To see all posts from my August 12 visit to the Spokane Indians, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Spokane’s Avista Stadium was my 27th and final ballpark stop of the season, bringing my lifetime total to…well, I really don’t know at the moment, but something like 150. Sometimes all these ballparks start to blur together, forming a monolithic facility of the mind. Other times, like during this particular Friday evening night in Spokane, every moment stands out as distinct.
It was gorgeous night in a gorgeous ballpark, inside and out.
As mentioned in the previous post, the right field foul line is a scant 296 feet away from home plate. I hope these fans brought their gloves, or are at least prepared to catch some dingers in their beer cups.
Further back from the field (but still in “catch a dinger” territory), two young fans were playing a giant game of checkers. Note that the kid in black shoes is moving a black checker, while his opponent took off his shoes and is representing his side of the board via white socks. I am convinced this was intentional.
Heading toward center field, one finds “The Depot.” This replica train car used to be part of a restaurant, and was placed in the ballpark by a crane. It’s appropriate to the area, too, as there are railroad tracks approximately 200 years from the ballpark.
I was still wandering about with Indians senior vice president Otto Klein at this juncture of the evening. He told me the team overstaffs the ballpark, so that “customer service standards go way beyond anything anyone would expect at a game.”
“We want you to spill your beer, so you see how fast we clean it up and replace it,” he said. “You could eat off the floor, though I wouldn’t recommend it. Every day is someone’s Opening Day.”
Being chronically overstaffed allows the Indians to do things like host Baseball Bingo on an evening with over 6000 fans in the ballpark (in my experience, I’ve founf that most teams reserve Baseball Bingo for quiet weekday evenings). And if they want to check their bingo cards, fans know just where to go. There are referees positioned at the aisles.
Behind home plate, there is a candy-striped box reserved for doctors. The doctor sitting in the box is at the ready to deal with injuries from foul balls or any other fan emergency. Klein said that the box is generally occupied by an internist who receives practicum hours for his or her attendance. It never sits MD.
Those in the doctor box get a view that, approximately, looks like this.
All Spokane Indians games are broadcast on the radio. A select few are broadcast on local TV station SWX — Right Now Sports and Weather — and this was one of them. Sam Adams and color man Bob Castle were in the Bob Robertson press box calling the game, and reporter Lindsay Joy was doing live spots from the stands. One of these live spots was an interview with me, as the game was going on, as we stood hard up against the home dugout.
I promised Lindsay I would save her from any foul balls that came her way as she faced away from the field, and fortunately we never found out if I could keep that promise (my guess is “probably not.”) The interview went well, just breezed right along, and it was fun being able to talk about who I am and what I do in such an uniquely immediate fashion.
“Down in front!” says man wearing tie-dyed shirt.
Afterward I stopped by the production truck, parked just outside the ballpark. I’m paraphrasing, but they told me that my interview with Lindsay was “the greatest moment in the history of live television.” Or at least that’s what I choose to believe.
Duty called once again, however, as I was recruited to participate in an on-field paint can stacking competition. I easily could have won this thing. But, as you can see, I got greedy and greediness led to defeat. I was like a walking Aesop’s fable out there.
Despite my defeat, Doris the Spokane-asaurus was happy to see me afterwards.
I was once again in the Bob Robertson press box because I was once again taking part in an SWX televised endeavor. Sam Adams and Bob Castle, TV announcers both, had agreed to serve as designated eaters while they were broadcasting the game. This, too, was a Ben’s Biz Blog first. And since it integrated so quickly and seamlessly into the evening as a whole I’m not going to document it in a separate post. I’m just gonna keep right on rolling.
A small array of items had been assembled just for Sam and Bob.
On the left, in the front, is deep-fried PB&J. Next to that are the Bacon Blue Cheese Fries — beer-coated fries with blue cheese dressing, mixed with cheese and bacon crumbles. And, finally, we had a Walking Taco. As the game was going on, Sam and Bob tried these items and offered their opinions while (nominally) calling the game in progress. It was a bit chaotic.
Thanks to Indians public relations director Bud Bareither for helping to make what transpired above a reality.
That’s a vintage safe, unearthed during renovations and, yet, never opened. Read all about it, and savor the mystery.
