in July.

It turns out, the home opener is more of a spectacle than an actual game for most fans.

“It’s the only day you come out to the stadium and there’s 43,000 people here,” Julian Garcia, no relation to Antonio, of National City said.

Julian, 27, a Padres 40-game season ticket holder, said that during the season he spends about $3,000 with $600 spent on opening day alone.

He said he mainly spends money eating at restaurants and on alcohol.

Julian said his opening day tradition is to get to the downtown area three hours before game time to eat a hefty meal at his favorite  downtown restaurant, Nicky Rottens, which is the only time during the year he eats there.

During the middle innings, Julian was socializing at the Leinie Lodge, behind section 102 in the Mercado, he was not paying attention to the game, but provided good conversation with fans while consuming a few beverages

Julian said this year he attended Major League Baseball’s opening day game in New York when the Padres played the Mets.

National City resident Kevin Cruz said he, too, likes the fact that the game is always a sell-out.

“You come during any other time during the season and it’s dead,” Cruz said. “Opening day is more of a party than it is watching the game,” he said.

And party Cruz did. During the fifth inning, Cruz couldn’t tell you the score of the ballgame, but he kept score of how many beverages he consumed as he made friends with everyone in sight.

Cruz was also found partying at Leinie Lodge.

Cruz said he showed up to the ballpark an hour after the game started but he didn’t care. He said he was still in for a good time. This is the second opening day game he’s been to.

Cruz said he has to enjoy himself because the Padres and the city don’t give the fans anything to cheer about.

“San Diego racks up a lot of money on Opening Day and to field a team that plays like this, sucks,” Cruz said.

Rudy Lopez,34, of Chula Vista, has been to several Opening Days games when the Padres played at Qualcomm Stadium and said the atmosphere doesn’t compare to that at Petco Park.

“Especially since the Padres moved to Petco Park (Opening Day) is more of a social thing,” Lopez said. “At Qualcomm

Stadium you just go and set up your tailgate and stay there. In downtown, there are many bars and restaurants to go to,” he said.

Lopez was having a good time during the sixth inning socializing and buying drinks for complete strangers.

There are some fans that enjoy the nuances of a baseball game that the day brings.

Rancho Del Rey resident Mindy Zedicher,34, said the pregame festivities is what makes opening day the event it is.

She said watching the gigantic American flag open up during the National Anthem is one of the highlights of the day.

Zedicher said she was upset she missed the game last year and wouldn’t miss it this year. She said she even left work early.

Zedicher was focused on the game from beginning to end, cheering loudly every time the Padres scored a run and shaking her head in disappointment when the Dodgers scored.

The Padres’ home opener is an event in itself, but when the Padres play the Los Angeles Dodgers the event is taking to another level.

“I came to opening day one year against the D’Backs and the vibe wasn’t the same,”Garcia said.

Jessica Lopez, 30,  with the San Diego Padres Hispanic Counsel lives in Chula Visa.

“This team plays with a lot of passion,” Lopez said. “They play with heart and when you’re a fan, you have to be a fan of heart and loyalty."

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