Results tagged ‘ concessions ’

On Avant-Garde Hamburgers and the Merits of Keeping Score

Last year the Akron Aeros unleashed the “Three Dog Night” and “Nice 2 Meat You Burger” upon the world, immediately establishing themselves as prime-time players in the world of ridiculously meaty and grotesquely oversized concession items. Despite a significant amount of staff turnover since those heady days (including the departure of food and beverage director Jason Kerton), the team has nonetheless retained its commitment to this type of culinary experience.

It has barely been promoted to the world at large, but via the team’s Facebook page I was able to ascertain the existence of the “Inside Out Burger.”

The team reports, also on Facebook, that this reversified concoction was “created by Canal Park Food and Beverage Director, Nate Michel” and “features two burgers on the outside, kielbasa, cheese, pulled pork, and the bottom part of a hamburger bun in the middle.”

A flattering image of man and burger:

Comments on the Facebook page were largely negative, especially from females, prompting one Mike Dallas to write “What are all you girls talking ’bout? This burger is all that…and a bag of chips…holla at your boy!”

I’ll let Mr. Dallas have the final word in this particular debate, but in other matters I have more to say. For instance — my most recent Farm’s Almanac feature ran today, on the time-honored art of scorekeeping. It leads off with an explanation of Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announcer Chris Mehring’s color-coded system, which requires the following supplies:

Purple is for hit-by-pitch, because purple=bruises.

One great scorekeeping anecdote that I wasn’t able to fit into the piece came courtesy of Pawtucket Red Sox social media maestro Peter Sachs who, in 2010, called the independent league game in which Spaceman Bill Lee earned the win at the age of 63 (the oldest pitcher to ever earn a win in  professional game, a mark that Jamie Moyer won’t have the chance to eclipse until 2026). Sachs donated his scorecard from the historic contest to the Hall of Fame, and in return received this:

Pretty cool, right? Along similar lines, I recently received my Major League Baseball “Courtesy Pass,” which admits “Benjamin Hill and guest” to any MLB game (certain restrictions may apply).

It’s a busy time of year, obviously, so I don’t get to use the pass as often as I’d like to. But if you want to be my guest at a game in New York City then send me an email; if we can find a date amenable to both of our schedules then we’ll go. Why not? It’ll be fun.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Opening With A Salvo

It’s Opening Day 2012, and my reaction regarding the start of a new baseball season is the same as it is every year. Four words says it all, and then some.

I would GREATLY appreciate it if someone could take the audio from the clip linked to above  and lay it over an array of upbeat Minor League images, ending with the Opening Day 2012 logo. I’m serious.

And what better way to commemorate Opening Day than by reading the first “Promo Preview” column of the year? Let me know what you think of the new format (the jokes are still old). Featured in said column are new MiLB innovations such as this, straight outta Asheville:

TOURISTS GAME BALLS TO BE DELIVERED VIA ZIPLINE

The team reports, you decide:

Beginning on Opening Day, the Asheville Tourists, in conjunction with Wildwater ‘s Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures, will deliver the game ball via zipline. Beginning nearly 500 feet from home plate, a guide from the Asheville-based zipline company and one lucky fan will fly 30 feet above the field, from the grounds of Memorial Stadium to the heart of McCormick Field, just prior to the announcement of “Play ball!”

“Coming to the ballpark is centered on entertainment and having fun,” said Tourists president Brian DeWine. “We felt there was no better way to achieve that goal than to combine two of Asheville’s favorite activities in baseball and ziplining.”

As for what else has been going on, the answer is EVERYTHING. For starters, special postal deliveries have been arriving regularly here at MiLB.com HQ, courtesy of all sorts of folks. Two of the newer arrivals:

Memphis Redbirds Schedule Poster

This is, if not a game changer, then at least a game modifier (I’d also accept “alterer”). As you can see in the above photo, fans can place their SmartPhones over Shelby Miller’s mouth in order to watch a video highlighting upcoming promotions. I’d tell you about said video, excepting my phone is defiantly stupid. It doesn’t even have the number 5.

Mermerch!

Meanwhile, a “Myrtle Beach Mermen” shirt arrived courtesy of Die Hard Threads.