Of course, the combination of baseball and Friday night equals fireworks. But first, the fans all sang along to “Sweet Caroline.” If there’s one thing I learned this season, it’s that “Sweet Caroline” is played at ballparks all over the country with no regard to affiliation. So, sure, a Rangers farm team in Washington state? Have at it.
I’d share my fireworks photos, but per usual they were awful. Pyro-terrible. But what wasn’t (isn’t?) awful is/was my nightly Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day, which I wrote and disseminated as fans were filing out of the ballpark.
Among the individuals filing out of the ballpark was broadcaster Sam Adams, happily toting all the leftovers from his previous on-air eating spree.
And that didn’t just do it for my time in Spokane, it did it for my road trip out west as well as my entire 2016 traveling season. This is always a bittersweet feeling and, per usual, a fortuitous selection on a local rock radio station helped provide the proper soundtrack to my mood.
Thanks to everyone I’ve met along the way, as well as to everyone who has followed along with me as I attempt to chronicle my experiences. This marks the end of a blogging era, with a new one soon to begin.
To see all posts from my August 11 visit to the Tri-City Dust Devils, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Minor League Baseball is, often, a family affair. Therefore it made sense that, when I visited the Tri-City Dust Devils, I had a whole family of designated eaters. This is Theresa and Joe Scott, flanking their son, Hunter. As designated eaters, the Scotts would be tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
The Scotts live in Pasco, so close to Gesa Stadium that they could walk to it if they wanted to. Joe was born and raised here, Theresa moved to the area when she was seven. Joe works for the BNSF Railroad as a labor hostler, a job that includes tasks such as refueling the trains and changing the brake chutes. He’s been with BNSF for 14 years; both his Dad and his uncle work there.
Baseball factors heavily into the Scott’s summers. Theresa is president of the Pasco Little League, Joe coaches and Hunter plays second base and shortstop. The family are Dust Devils season ticket holders and members of the booster club, and in that capacity they host players during the season (at the time I visited they were hosting reliever Mark Zimmerman, though he was soon promoted to the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm).
Hunter, while not attending school (he’s in the fifth grade) and playing second base, is a member of the local 4H club. He told me a sad story about a pig he had been raising, who had escaped from his enclosure, couldn’t get back in and died of heat stroke (this is a desert climate, remember).
“He was a good pig,” said Hunter. “I was gonna name him Bacon.”
“That’s what we told him, ‘Don’t give it it a real name,'” added Theresa. “You don’t want to get attached.”
Bacon wasn’t on the menu this evening, but pulled pork was. This is the Grand Slam Burger, in which the burger is topped with cheese, barbecue sauce and pulled pork.
“It’s good,” said Joe. “The pulled pork and burger combination was something I wasn’t so sure about. I’m a big pork guy, and raised pigs growing up, but wasn’t expecting them to go together.”
Well, close enough. Hunter ended up with two $1 food vouchers.
(None of my garlic fries pictures came out well at all. Cameras, like vampires, don’t like garlic.)
That probably would’ve been enough food, but why stop with “enough”? This is America. Hacienda Del Sol, a local Mexican restaurant, has a kiosk at the ballpark. I went to this kiosk and procured a chicken nachos with everything.
This is so stupid:
We got the “everything” nachos despite Joe’s stated aversion to sour cream and guacamole. He said that he could work around it.
“If they’re looking for something a little different I say ‘Oh, you want the nachos,'” she said.
Hunter didn’t want the nachos. Or, maybe he did, but he had more important things to do. Namely, running in the nightly “Dusty’s Dash,” in which hordes of kids chase mascot Dusty across the field.
To see all posts from my August 10 visit to the Boise Hawks, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
At Memorial Stadium, home of the Boise Hawks, I met a man named Sean Miller. But Sean was not just any man. Sean had volunteered to be my designated eater, consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Sean, who works as a branch manager for construction machinery corporation Caterpillar, is an Idaho guy. He’s lived in Boise for the past 15 years, and before that he was in Pocatello. He and his friends are big baseball fans, to the extent that they’ll think nothing of leaving Boise at midnight to hit up a Rockies day game.
“All I need is a Rockie dog,” he said.
Sean is also a big fan of the Hawks, especially since the team became a Rockies affiliate (prior to the 2015 season). He and his family have been season ticket holders for four years, a role he transitioned to after hanging up his softball spikes. When dining at Memorial Stadium, Sean said that he usually goes with the Killer Kielbasa. Today, his dining options would be a bit more varied.
