The lines are chalked, the balls are rubbed up, the line ups are made, and as I sit and watch yet another Opening Day of a baseball season, I can’t help but think of the most often overlooked facet of the game: ball park food. Whether it’s dogs in Wrigley, garlic fries in SF, or even chowder in SafeCo, everyone has that one special ballpark treat that, merely a whiff of the scent, reminds us of America’s favorite pastime. What makes ballpark food so special? It certainly isn’t the prices. Perhaps it’s because it is the food of our youth, or maybe it’s because we’re all in the same boat, sitting in our seats with 40,000 of our closest friends, and if we come hungry, we’re dining at the ballpark…together.
I have had the pleasure of taking in sunny afternoons and brisk nights, eating at some of the greatest cathedrals of the game. I’ve seen Griffey play in his prime, and I’ve had the fortune of watching Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson throw gems. I’ve experienced everyone from Canseco to Pujols crush baseballs that would never seem to land, and watched Tony Gwynn hit his way to 3000 and beyond. But one thing has always remained constant, my love for ballpark grub.
Over the years, ball parks have really stepped up their game. They went from being Churches to concrete-domed eye sores and come back again to the beautiful monuments of the game we cherish. Regardless of personal opinion, the game itself has changed as we know it. But from the dead ball era to the steroid era, we still love to lose ourselves in the youthful dreams of baseball.
Even the food has changed. Growing up we had three choices: hot dog, popcorn or nachos. Those days are long gone. We still have our tried and true staples, but with the advent of better taste collectively, Americans have opened their eyes to a world of comfort food, we’d not yet known. I remember when it was on the news in 1998 when they served the first fish taco at a World Series game, right here in San Diego. Now you can’t go to a game without seeing a flight of foods from far and high. I even once regrettably fell victim to the hype by ordering the Ichi-Roll at a Mariners game.
The pride of every city lays claim to a local treat. Bet on it, they serve lobster rolls in Fenway, and yes they have cheezesteaks in Philly, even here at home we’re no different, with our flavors of the southwest. But who amongst us doesn’t hold a soft spot in our heart for the almighty ballpark dog. I don’t care where you are from, or whether you refer to it as a dog, a frank or a red hot, we all truly love them.
At Petco Park you can find no less than 6 different kinds of franks, in all shapes and sizes. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sodium erythorbate and nitrate encased pork product as much as the next guy, but who are we kidding? Hebrew National has changed the game when it comes to the hot dog. All beef and no filler, you’d be hard-pressed to find its peer. You can get them boiled or grilled, loaded or plain, and there’s only one rule that we have to follow. No ketchup, ever.
And where would we be, eating our dogs if we didn’t have cold beer to wash it down with? Ben Franklin was rumored to have said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” If that’s true, then baseball is proof that God wants us to enjoy beer. Old Style, Bud, or Coors, whatever your pleasure is, you won’t find a dry stadium in the land. In recent years San Diego has elevated its status as one of America’s premier beer cities. This isn’t lost on the vendors at Petco where you can find Stone, Ballast Point, and Karl Strauss in just about every stand in the park. Now if we can only get them to lower the prices, then that would truly be proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
So with 161 more games to go, the playoff picture is a long way off. You can assume the dreaded Yankees will be there, and hopefully some wild card will rear its head to send them home early. Children will fall in love with the sport for the first time, and someone who saw Mickey Mantle play live will inevitably see their last game. Dads will drink beer, sons will clamor for an autograph, and a handful of our wives and mothers will wonder “when will this flippin’ game be over?” Countless calories will be ingested, and millions of arteries will be clogged, and as Americans we will love every minute of it.