Believe it or not, I have yet to watch Eastbound and Down. (Most of my television time has been spent lobbying Sony to release the rest of Mary Hartman Mary Hartman on DVD.) But the shirt is pretty cool, is it not?

Let’s close this Opening Day missive with a pair of items from our high-flying friends in Lancaster, CA — the JetHawks. In the wake of last Friday’s mega-sized Mega Millions drawing, the team decided to make winners (of sorts) out of the losers.

Starting Saturday from 11am to 2pm, fans can bring losing lottery tickets to the Clear Channel Stadium box office and receive a $2 discount on any April 12 Opening Day ticket in any section. If you can’t make it on Saturday, the discount will be available April 2-6 from 9am to 5pm.

And once admission is gained to a JetHawks game, unique comestibles await. This year’s latest (and therefore greatest) item is called “The Hawk’s Nest.”

It is, quite simply, “a nest of crispy onion straws in a bowl, topped with juicy chicken strips, chili, and cheese.”

And with that, a cut and pasted food description, I conclude my first post of the 2012 season. There’ll be plenty more where that came from.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Totally Tubular

Food content has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance on the blog as of late, and who I am to curtail a renaissance?

The latest comestible tidbit to come down the pike involves a team that could reasonably make a claim to having the best concessions in all of Minor League Baseball: The Charleston RiverDogs.

John Schumacher, Food and Beverage Director extraordinaire, reports that during the offseason “an alternative tubular meat search” was conducted and that “fortunately (or unfortunately) we were successful.” RiverDogs fans, already spoiled when it comes to the variety of traditional tubular meat on offer, will now be able to choose from the following:

That big fella on the far right would be alligator. Duck is at the top of the plate, with venison down below. These alternative tubular meats come courtesy of a boutique butcher that goes by the name of Fossil Farms, and will be part of a new “Sausage World” food stand. The menu:

Sausage World – featuring Brats, Kielbasa, Duck Sausage with plum sauce, Venison Sausage with chipotle BBQ sauce (named the Byrdog after a close friend) & Alligator Sausage with a remoulade.

In another Minor League rarity, the RiverDogs are adding a wine garden to the mix in 2012. It’s still in the maturation process.

I’ve been racking my brain (and you know how painful that can be), but thus far I’ve been unable to think of any other teams that offer a wine garden. Are any out there?

And are there any other teams that market themselves specifically to “foodies”?

If any other teams would like to tout their new food and beverage selections, then you know where to find me (or, at least I hope you do. Check the bottom of this post, as well as every other post I’ve ever written).

And this doesn’t just go for food, of course. If you’re involved or interested in Minor League Baseball in any way, shape, or form, then please don’t hesitate to let me know what’s going on.

For instance, reader Matt Musk recently pointed me to his self-published book “Dream On” (available as an e-book and on paperback). It’s a quick and informative read about his journey from failed youth baseball player to Midwest League champion (of sorts). Lots of good anecdotes are contained therein, dealing with the absurdity of Minor League front office life.

And then there’s Mr. Rex Doane, who checked in last week in order to report that “Today I am the only man in NYC to wear the new High Desert Mavericks cap…it is a responsibility I am willing to shoulder.”

New York City: the epicenter of global fashion trends.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Sandwich, or Elaborate Metaphor for Hubristic Folly of Man?

After a banner 2011, things have been slow on the “Extreme Food” front this offseason. This is a negative when it comes to the amount of traffic that I am able to attract to this blog, but a positive when it comes to the dignity of the human race.

Today, let’s up the traffic and lower our dignity. For the Lake County Captains have unveiled a sea-faring monstrosity, the likes of which have been never seen before within the calorie-laden Minor League landscape. It’s the “Moby Dick,” boasting a heft quite similar to its novelistic counterpart.

Unlike the titular White Whale in Melville’s masterpiece, the Captains’ sandwich is easily attainable. For a mere $20, all of this can be yours:

The Captains’ “Moby Dick” press release was, disappointingly, free from rambling tangenital excursions serving to elucidate the inherently paradoxical nature of the human condition (and nary a Queequeg reference was to be found). But it did give the scoop on just what is contained in this thing:

The Moby Dick features a 15″ sesame seed hoagie roll, five quarter-pound fish filets, eight slices of cheese, six ounces of clam strips, one-third pound of French fries, one cup of cole slaw, all topped off by gobs of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and tartar sauce. The price for the sandwich is only $20.