We began with an order of “Redneck Tacos,” available from the “Nacho Business” concourse kiosk. Redneck Tacos consist of pulled pork, cabbage, cheese, pico de gallo and barbecue sauce. An order of three will set you back $8.50.
“The pork’s really good, and I like that they have the cabbage on there. This is like a Carolina pulled pork sandwich,” said Sean. “You can’t go wrong with barbecue pulled pork.”
Next up was the Idaho Cheesesteak: provolone cheese, meat, peppers, onions and…hash browns.
The Idaho Cheesesteak had been procured at this concession stand, located in a picnic area on the third base side of the stadium.
“Rocky Mountain Oysters” sounds appealing enough, but it’s just another name for deep-fried bull calf gonads. (I once enjoyed a similar dish in my pre-gluten free days, at a cattleman’s restaurant in Oklahoma City. There they were called lamb fries.)
Sean was familiar with Boise’s favorite culinary euphemism, telling me that nearby Eagle, Idaho, is home to one of the biggest Rocky Mountain Oyster feeds in the country. He also wanted no part in eating one. All of a sudden, Sean remembered he had a previous engagement with a facepainter. Ok, Sean. Fine. See you later. We’ll just have to find someone else to eat testicles.
That person turned out to be Toby Miller (no relation to Sean), a fellow Caterpillar employee. Toby, having grown up in a family of ranchers, was far less squeamish than Sean.
“I’m on the business end of a steer occasionally,” said Toby. “When that happens, that’s what you end up having for dinner. They’re good with a cold beer.”
He then turned to Sean, who was still getting his head painted. “See, the problem with you is that you think too much.”
Toby in action:
“I do triathlons, so this is not my usual diet,” said Toby. “I like the small ones, they taste like chicken. That’s the joke, right? It all tastes like chicken.”
God bless Toby, stepping in where Sean dared not tread.
To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Soon after arriving at Reno’s Greater Nevada Field, I traveled to one of the ballpark’s onsite restaurants. This restaurant is called Bugsy’s, and it would be the site of that evening’s designated eater experience. There was just one problem, however — the evening before, my designated eater had regretfully backed out of his designated eating commitments because he wasn’t able to get off from work. I told the Aces about my predicament, and they went in-house to find a solution.
This is Max Margulies, a corporate partnerships account executive for both the Aces as well as the Reno 1868 FC soccer club (which will play its inaugural season at Greater Nevada Field in 2017). Max was my new designated eater, tasked with consuming the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Max, 23, hails from San Diego and went to college at the University of Oregon. He’s now working in baseball and soccer, but says that his ultimate goal is to work for an NBA team. His favorite pastimes are body surfing and going kayaking in Lake Tahoe. His biggest fear? Spiders.
As you can see, Max had a formidable array of food laid out in front of him.
In the above photo, the left-hand side of the dog is the Reno side. Reno is represented via pulled pork and apple cider vinegar slaw. On the right is a portion of the hot dog representing Salt Lake, that evening’s opponent. The Salt Lake side had roasted corn, bell peppers, cilantro crema and queso fresco.
Max went for the Reno side first.
Max called this a “filling bite” and praised the taste of the slaw. However, he did have one criticism.
“It was tough to hold,” he said. “It kind of felt like a wet diaper.”
With this appealing imagery still in mind, Max switched to the Salt Lake side of the Versus Dog.
Next up was the Bambino Fries, which are topped with pulled pork, chicken, chicken and apple slaw. This was not one of my better food photography efforts.
“I like the tangy barbecue sauce,” said Max. “I’m a loaded fries kind of guy so these were right up my alley.”
I did not get any photos of Max eating the fries, which is a shame as these photos would have surely been a great benefit to humanity. But I did not make this mistake when it came to the next item: the Caliente Burger.
The Caliente Burger consists of a half-pound Wagyu beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, fried “bottlecaps” (jalapenos) and a “Firecracker” aioli made of lemon, mayo and Sriacha sauce. It’s a mouthful, as Max soon learned. To get this thing down, he had to do his best impression of a snake eating a goat.
Finally, there was a Verde Meatball Sub. It is topped with verde chili sauce, queso fresco and cilantro sprigs on a sourdough roll.
“I’d never had verde sauce on a meatball before,” said Max. “But it works, and sourdough is a good choice.”
