Yesterday’s culinary compendium included copious coverage of ballpark food and regional cuisine, focusing on trips I made to Arizona, California, Ohio and Indiana.
The journey continues today, with a heavy emphasis on what may have been my favorite road trip of 2011: the Carolinas. It all started at Joseph P. Riley ballpark, the home of the Charleston RiverDogs. This is a team that has provided me with plenty of food-based news items through the years (Homewreckers! Pickle Dogs! Pig On A Stick!), and I was excited to finally make my first visit.
The team was ready for me.
Not the best photo, I know, but hopefully indicative of the RiverDogs’ bountiful array of creative food options. Oh, and a Philly Cheesesteak Brat eventually made an appearance.
Here’s a better view of the top-loaded “Kitchen Sink Nachos,” which are served in a pizza box.
But I focused my efforts primarily on the Pickle Dog, making sure to grip the pickle firmly from the rear so that the hot dog would not slip out.
The next day I drove to Myrtle Beach (home of both the Pelicans and the Mermen), and en route I stopped for lunch at “Hog Heaven BBQ.” Apparently, what passes for heaven in the mind of a pig is an afterlife of eternal cannibalization.
Dismayed and confused by this concept, I instead opted for some crab.
I was admonished by various quarters for ordering seafood at a BBQ joint, and I understand those criticisms. But here in NYC a platter such as the above is (relatively) hard to come by, and I have no regrets. None!
I stayed with the seafood theme at that night’s Pelicans game, ordering up some fried clams.
The following afternoon, en route to Kinston, I went to a BBQ joint and actually ordered some BBQ. Bart’s was the name.
At Grainger Stadium that evening, I followed the recommendation of GM Ben Jones and ordered a Philly Cheese Steak, North Carolina style. “Magnifique!” is what I imagine a French fan of Carolina League baseball would say upon biting into the following:
Are there any French fans of Minor League Baseball out there? What a rare subset of fans that must be.
Much less rare is the sight of a Bojangles fried chicken joint in the state of North Carolina. As I was making my way from Kinston to Durham, I patronized the following establishment.
Being a man of perpetual movement, at that night’s Durham Bulls game I ordered a Doritos-brand “Walking Taco.”
That’s nacho typical taco, but it provided all the sustenance I needed until the following morning’s stop at Biscuitville.
Less than two hours later, I patronized another regional fast food chain: Cookout. I’ve since heard from many Cookout aficionados, all of whom insisted that milkshakes should be purchased. Duly noted, but this time around I ended up with a Cheerwine float.
One of the highlights of the following day’s travels was lunch at Zack’s Hot Dogs, a Burlington, N.C. institution.
Since I’m always a proponent of a balanced and healthy diet, the hot dog lunch was followed by a bologna burger at that evening’s Danville Braves game.
The last stop on the Carolina excursion was Winston-Salem. A pre-game meal was obtained a Bibb’s BBQ, located a proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from BB&T Ballpark (domicile of the Dash). And what a meal it was:
That’s about all she wrote from the Carolinas; but fortunately I was able to squeeze one more trip into the 2011 campaign: Maryland, home of the crab pretzel!
More specifically, the home of the cheese and crustacean-laden snack seen above was Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium. But perhaps an even more anomalous ballpark treat is that which can be found at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium: pickled beet eggs!
The Hagerstown Suns experienced some drama this past season, when a light pole fell onto the field during a storm. This is where the light pole used to stand…or is it? Maybe this mark was made by a huge pickled egg!
Or maybe a huge Krumpe’s donut used to lie on that spot! After the game I went to nearby Krumpe’s Do-Nuts (open 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.) and picked up a few.
My trip, as well as my season of traveling, ended the next day in Delmarva. Needless to say, I did not leave Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on an empty stomach.
That was dinner, consisting of a “Chessie Dog” (half-pound frank with cheese, onions, peppers), Crab Dip (with three bread dipping sticks), and a Scrapple sandwich. But there’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s as appealing as the concoction known as “Sherman’s Gelati.”
And that, as they say, was that. I hope you enjoyed, or at least tolerated, this trip down recent memory lane. It provided me yet another opportunity to revive a season which is in actuality dead as the proverbial doornail, and for that I am grateful.
