On the Road: Concluding a Banner Island Day in Stockton
Part One of this rambling Stockton blog saga began hours before game time amid Highway 4 farmland, and then proceeded all the way until said game began at Banner Island Ballpark.
Let’s zoom in for a closer look.
In the above photo, beyond the small squadron of retired jerseys, stands Ports president Pat Filippone. Filippone has reached the MiLB mountaintop by having a concession stand item named after him (the Filippone Salad, as you may recall from the last post), and I am holding out hope that, one day, a team may see fit to offer a gluten-free “Ben’s Biz Burger.”
I momentarily forced such egocentric concerns out of my mind, in favor of the task at hand: wandering. After about 25 seconds of such, I found myself in the company of this triumvirate of gentlemen.
These guys were on the concourse extolling the virtues of Tapgift, a Redwood City-based start-up whose product allows its users to send and receive gifts in real time. The Ports are the first Minor League team to have partnered with Tapgift, meaning that users can buy concession items for people at the game even if they themselves are not there.
In the above photo, on the far right, stands Mack Cage. In addition to having the toughest-sounding name of anyone I have ever met, Cage co-founded the company. He told me that the idea for Tapgift came about when he and his friends were at a Raiders game, wondering how they could make an absent friend “pay for the beer we’re drinking.”
“That was the genesis of it,” he continued. “I didn’t think we’d actually do it.”
But do it they did, and shortly after talking to Cage I received a Tapgift presenting me with peanuts and a soda. Pretty cool concept, I must say. There have been over 3,000 Tapgift downloads at Banner Island Ballpark this season, and San Jose State football is next on the docket.
Next up on the docket was to meet with “designated eater” Lee McEachern, who had been recruited to consume some of the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Lee, a long-time reader, hod volunteered for designated eating duties because it was “a chance to meet the famous blogger Benjamin Hill…and fried asparagus.”
We’ll get to that fried asparagus eventually. But first, here’s Lee, shortly after meeting famous blogger Benjamin Hill.
And, yes, Lee is a Giants fan and his Cal League affinities lie with San Jose. The Ports are an A’s affiliate as well as inter-division rivals with San Jose, and as such Lee’s food should have been poisoned.
Joining Lee was his neighbor Jamie, a music major at Chico State who says that, due in part to Lee’s influence, she is now “a baseball freak.”
“I’m checking scores all of the time, checking in on my favorite players,” said Jamie. “I’m a big Jeff Arnold fan. He’s my boy.”
This is Arnold’s picture on his MiLB.com player page. I think he’s now my favorite player too.
The three of us got acquainted in this shaded Banner Island Ballpark locale.
And soon enough, food appeared. Clockwise from the top, we have a turkey burger on a wheat bun, nacho cheese pretzel burger, fruit cup, and a Caesar wedge salad.
Those latter two options were gluten-free, and the Caesar wedge was of particular interest to me. You squeeze lemon on the wedge, dip it in the dressing and then sprinkle on Parmesan cheese — a nice mix of flavors, and yet another example of something I never would have paid attention to in my pre-gluten-free days but that is, in actuality, really quite enjoyable!
But, anyway, gluten:
“The nacho pretzel burger is surprisingly good, the burger’s juicy and the bun is soft,” said Lee.
“It is surprisingly good,” said Jamie. “I didn’t think that the nacho cheese would work well with it, but it does.”
The turkey burger generated a less enthusiastic response.
“The turkey seems too salty,” said Lee. “I’m not trying to sound rude here, but it’s like it they know it’s bland and they’re trying to liven it up with too much seasoning.”
“I agree,” said Jamie. “It tasted kind of funny.”
“I have a wrap posed for you,” added Lee.
And what do you know? He did:
“[The wrap] is really good, but it could use a little more even distribution,” said Lee. “As it is, it’s like ‘here’s the meat, and here’s the vegetables.”
But there wasn’t time for further pontificating, because — what? — more food had arrived and this time it was of a deep-fried variety.
What we’ve got here is not a failure to communicate but, rather, three more specialty items. From left to right: deep fried cheesecake (typically only available after the seventh inning), deep-fried asparagus, and a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The asparagus, served with hot sauce, ranch dressing, and Parmesan, is a Ports specialty that I longed to try and maybe I did just a little bit please don’t tell the gluten-free police.