We could’ve have stopped there, of course. But no, we were taking it to the Max! Now it was time for dessert.
Clearly, Max was running out of steam. He’d been through so much already, in such a short amount of time. It was getting increasingly hard for him to go on.
But never fear — Jack Reinheimer is here!
This was an historic first! Jack is the Aces shortstop, and never before had a first player spent time as one of my designated eaters. Aces marketing manager Audrery Hill had recruited him from the clubhouse, and even though he had reportedly just “crushed” some barbecue, he was happy to travel to the upper level to eat some more. It helped, of course, that Jack wasn’t in the starting line-up on this particular evening. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to continue his pregame food crushing spree.
“All I do is eat and play baseball,” said Jack, summing up his existence in a mere seven words.
You’d think someone who loves “crushing” food wouldn’t even bother with utensils, but Jack took a polite — some would say dainty — approach to the dessert plate.
“I’ll eat anything,” he said.
At one point, Jack got distracted by the view from the upper level.
“It looks pretty easy to get hits from up here,” he said.
Jack got plenty of hits in 2016. He had 144, tied with teammate Kyle Jensen for fifth-most in the Pacific Coast League.
Jack agreed, and then turned his thoughts to the Aces’ next road trip.
“If there’s ever a Chipotle in the airport, it’s getting hit up,” he said. “The guys’ll just crush it.”
To see all posts from my August 6 visit to the Las Vegas 51s, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Shortly after unveiling my 2016 road trip schedule, I received an enthusiastic email from a reader requesting to be the designated eater during my August 6 visit to Las Vegas’s Cashman Field. That request was granted. Unfortunately, just before the day in question rolled around, said reader had to renege on this commitment due to a family emergency.
I didn’t have to look far for a replacement, however. My friend Jon Fischer, a fellow alumnus of Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pennsylvania, had joined me for the San Jose-Visalia-Vegas portion of my trip. He volunteered to fill the designated eating void, and was thereby tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Jon is a native of southern California, but he grew up on the East Coast. We became friends in seventh grade, when he and his family moved from Massachusetts to suburban Philadelphia. His long, curly and occasionally greasy hair was a subject of fascination and ridicule within the middle school ecosystem in which we first met, but he fought fire with fire and never back down from his detractors. We later comprised two thirds of the band Spice, which was named after a cable channel we were fascinated with at the time. Then the Spice Girls came out and we changed our name to the Muckrakers.
These days Jon teaches at the California Maritime Academy, which he described as the “smallest, most specialized campus of the California State University system, which is the largest university system in the world.” Jon is also an artist.
We were on our own during this anomalous evening at the ballpark, operating on nothing but gut instinct. I’m always on the lookout for unique and/or regionally specific food items, and the main concession stands on both the first and third base side of Cashman Field were of the hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, peanuts, chips and soda variety. Though the Las Vegas 51s are named after Area 51 and feature an alien on their logo, we found very little that would qualify as “out of this world.”
All was not lost, however. At a small stand on the first base side of the ballpark, we located an alcohol-focused concession stand offering an “Atomic Dog.” We got an Atomic Dog. This is what an Atomic Dog looks like.
Jon gave it a whirl.
“I think I should’ve gotten a napkin,” said Jon. “The hot dog was substantial. The jalapenos could be a little spicier, but they add a little kick. Some grilled onions would be good on this. The pretzel bun is good. It didn’t hold together, though.”
Of course, there are other things to drink. And come of them come in a collector’s cup. This, of course, is for all you #cupdate fiends out there.
Our search for something — anything! — else to highlight eventually brought us to Cashman Field’s nothing-if-not-aptly-named “Club Level Restaurant.”
The view was nice, though.
Upon reemerging on the concourse, we came across a Hawaiian Shave Ice stand. This, then, would be dessert.
“There’s more snow and less ice, which is the way it should be,” said Jon. “I got banana and strawberry, and both are pretty good. The banana is sufficiently artificial tasting. Banana’s the best shaved ice flavor, by the way. And this is a pretty good container for all of this. It will find a home in a landfill soon.”
“Go see more Minor League Baseball games,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed myself.”
To see all posts from my August 5 visit to the Visalia Rawhide, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
If you live in the Visalia area, then you might know Chad Stafford and Mike Pesto. They’re local celebrities.
