Fans lined up early to see the San Diego Padres at 2017 FanFest. Photo by Chris Stone

Earlier starts. A new spicy chicken sandwich. Mexican-style paletas. And upgraded suites.

A week late, the Major League Baseball season begins Thursday at Petco Park with the FanFest Road Opener Watch Party.

Finally for the San Diego Padres: Play ball!

After a 99-day lockout and five-year collective bargaining agreement reached March 10, the season will squeeze in all 162 games with only three more days than normal.

Thursday night, fans can watch the Padres’ road opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on the Petco video board beginning at 6:40 p.m. Admission is free, but online registration is required.

Preceding projection of the game, fan activity includes the Padres Foundation Garage Sale, Padre alumni appearances, kids fun such as face painting and running the bases and discounted food.

Padres parking lots open at 4:30 and gates open at 5 p.m.

Petco Park’s Opening Day is Thursday, April 14, when the Padres host the Atlanta Braves.

So what’s new this season at Petco Park?

Earlier game starts

Monday through Friday night home games will now start at 6:40 p.m., Saturday home games will continue to start at 5:40 p.m. with select 7:10 p.m. start times due to the national broadcast window, and Sunday home games will start at 1:10 p.m. except for select ESPN games.

New food and drink

San Diego’s Finest Hot Chicken called the Hot Hen features crispy chicken topped with Fresno Chile Slaw, pickles and Fuego Sauce on a brioche bun. They are available near Section 316 and at The Draft by Ballast Point

Cucina Stella in the Mercado near Section 103 will offer Neapolitan-style pizza and a specialty meatball sandwich with handmade meatballs, marinara sauce and parmesan cheese and served on a rustic Italian roll.

Negihama Sushi, the sister restaurant to Uni Sushi in Mission Valley, in Petco Park’s Mercado will offer a variety of fresh-made grab-and-go sushi.

Additionally, The Lexus Club, formerly known as the Compass Premier Club, will feature a collaboration between Petco Park’s executive chef and the team from Brandt Beef/Ranch 45 in Del Mar.

Sambazon, available in Section 109, features a variety of organic, plant-based Acai bowls, including Berry Bliss, Amazon Superberry and Peanut Butter Power, along with Acai Margaritas.

Jack in the Box, near Section 323 just around the corner from the Jack in the Box Antenna Ball by the right-field pole, will offer Loaded Tiny Tacos, Chicken Strips, Curly Fries and Mini Churros along with a signature Purple Haze Cocktail.

Paleta near Section 112 will bring its Mexican-style paletas (fresh fruit ice pops) to the ballpark — available in plain or dressed with a choice of sauces and toppings.

Renovated suites

All 70 suites were renovated and feature new furniture, 65-inch 4K televisions, new refrigerators and dishware, redone bathrooms and more. Guests can enjoy Padres games and other events and are available for nightly, quarter, half- or full-season rentals through

New season ticket benefits

Padres season ticket-holders can get even earlier entry for Padres batting practice — about 45 minutes earlier than last season for at least one game each homestand, as well as additional New Member Happy Hour locations in the .394 bar.

Giveaways to first 35,000

Giveaways will be distributed on different days of the week in 2022 to provide moreaccess for fans. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to Petco Park as giveaways will be available to the first 35,000 fans in attendance with no rain checks issued.

During select games throughout the season, the first 35,000 fans in attendance will be treated to Padres branded giveaways ranging from bobbleheads, beach towels, hats and hoodies. See giveaway schedule here.

Many player-themed giveaways include the bobblehead series:

  • Manny Machado – Tuesday, May 24
  • Jake Cronenworth – Thursday, June 23
  • Joe Musgrove – Thursday, Aug. 18
  • Fernando Tatis Jr. – Wednesday, Sept. 7

Theme nights for groups

Throughout the season theme nights will honor groups, nationalities, religion and a LGBTQ night. Below are some of the events. For all events, click here.

  • African American Heritage Celebration | Friday, April 15 vs. Braves
  • Autism Acceptance Night | Tuesday, April 19 vs. Reds
  • Educator Appreciation Night | Thursday, May 5 vs. Marlins
  • Out at the Park | Friday, May 6 vs. Marlins
  • Nurse Appreciation Weekend presented by UC San Diego Health | Saturday, May 7 & Sunday, May 8 vs. Marlins
  • Girl Scout Day #1 | Sunday, June 26 vs. Phillies
  • Jewish Community Day | Sunday, June 26 vs. Phillies
  • Star Wars Weekend | Friday, July 15 – Sunday, July 17 vs. Diamondbacks
  • Catholic Night | Friday, July 15 vs. Diamondbacks
  • Country Night | Friday, August 19 vs. Nationals
  • Hello Kitty | Sunday, September 11 vs. Dodgers

Heritage celebrations including Mexican, German, Filipino, Scottish, Peruvian, Irish, Portuguese, Panamanian, Greek, Korean, Pacific Islander, Native American, Dominican and Hispanic.

Sunday specials

Every Sunday at KidsFest, young Padres fans can enjoy bounce houses, face painters and other kid-friendly activities in Gallagher Square.

Also on Sundays, the Padres and USAA will honor military members. Each Military Appreciation Sunday will be dedicated to different branches, milestones and military history.

Tuesday honors

Five select Tuesday games will be dedicated as First Responder Appreciation Night.

Friday fun

At Party in the Park in Gallagher Square, beginning when gates open, fans can buy $5 drink specials, and enjoy live music and other activities.

Transportation tips

Metropolitan Transit System has added a new trolley line as an option for fans traveling from North and Mid-County San Diego. The UC San Diego Blue Line will run southbound from UTC to Petco Park daily, providing a stop for fans at the 12th and Imperial station near the ballpark.