I never set out to be a food blogger, and, really, I’m not. Nonetheless, food is a important component of the Minor League experience, and throughout my travels this past season I did my best to document ballpark comestibles in particular as well as regional cuisine in general.
Today’s missive (which went live at lunchtime for a reason) is the first of what will be a two-part compendium of the 2011 season’s food-based posts and photos. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section and via email: What are your favorite Minor League ballpark foods, and why?
What follow are some of mine, presented in the order in which they were consumed.
My first 2011 road trip began in Tucson, home of the T-Padres. And what better way to enjoy Kino Stadium’s sunset views than with a plate of nachos from ballpark vendor El Charro? Nothing too fancy, but the freshest of ingredients combined with from-the-oven homemade tortilla chips helped to distinguish this particular platter.
The following afternoon, a reader recommendation led me to local institution El Guero Canelo. The specialty there is the “Sonoran Dog,” which I described as a “hot dog is wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese, salsa, onions, tomatoes, beans, mayonnaise and who knows what else. All of this was safely ensconced in the specially-crafted (and delicious) roll and served with a roasted pepper on the side.”
After a fleeting highway encounter with the still-elusive Biz Girl, I made my west to territories occupied by the California League’s South Division entities. One of the highlights of this leg of the journey came in Lancaster, where I was able to enjoy a non-photo shopped encounter with the JetHawks’ delectable “Sweet Po-Tater Tots.”
The Sweet Po-Taters were a mere appetizer, for then came the so-called “Stealth Burger:” a hamburger topped with pulled pork and onion rings. It was a formidable affair:
The Stealth Burger looked downright microscopic in comparison to the Brobdingnagian creation that was served to me in Lake Elsinore. Behold the Storm’s “Homewrecker,” perhaps best explained in t-shirt form.
The following month I traversed the great state of Ohio (with a detour in Fort Wayne, IN). The first stop on this particular Minor League journey was Toledo, where appropriately-named concessions manager Corey Pleasant laid out a stunning pre-game feast.
Here we have Greek Nachos (gyro meat and pita chips), Pulled Pork Nachos, and “Bases-Loaded Fries.”
But that, of course, was not all. Here’s the “Muddy Dog,” topped with chili, cheese, and onions.
And this artisanal creation is the “Bloomin’ Bacon Burger,” a 1/3 lb. grilled Black Angus beef burger topped with crispy strips of bacon, deep fried onion rings, American cheese, and bistro sauce on a fresh Kaiser bun.
And, of course, no visit to Toledo is complete without a stop at the legendary Tony Packo’s. I visited the Birmingham location before heading west to Fort Wayne, ordering a hot dog with chili, Paprika Dumplings, and a side of “Pickles and Peppers.”
After Toledo, I attended two ballgames at the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ Parkview Field. The majority of the second evening was spent with culinary director Scott Kammerer, who gave me a thorough tour of the team’s concession offerings. The tour resulted in an MiLB.com article, as well as this stunning image:
and a hot dog with “Cincinnati Chili” (the TinCaps’ best attempt to emulate the famous Skyline recipe).
The TinCaps are named after Johnny Appleseed’s iconic headwear, so this Apple Dumpling dessert was a fitting (and inspired) addition to the menu.
From Fort Wayne, I made my way back to the Buckeye State in order to visit the Lake County Captains. Food took a back seat to on-field participation during this jam-packed visit, but this was where I first became aware of the Cleveland-area phenomenon that is “Bertman Ballpark Mustard.”
Bertman’s Mustard: Responsible for the most delectable condiment globules around.
From Lake County it’s a veritable hop, skip and a jump to Mahoning Valley. It was Opening Day for the short-season Scrappers, and I celebrated the return of New York-Penn League baseball with the one-of-a-kind “Warsaw Wings.”
Deep-fried pierogies smothered in hot sauce!
A necessary cool-down soon came in the form of Handel’s Ice Cream. The flavor was called “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel ice-cream with bone-shaped chocolate-covered pretzels.
The Ohio excursion ended in Akron’s Canal Park, a location not lacking in death-taunting culinary options. After an exhausting evening that included a pie in the face and a stint in a dunk tank, I had both the following items placed before me.