Specfically, Chad and Mike are local radio celebrities. Chad is a longtime DJ with KJUG 106.7, a Rawhide media partner, and currently does traffic reports for KJUG as well as three other local stations in the same ownership group. Mike recently switched to one of those stations, My 97.5, which plays Hot Adult Contemporary.
“We’ll play Usher, Maroon 5, Nickelback, then switch to some old ’80s songs like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper,” he explained.
Mike grew up outside of Chicago, and his resume reads like a Minor League Baseball player’s transaction roster. He started in Salinas, then went to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then back to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then Peoria and then back to Salinas and then, finally, Visalia.
Chad is a homebody by contrast, having spent 32 years in the Visalia area.
Chad is that rarest of creatures: a repeat designated eater. He performed the task back in 2013, when I first visited Visalia. In 2013, Chad had no hair.
When Chad served as designated eater in 2013, it was a quiet night at the ballpark and the team put together a formidable spread for him. This time around, things were different. It was a fireworks night and the place was filled with fans and assistance from the team in assembling a culinary sampling was minimal. That, combined with the exceedingly speedy pace of the ballgame (it finished in two hours and four minutes), led to a comparatively rushed and improvisational designated eating experience.
But, hey, we’re all professionals. We can adjust. We were in the Rawhide’s Hall of Fame Club, and we procured two orders of nachos. But not just any nachos. Nachos that were served in a full-size helmet and topped with pulled pork, nacho cheese, barbecue sauce, “regular” cheese, peppers, onions and jalapenos.
Alright, guys. Do your thing.
“I love these. It’s a perfect thing to share with friends,” said Chad.
“Or not. You can just say you’re gonna share them,” replied Mike. “I love that there’s pulled pork, that they switch it up from beef.”
“You can wash the helmet and wear it out the next day,” said Chad. “I’ve got one at home. It fits perfectly.”
Okay, so what to do next? I’m always looking to highlight that which is “unique,” and as far as I could tell the most unique thing we could obtain was “Spicy Corn Nuggets.” They were available at this stand located behind home plate. It was practically deserted down there, a stark contrast to the bustling environment of the Hall of Fame Club.
The Spicy Corn Nuggets came with a triumvirate of dipping sauces: barbecue, mustard and ranch. Mike and Chad were psyched to try them.
Chad: “But there’s an afterkick. I like it with the ranch.”
Mike: “I do it with the barbecue. It’s sweet, and counteracts the spicy. It’s perfect.”
Chad: “I’ll try the mustard. [Tries mustard] It’s pretty good, but I like the ranch better. It’s basically like jalapeno poppers, but with a fancier kick.”
And that was not at all. This particular food stand also had Fried Pickles.
“I don’t think I’ve had a pickle in any way, shape or form,” said Mike. “But I had to go to Walgreens at three in the morning to get pickles for my wife when she was pregnant, so now I’m having flashbacks.”
After careful consideration, Chad said that the best sauce to accompany the pickles was, once again, ranch. Mike agreed.
On this note of agreement, Chad and Mike then said goodbye. They’re professionals.
Thanks, Chad. Thanks, Mike.
To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Never before in the history of this blog have I split a designated eater post into two parts…UNTIL NOW! The San Jose Giants have brought me to this historic moment, simply by offering too much food to coherently document in one post. After previously highlighting the offerings found along Gigante’s Alley, we now move on to the main event: Turkey Mike’s barbecue.
Turkey Mike’s, located on the third base side of the ballpark, has long been a staple of the San Jose Giants experience. The lines are generally long, as one can see from the zig-zagging rows of chain-linked stanchions that guide patrons to their barbecue hopes and dreams.
Turkey Mike’s is named after turn-of-the-20th century outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin, who logged time in San Jose during a long and generally illustrious baseball career. He was named “Turkey Mike” because of what Wikipedia refers to as his “unique strut” (not because he was an actual turkey).
Turkey Mike’s has a sprawling menu, which fans have plenty of time to contemplate as they pass stanchion after stanchion after stanchion.
Turkey Mike’s is overseen by food and beverage coordinator Ramiro Mijares.
After taking that picture of Ramiro, I said “Ramiro, can I take another one? You weren’t looking at the camera.” Ramiro obliged, but then once again didn’t look at the camera (though one of his employees picked up the slack).