Jamie was decidedly in the pro-asparagus camp, but Lee, ever the critic, was conflicted.
“I love asparagus, but I’m not sure it lived up to the hype. I came in with my expectations too high,” he said. “But it’s something that you have to get if you’re here, just to say that you’ve had it.”
The deep-fried peanut butter and jelly drew a bit of a confused response, with Jamie saying it was “interesting” and “something to have once” but that “the texture of the peanut butter and jelly has changed from being fried.”
The cheesecake was received rapturously, however, with Lee stating that it was “a winner — warm, melty, gooey, and perfectly fried.”
And the hits just kept on a comin’! For post-dessert, Lee and Jamie were served deep-fried pickles (or “frickles”) and buffalo popcorn chicken. Man, this looked good.
Just keep eating, guys. It is your job.
“Frickles is just a weird word!” said Jamie.
“God, this is filling,” said Lee. “But they do know how to fry here. It’s crispy and not too greasy.”
At this juncture a hearty thanks should be given to Nick Jackson of Ovations food services, who coordinated this never-ending stream of fine concession items. I’d also like to commend Lee, who perfectly followed my instruction to “bite into a frickle so that the frickle looks like Pac-Man and then hold this Pac-frickle in front of you while closing your eyes.”
And then, finally, there was this. A brat. It seemed to show up out of nowhere.
The brat afforded Lee with one final opportunity make photographic history.
“Don’t order a brat after a pretzel burger, turkey burger, buffalo popcorn, cheesecake….” said Lee, before fading into a a brief bout of incoherence. “This is great, though. Maybe even better than the pretzel burger.”
“What?!” replied Jamie, giving me an excuse to use my favorite non-standard punctuation mark.
I let them argue that one out among themselves, as I had places to go and people to see. This concession cavalcade had taken some time to digest, and the game was now half over.
My next order of business was to compete in an outfield “MVP Catch,” which entailed standing in right field and attempting to catch balls launched via slingshot with a net. I felt an added pressure while doing this, because I had just been informed of the various celebrities who were watching me.
Some interesting people here at the Stockton Ports game tonight: former 20-year team photographer George Steckler,@BensBiz & @RileyxxxJensen
— Paul (@ThatsAnError) August 8, 2013
And, yes, I failed in front of Mr. Steckler and Ms. Jensen (adult entertainer, model, actress, friend, believer). I should have recruited Mr. Steckler to document said failure, because this is all I’ve got.
But there was no time for mourning. Remember in Part One of this post when I got that wild smoking “Volcano Splash” drink? This time around I stopped by for the Filipino snack known as Lumpia.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of a spring roll, and I could not immediately ascertain whether or not it is gluten-free. I did give it a try, however, because it looked delicious and subsequently tasted delicious.
Also, I may or may not have fallen in love.
But another obligation was imminent. One always is.
During the seventh inning stretch, Splash and I threw packages of “Hello Panda” chocolate cream cookies into the crowd.
With the evening winding down, I made a final lap around the ballpark. On the concourse I came across this photo of Stockton native-turned-Ports pitcher-turned-perfect game hurler Dallas Braden.
In case you forgot — Braden has Stockton’s area code tattooed on his abdomen.
And let it be known: Tabasco Fried Asparagus is a thing!
In the ninth inning I joined indefatigable ballpark travelers Rex and Coco (who appeared in Part One of this post), and watched the end of the ballgame from their visiting dugout vantage point.
Ballgame complete, Rex took a photo and Coco tallied up her scorecard. That’s how they roll.
And, whoa, I would have forgotten, but Rex reminded me to do a #cupdate.
All you #cupdate fans out there should be grateful to Rex for his collectible cup vigilance.
And that’s all I’ve got, folks. Time to pull up the anchor and move on. I hope that I have been able to convey that Banner Island Ballpark is a very nice place to see a ballgame. That’s all you need to know, really.
Rex is America’s finest radio d.j. and now an official inductee in the #Cupdate Hall of Fame.