On the Road: Pork, Pork, Pork and More Pork in Norfolk

To see all of posts from my June 26, 2015 visit to the Norfolk Tides (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This, here, is the unassuming facade of ballpark restaurant Hits at the Park.

036Located far down the right field line at the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park, Hits at the Park is a full-service eatery open to all fans during all home games. An “all-you-can-eat” dinner buffet, featuring a rotating menu, costs $18.95.

That’d be the sensible option when it comes to dining at Hits at the Park. There is also, however, an insensible option: The “Salute to Pork” Challenge.

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The above platter consists of four BBQ pork sliders, four 4-ounce Cajun-smoked sausages, 12 pork wings (the equivalent of a full rack of ribs) and bacon and chili cheese tots. It’s five pounds of food altogether, and the challenge is to eat it in one hour or less. Those who do so receive the meal for free (a $60 value), as well as a celebratory “I Kicked the Big Pig” t-shirt and four tickets to an upcoming ballgame. Most importantly, successful pork-eaters attain enshrinement on the “Big Pig Wall-O-Fame” (located just inside the restaurant entrance).

Only three individuals have ever completed the challenge successfully.

010

Yep, that dude on the bottom completed the challenge with just 30 seconds to spare. That must have been one of the greatest moments in Hits at the Park history.

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The “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame” has far more occupants. Whereas three have succeeded, several dozen had failed.

009Prior to visiting Harbor Park, I made sure to recruit a designated eater willing to take on the Salute to Pork Challenge. That individual was Andrew Lind, a writer for the local Tidewater News who covers, as he put it, “a little bit of everything.”

041Andrew volunteered to be the designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) after his college buddy Josh Samuels told him about it. Samuels, the director of social media for the Columbus Clippers, served as my ballpark tour guide when I visited the Clippers last season. (Lind and Samuels are also pals with 2014 Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journal-writer Darius Thigpen, now with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Minor League Baseball is a small world sometimes.)

santry_samuels_640x360_ivqc1vz8_1w7ucv4q

Josh Samuels: Pork Challenge Instigator

“He’s never been a good influence on my life,” said Andrew, of Josh.

A good rule of thumb: If signing a waiver is a meal prerequisite, then it’s probably a meal you don’t want to have in the first place.

043

But Andrew was up for it, regardless. He said that he hadn’t made any specific preparations for the Salute to Pork Challenge, other than to arrive at the ballpark on an empty stomach. His strategy was simply to “put the tater tots off for last” and to not touch the coleslaw.

As it turned out, Andrew would not be undertaking this challenge alone. On the left is one Tyler Rosso, a video intern for a local television station. (And yes, that garbage can is placed between them just in case a so-called “reversal of fortune” occurs.)

044Tyler’s late entry into that evening’s Salute to Pork Challenge was, quite frankly, the most baffling moment of the season for me. He just plopped down and took a seat, and since he had media pass I assumed he was one of Andrew’s Tidewater News cronies. Andrew, meanwhile, thought he was somebody I knew. After a few awkward moments, it was revealed that Tyler didn’t know either of us and had simply decided to participate after overhearing a conversation about it in the press box.

I was like “Well, okay, but you do realize that I’ll be documenting this entire event and you’ll be a part of it no matter what happens?”

Tyler assented with an affable shrug, like “Whatever you need to do, dude. I’m just here to eat some pork.”

Well, okay. The more the merrier.

The Pork Challenge platters were brought to our dimly-lit corner location with great fanfare.

IMG_1483In the below video, executive chef Steve Gillette, the mastermind behind the challenge, takes the mic and lays out the rules for everyone in the restaurant. This surreal situation now seemed even more surreal. Tyler isn’t even sitting at the table in the video. Was he a figment of my imagination? He sure seemed like it at the time.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s girlfriend Kayla can be seen sitting next to him. As soon as the Pork Challenge began, however, she went AWOL. (Probably a good decision.)

“I feel bad for him,” said Kayla. “It’s going to be a rough night if he finishes.”

Chef Gillette was expecting this to be an entertaining disaster. You can just see it in his eyes.