I think Ramiro was messing with me. But Ramiro wasn’t there to make friends. He had a barbecue plate to assemble:
First row: Chicken Apple Sausage, Ribs, Chicken
Second row: Tri-Tip, Big Filthy, The Heater
(The Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is made for the team by San Jose’s Oso Pepper Company.)
Two of the above six items need a bit of explanation. In addition to being Donald Trump’s Secret Service code name, the “Big Filthy” is a double cheeseburger topped with pulled pork. The “Heater” is a hot sausage link topped with pulled pork and jalapenos.
In lieu of close-up photos of the above items, please view this Vine. The man at the end of it is John Lambert, who was the evening’s designated eater.
Mike, his wife, Kristen and their friends Julia and Mike quickly dug into this barbecue feast. I was not able to document their thoughts and reactions to the extent I did in the previous post, as I kept having to leave the scene to observe (or compete in) between-inning contests.
Mike and Kristen certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, however.
“My favorite was the Heater,” added Kristen. “It as phenomenal, but not burn-your-mouth spicy.”
Those in the know know that no visit to the San Jose Giants is complete without a visit from Paul “Super Churros Man” Cerda. He’s a ballpark icon, to the extent that the Giants sell “I’m Just Here for the Churros” t-shirts in the team store (Kristen wore one to the game, in fact). For more on Paul, check out my MiLB.com story HERE.
When you’re in love, this is the only way to eat a churro.
Oh, and we also got some ice cream in a helmet. This is Willow Glen Creamery’s famous “Dole Whip.”
John, please accept this “Designated Eater” t-shirt as a token of appreciation for your food consumption efforts.
To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
If there’s one thing you might know about me, it’s that I have a designated eater at nearly every ballpark I visit. That individual is tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At San Jose’s Municipal Stadium, home of the California League Giants, that individual was John Lambert.
John, a resident of San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, grew up in Los Angeles. He went to college at Santa Barbara University, where he met his wife, Kristen. She finished school there, but John left before graduating and joined the Navy. He served in Iraq and southeast Asia as a Hospital Corpsman, spending time with the Marines because, as he explained, “Marines don’t have medical personnel so you get attached to their units.”
Upon leaving the military, John enrolled at USC business school and is planning on finishing next year. He now works for Kaiser Permanente, and hopes to remain in the healthcare field after finishing school.
On this evening, John wasn’t just a designated eater. He was a credentialed designated eater. The Giants do things the right way.
He also would not be eating alone. John was accompanied by Kristen as well as their friends Julia and Matt Messinger, who happened to be visiting from out of town to attend the Outside Lands music festival.
The designated eating crew was certainly rolling deep on this evening. In addition to the above foursome, my friend Jon was along for the ride and taking pictures all the while.
Meanwhile, the six of us were accompanied by Giants CMO Juliana Paoli, marketing coordinator Sarah “Queen I’m A Balla” Acosta and food and beverage supervisor Tara Tallman. Phew! Let’s begin at the beginning. Where we began was the row of food carts stationed along “Gigante’s Alley.”
First up was the “Frickle” — a grilled cheese with fried pickles, served on garlic-buttered bread. It’s available at the Lagunitas stand. Tara, who would know about such things, said it’s been a “huge hit” at the ballpark.
“It’s buttery, crispy and not too salty,” said John. “I’d get it again.”
So would Kristen and Julia.
The Giants sell Hard Frescos at the ballpark, at a new Gigantes Alley cart. Hard Frescos are 5% ABV Mexican fruit ciders, using all-natural ingredients. They are gluten-free, so I indulged.
I spoke briefly with Hard Frescos co-founder Peter Sterns, who explained that the product was inspired by the aguas frescas (fruit-flavored water) he’d often enjoyed on trips to Mexico. They use real fruit and cane sugar, and aim for an authentic taste. (“It’s not a Senor Frogs, Cancun, Bud Light kind of thing,” he said). There are four flavors — Citrico, Cola Buena, Juicy Jamaica and Tangy Tamarindo — and while I can’t remember which one I had I do remember enjoying it. So there you go.
Here’s Peter, flanked by his wife and in-laws.
“They have a good texture, and I like that you can hold it and eat it during the game,” said John. “If it falls, it goes right back inside.”
(Unless, you know, someone is feeding it to you from three feet away.)