On the left is the “Nice 2 Meat U Burger,” two 1/3rd pound patties, two hot dogs, bacon, cheese, and onions.
The sauerkraut-covered creation on the right is the “Three Dog Night,” a hot dog stuffed inside a brat stuffed inside a kielbasa.
And, let’s not forget: Bertman Mustard on top of it all!
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of this food-based season retrospective, featuring a bevy of offerings from South and North Carolina as well as the doom metal capital of the world (the state of Maryland, in other words).
Until then, send me your photos and anecdotes related to your favorite ballpark foods and regional creations. I’ll be right here waiting for you.
The final wave of Minor League home openers are taking place throughout the country today and tomorrow, with many of them qualifying as bona-fide galas.
The Reading Phillies certainly had a lot going on. The club rang in a new era yesterday, as fans finally got a chance to check out the many improvements made to 60-year-old FirstEnergy Stadium as part of a $10 million renovation project. Churgers were chomped, the mascot band rocked, and the first 3500 entrants received a “Ryan Howard Garden Gnome” figurine. But one fan got to take home a 550-pound life-size version. Behold:
And behold some more:
Meanwhile, the Omaha Storm Chasers play their first game ever at Werner Park
Update: In a disappointing but perhaps fitting bit of irony, the Storm Chasers had to postpone their home opener due to inclement weather.
The first 2500 fans receive welcome mats emblazoned with the stadium logo, and one of the guests of honor is none other than part-owner Warren Buffet. The Opening Day festivities started early this morning, with the Weather Channel broadcasting live from the stadium between 6 and 9 a.m. Say what you will about the new team name, but suffice to say that no national broadcasts would be taking place at the home opener of a Minor League team named the Royals (save for Will and Kate-obsessed British tabloid television, but they’ll broadcast from just about anywhere).
Another Pacific Coast League opener of especial significance is going down in Tucson, as the Padres play their first game at Kino Stadium after re-locating from Portland. The evening will begin on an emotional note, as the team is staging a stirring tribute to local heroes:
With Opening Night falling just three months after the tragic events of January 8th, the Tucson Padres will honor many people associated with the shooting. The following five people will throw ceremonial first pitches:
Colonel Bill Badger: Retired Army Colonel who helped tackle the shooter on January 8th
Daniel Hernandez: The intern who helped save the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Patricia Maisch: Tucson resident who helped contain the shooter after he was tackled
Roger Salzgeber: Tucson resident who helped tackle the shooter on January 8th
Joe Zamudio: Tucson resident who jumped on the shooter to contain him
In a similarly community-minded move, the San Jose Giants have dedicated the month of April to critically-injured fan Bryan Stow. Stow, who was attacked at the Los Angeles Dodgers home opener and suffered serious injuries, has been a familiar presence at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium.
Reports the team:
The San Jose Giants will collect donations throughout the month of April to benefit the fund established to support Bryan and his family with a special tribute planned for Opening Day, April 14th at Municipal Stadium.
“Bryan has contributed so much to the safe operation of Municipal Stadium. He has been the first person to respond to any injuries in our ballpark and has provided outstanding medical assistance to all of our fans.” said Jim Weyermann, President and CEO of the San Jose Giants. “He is a member of our family and needs our help and prayers. We intend to be there for him in the same way he has been there for our fans, hand in hand, working together to make sure that he and his family don’t have to go through this alone.”
One of the beautiful things about attending a Minor League Baseball game is that there is equal room for wacky and the somber. But when it comes to blogging about it all, I often struggle to find an appropriate tone when dealing with such disparate subject matter in the same post.
That said, I’d like to close the blogging week by bringing your attention to one of my favorite press releases of the year. In Tuesday’s post I wrote about the Lancaster JetHawks’ “Sweet Po-Tater Tots”, and the very next day this appeared.
Benjamin Hill, a national reporter/blogger for MILB.com, the official website of Minor League Baseball, recently included the JetHawks Sweet Po-tater Tots in a blog entry on premier new food items throughout Minor League Baseball.
That’s me all right — a national reporter/blogger who will now spend the weekend showing skeptical club doormen a crumpled print-out of the JetHawks press release.
“Of course I’m on the list. Don’t you know who I am?”