IMG_1479Andrew, meanwhile, seemed to be appealing to a higher power. I’d love to see this picture turned into a stained glass panel.

046The Pork Challenge officially began at 7:42 p.m. Alright, guys. Have at it.

Now underway, Andrew displayed a momentary burst of confidence.

“The sad thing is, after all this I’ll probably go home and want a snack,” he said.

Cory Evans of Ovations Food Services, seen on the left in the below photo, was the first person to attempt the “Salute to Pork Challenge” after it was devised by Chef Gillette.

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“I didn’t tap out, I just ran out of time,” said Cory of his attempt, before turning his attention to the evening’s competitors. “A helpful hint: Don’t drink too much water. Just sip it.”

“It’s the potatoes that get you,” added a nearby waitress, speaking in an emphatic Southern drawl.

But despite such helpful hints and overall moral support, this was a fundamentally lonely endeavor. It is times like these that try men’s souls.

047The game going on outside seemed a million miles away.

052“15 minutes into the Pork Challenge, Andrew has eaten all 12 wings. Still much meat to go.”

At 8 p.m., Andrew requested ranch dressing.

“It might be heavy, but it will give flavor when you need it,” he explained.

“I’d recommend a little piece of the kale,” countered Tyler. “There’s a lightness to it.”

12 minutes later, Andrew again chimed in.

“The worst part is the chewing,” he said. “The only way to cut down on that is to swallow bigger pieces, but that’s not gonna help you at all.”

We had now reached the half-way point. Andrew’s platter had congealed into a monolithic pork mess.

Both competitors, in it for the long haul, decided to stand up and stretch.

“I wish that I had gotten super-drunk before I did this,” said Andrew. “Then it’d go down easy.”

“This would be a good challenge for a stoner,” added Cory.

Chef Gillette stopped by again as well, telling the competitors to ‘Just close your eyes and throw down. Don’t stop. Don’t even listen to what I’m saying.”

053Good advice, but before re-engaging Andrew engaged in some light calisthenics. Gotta get the blood flowing.

055Cory, a Pork Challenge veteran, now assessed the scene.

“You’re looking pretty good for the halfway point,” he said of Tyler.

Andrew, however, was a different story.

“I’m worried about you. But you’ll both sleep very, very good tonight. I can tell you that much.”

051

Despite Cory’s positive assessment, Tyler had reached his limit. With no warning whatsoever, he quickly reached over and made good use of the trash can. I snapped a picture of this, nothing graphic, but Tyler has gotten in touch with me to ask that I not use it. Okay, but there’s a lesson here:

If you don’t want anyone to take a picture of you vomiting, then don’t jump unannounced into an eating challenge taking place in a public location and, furthermore, being documented in detail by a member of the media.

Tyler, eliminated.

“I think it was the sausage that got me,” he said.

057This was all too much for Andrew, who immediately got up and moved to the next table lest he be the next to evacuate.

“Oh, I gotta move,” he said. “If I see it, then I’ll be the next one to do it.”

IMG_1490We were now in the homestretch.

Tyler, ever an enigma, declined to take his leftovers and quietly went back upstairs to resume working. Once again, I found myself wondering if he had ever been there at all.

“He don’t want no memories of that,” said a Hits at the Park waitress as she removed the remains of Tyler’s plate.

Andrew, meanwhile, had hit a wall.

“I’m seeing stars, and it threw me off when he threw up,” he said. “I didn’t want to do the same thing.”

But yet, he carried on, moving on to the tater tots because he “couldn’t deal with the meat anymore.”

058It was all for naught, however. Andrew simply could not finish in time. Good effort, though, as he made it about three quarters of the way through and had some pork sliders to take home and enjoy later.

So that’s how it all went down (and, in one instance, came back up). Congratulations to Andrew Lind, a proud member of the “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame.”

“Never again,” were Andrew’s final words on the topic. But also: “No regrets.”

(Click HERE to read Andrew’s first-hand account of the experience.)

059And congratulations as well to the mysterious Tyler Rosso. You made the night more interesting, Tyler, and I’m glad you stopped by.

061benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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