We then moved on to a Barbecue Chicken Pizza, courtesy of Willow Street Pizza.
These were gluten-free, as tacos often are (and always should be). So John and I enjoyed our tacos in tandem.
I’ve had plenty of experience through the years when it comes to posing with food. Note that the item should always be held so that it is visible to the camera. I’m not faulting John for not doing so. These things take years of practice.
“Good!” said John, regarding his taco. My notes tell me that these were “solid street style tacos, gone in two bites.”
I’m not sure what inspired this particular reaction on my part.
Believe it or not, the items documented above only constituted the appetizer portion of the evening. The main event was still to come. In what will be a designated eating first, I’m going to split this into two posts. Let’s just take a step back, digest, and reconvene in a couple of hours.
To see all posts from my August 3 visit to the Modesto Nuts, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
This man, his name is Derek Nyquist.
Derek lives in Turlock, California, located approximately 15 miles south of Modesto. He’s an eligible bachelor who regularly attends Nuts games, as well as those hosted by the Stockton Ports and Fresno Grizzlies. Derek said that he’s been a huge baseball fan ever since he was nine years old; he is a big autograph collector, and also plays on Sundays for a team in the amateur Mexican-American League.
Derek earns his living making milk cartons for Evergreen Packaging, who have a plant in Turlock. He said that if you “drink a milk carton, then there’s a good chance I inspected it.”
“I put on the side panels [of the carton],” he continued. “There are games for kids on it, no missing persons. I once did a side panel for the Everett AquaSox.”
Derek’s job on this evening was to serve as my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). We were in attendance on a Wednesday evening, and on Wednesdays the Nuts offer $1 specials on a variety of concession stand staples. Ed Mack, who oversees the Nuts concessions, quickly assembled a cavalcade of dollar items for Derek to sample.
The soda in the below picture happened to be a Columbia sarsaparilla. In my youth, I remember watching an episode of Full House where Stephanie is unable to spell “sarsaparilla” correctly and, consequently, I have never made the same mistake. This is one of many ways in which I am superior to Stephanie.
As for this particular sarsaparilla, it’s made by Columbia Soda Works. Derek said that Columbia Soda Works is a “tourist attraction” and that “they film Westerns there.” I had a sarsaparilla as well, and was heard to remark that it was “creamier, sweeter and less fizzy than your average root beer.”
Continuing on this “interesting non-alcoholic beverages served at Modesto Nuts games” tangent, please note that the team sells “Noah’s Spring Water.”
Noah’s is bottled by the Modesto-based Varni Brothers Corporation. The company website notes that the “Noah’s” name was chosen because it is a “friendly and refreshing symbol with more than 4000 years of recognition.”
Finally, if it’s beer you’re wanting while attending a Modesto Nuts game, please note that the team offers selections from Turlock-based Dust Bowl Brewing. The picnic pavilion at John Thurman Field is sponsored by Dust Bowl Brewing, as a matter of fact.
But back to the subject at hand, which I believe was Derek and the dollar menu. Derek took his dollar dog and dressed it up accordingly.
“It wasn’t cold,” he said. “You get a cold one every once in a while.”
We moved on to a new addition on the Nuts’ concession menu, one that is rather unorthodox by ballpark standards: a Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl. Ed told us it was part of an attempt to “lean healthy” on the ballpark menu and that it had “been well-received and one of our bigger sellers.”
“It’s better than I thought it would be,” said Derek. “It’s got a little bit of spice to it. I’ve never had anything like this at a ballgame. Normally I’d go toward junk food.”
Next up was the Pulled Pork Quesadilla, a made-to-order item which also contained a melted, four-blend cheese. It is served with a side of tortilla chips, sour cream and salsa.
“I haven’t had a lot of quesadillas in my time,” said Derek, who can be seen brandishing this quesadilla in the photo at the top of this post. “It’s good. There’s plenty of meat and they didn’t overdo the cheese.”
And speaking of cheese, these are deep-fried cheese curds. The Nuts sell them at a finger food stand that specializes in garlic fries.
Derek quickly provided a demonstration on how to eat a deep-fried cheese curd.
“They’re as advertised, I guess,” said Derek, of the cheese curds. “I can’t say they’re anything out of the ordinary. I’d be more apt to get the rice bowl again.”
Thus concluded Derek’s stint as a designated eater.