Sorry that it has taken me this long to get a blog post up this week, but please know that it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve been traveling through the great states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, taking impromptu naps in deserted Boscov’s parking lots and ordering scrapple at diners as part of a self-conscious attempt to display my Keystone State bona fides.
But who cares about any of that? What matters is the present, and at the present I’m writing to you from a budget-conscious place of lodging in the fine city of Aberdeen, MD. This evening I watched a baseball game, in which the hometown IronBirds lost to the Tri-City ValleyCats by a score of 16-1.
The game took place at Ripken Stadium, named after hometown hero (and team owner) Cal Ripken Jr.
I had never been to a game here, although I’ve passed the stadium on numerous occasions while driving to destinations since forgotten on I95.
But the view from the road did not prepare me for the reality of the situation, as Ripken Stadium is located on a vast expanse of land.
But the endless horizon of the parking lot doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Shortly after arriving at the ballpark, I visited the press box. Here’s the view from up there:
The view toward the press box:
And there’s plenty of room to move just outside of the press box as well.
Such Brobdingnagian proportions left this Lilliputian blogger feeling disoriented, so I traveled outside for some fresh air.
Beyond left field was the sprawling grounds of the Ripken Academy, a center for youth baseball training and tournaments.
And next to it was a Courtyard Marriot, its architecture influenced by the warehouse surroundings of Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
Clearly, this needed to be explored.So, you know, I did.
The Ripken Academy grounds are truly impressive, even without this bronzed Cal there to greet you.
Rules to live by:
Each of the seven fields are named after a big league stadium.
And, yes, this Wrigley in miniature features ivy on the outfield walls.
It’s just too bad that those outfield dimensions reference Manhattan’s area code; can’t the Second City ever escape the shadow of the Big Apple?
But the crown jewel of the youth baseball complex is “Senior’s Yard”, modeled after the aforementioned Camden Yard’s and named after Cal Ripken, Sr.
This was a true youth baseball palace, a fitting homebase for the annual Cal Ripken World Series (an international tournament of the Babe Ruth League’s 12-year-old division). This year’s series took place from August 12-21, running concurrently (but not in concert) with the Little League World Series in Williamsport (also a New York-Penn League city).
This overload of parenthetical asides makes me wish I could communicate in the manner of Cal, Sr: pithy yet poignant.
And speaking of the game of baseball, that’s what I was there to see! So back to Ripken Stadium I went. I checked out an upstairs museum display…
and witnessed some bullpen pillow talk…
and soon enough it was time for the game to begin:
It was also time for the eating to begin! All of the Picnic Pavillion and Party Deck tables were covered like this for a reason…
The team sells all-you-can-eat crab feast group seating tickets, but this delectable steamed crustacean can be purchased at the Crab Shack for $24/dozen (or $36/two dozen or $115/bushel).
A variety of other food options could be found on the concourse…
but as the night wore on I found myself feeling quite jealous of these folks, munchin’ in the gloamin’.
But eating a dozen crabs, by myself, next to all my blogging and journalistic accoutrements was an untenable proposition. I settled for this $7 crab pretzel, topped with cheese and coated with a liberal amount of Old Bay seasoning.
I smashed it with a mallet before eating, but it wasn’t the same. Still good, though — and a meal in and of itself!
As mentioned in my MiLB.com piece, the IronBirds are in the midst of a decade-long sell-out streak. This doesn’t mean that all the seats are necessarily full — just that they’ve been sold. And a big part of the reason they’ve been sold are a strong season ticket base. Many of the stadium’s chairs are marked as such:
And the crowd that was there thrilled to the several between-inning performances of the Bucket Boys, a quartet of premier plastic percussionists.
I had seen video of these guys before, but they were even better live. Amazing stickwork and artful choregoraphy, and very well-suited for two-minute inning breaks.
But as for on-field highlights, there were very few. As mentioned at the top of this post, the IronBirds lost by a score of 16-1. The ValleyCats were just too much to handle.
Also too much to handle — the task of keeping my eyes open. Sorry for the uninspired conclusion, but it’s time to go gently into that good night.