“You filled me up. This is the most ballpark food I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’d definitely rank the Teriyaki Bowl at the top. The quesadilla and hot dog are tied, and then the cheese curds. And I’d never had Columbia Sarsaparilla before either.”
As a token of appreciation for his hard work, Derek received the official “Designated Eater” t-shirt.
Derek was the second person to ever receive the t-shirt, and the first to pair it with a Salem-Keizer Volcanoes hat. The Volcanoes are pleased, which is a good thing. No one wants to deal with a displeased Volcano.
— S-K Volcanoes 🌋⚾ (@SKVolcanoes) August 4, 2016
To see all posts from my August 2 visit to the Stockton Ports, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).
Joel Zamora and his son, Fernando, are Stockton natives. Joel is a union organizer now based out of Washington, D.C., while Fernando, an avid fisherman, works at a local Loew’s hardware store.
Joel and Fernando have attended Ports games for years, and have many memories based around their time spent together at Banner Island Ballpark. But on this particular August evening, they were able to enjoy a brand new experience. Joel and Fernando were designated eaters (the individuals recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
As was the case three years ago, Nick Jackson of Ovations Food Services oversaw the designated eating experience. We began with Sriacha Fries, Baked Potato Fries and, for me, a gluten-free Chicken Caesar Salad.
Joel praised the Baked Potato Fries as “very rich and flavorful” while Fernando said they were “filling, with good bacon flavor.”
Next up were the Sriacha Fries, topped with Parmesan and the titular hot sauce.
“Yeah, these were more a snack,” Joel responded. “The Baked Potato Fries, they were more of a meal.”
My Chicken Caesar Salad, enlivened by lemon and Parmesan and generous strips of chicken, was easily a meal in and of itself. In the below photo, the girl sitting behind me is like, “Who is this idiot?”
As mentioned in my previous Ports posts, Stockton is the asparagus capital of the world. Thus, the Ports often offer asparagus-centric concession items. Deep-fried asparagus is available on a nightly basis and, on occasion, one can get an Asparagus Dog. It’s an Alpine Meats eight-inch hot dog, with an asparagus spear on each side.
The above tweet got an immediate reaction, almost all of it negative.
The Zamoras were undaunted, however.
“I can’t really taste the asparagus, and I’d prefer to have onions,” said Joel. “But I’ve been all over the country, just like you have, and Alpine is the best hot dog. And they’re made right here in Stockton.”
Fernando was all for the asparagus, saying that it gave the dog “an extra kick.”
“I must have liked that hot dog, because I finished it pretty quick,” concluded Joel.
Well, then how about some Pulled Pork Nachos?
“This is the first time I’ve had nachos,” said Joel. “I’m trying to get into it, but I’m more traditional. I think that the pulled pork takes away from the chip.”
This was, therefore, the lone item to result in a generational divide.
“I understand the concept,” replied Fernando. “I like it. The pulled pork is very flavorful.”
“See, I like the old stuff and he likes the new,” said Joel. “When it’s just cheese and jalapenos, you can taste the chips. You can taste the cheese.”
While father and son were bickering about nacho preference, I laid in to a gluten-free cheeseburger that had been presented to me like a gift from the gods. Never have I looked better.
Joel and Fernando moved on to the Naan Pizza. There was a bit of kitchen confusion regarding just what was in the Naan Pizza, and whether it was gluten-free, so I don’t feel comfortable going into any specifics. But here’s what it looks like. It’s all about the visuals anyway.
“Yeah, and there’s not too much sauce. It tastes homemade,” added Fernando.
Once again, Joel and Fernando were able to present a unified front. The great nacho argument of 2016 was already a distant memory.
As the Zamoras finished their pizza, I obtained a Volcano Splash drink. These are available at the aptly named Volcano Splash stand, provided by an outside vendor. It’s really amazing what dry ice can do to a beverage.
While I was lost in a fog, Joel and Fernando moved on to a dessert of their own.
“My favorite was the the Naan Pizza, the hot dog and the Pulled Pork Nachos,” said Fernando. “I definitely found some new favorites.”
Joel had to leave before the ballgame was over, but Fernando stuck around. It’s a good thing he did, as I remembered that I was in possession of my brand-new official designated eater t-shirts. Fernando became the first recipient.
I’d write Zamora if I could, but that’s all I’ve got. Thanks to Joel and Fernando.