 The final product weighs-in at over three pounds and feeds two fans uncomfortably or four fans comfortably. The sandwich, with over 4000 calories and a diet-killing 200 grams of fat, will be available in select locations throughout Classic Park at all Captains home games.

Baleen Cuisine?

Individual fans will have the opportunity to take the Moby Dick Challenge and attempt to consume a single Moby Dick sandwich in less than one hour by themselves. Fans wishing to attempt this feat will do so while seated in the Moby Dick Challenge Chair located on the main concourse at Classic Park.

 If they are successful, the fans who take part in the Challenge will receive a commemorative t-shirt that they can wear with pride and their photo will be placed on the Champion Eaters bulletin board at Classic Park.

So what are YOUR thoughts on this near-mythical concoction? Tasty ballpark treat, sure sign of the apocalypse, or both?

Either way, I laud the Captains (or “Ahabs”, in this case) for referencing one of the greatest books of all time. My feelings upon completing this blog post are similar to sentiments expressed by Ishmael, after he took a few moments to write out a rough draft of his will:

“I looked round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.”

The greatest simile of all time?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In the Absence of Whipped Cream: Other Delights

Everything’s Cyclical is what I named my (now-defunct) bike shop, but these two words apply to Minor League blogging as well. And in accordance with the natural rhythms of that particular cycle, it is now time for me to write a bit about ballpark food.

In comparison to past seasons, there haven’t been any media-baiting monstrosities unveiled as a means to generate interest in the coming baseball campaign. But, as always, there are some new concession stand items vying for your attention (and mine).

Down in Southwest Florida, the Fort Myers Miracle have premiered the Breakfast Brat (topped with bacon, egg, and a “drizzle” of maple syrup).

That looks like a wonderful concoction, but surely it’s not enough to satiate the appetite of the hungry blog reader. So for dessert, let’s head to that delicately-combined triumvirate of state names known as Delmarva. The Shorebirds are offering a “super-pretzel” this season, one that’s the size of five mortal pretzels and comes equipped with three toppings.

Apparently it is so tempting that the photographer ate some before taking the requisite glamor shot:

The team asked fans to give this pretzel a name, a query which generated an amazing 130 responses.

Some suggestions, such as “This does not look appetizing at all,” were not as clear and concise as the team would have liked. But many were, and among these “Pretzilla” was my favorite. My suggestion: Love Me Dough.

UPDATE: In response to a flurry of reader inquiries, I contacted the ShoreBirds in order to determine just what the above three toppings are. Your answer: Chocolate, strawberry, and cream cheese. AND THAT’S NOT ALL! The team is also offering a “savory” version of the pretzel, with toppings of pizza sauce, garlic butter, and nacho cheese.

Meanwhile, the Quad Cities River Bandits have asked fans to vote on what 2012’s new concession item will be. The choices are:

  • Chorizo Corn Dog
  • Mashed Potato Sundae
  • Smoked Turkey Leg
  • Deep Fried Pork Tenderloin
  • Fried Ravioli with Marinara
  • QC Steak Sandwich with BBQ Sauce & Cheddar Cheese

My choice is an emphatic one: the Chorizo Corn Dog. But, as is so often the case, my opinion has proven to be too esoteric. The QC Steak Sandwich is currently in first (voting ends today!), with the Chorizo Corn Dog a distant fourth.

Basically, I just wanted to write about a Chorizo Corn Dog. And it was all for naught.

This coulda been you, chorizo.

One team that is no stranger to fan voting are the West Michigan Whitecaps,  who, as is their custom, had fans vote on 10 potential new food items. As always, there were some interesting contenders.

How about some Scotch Eggs, followed by a deep-fried root beer float (ice cream sandwich dipped in root beer batter and deep fried)?

In college I used to call the above combo the “breakfast of champions,” but since then I’ve learned to consolidate. Now I just stick to deep-fried Scotch. But neither above the above two items will be on the 2012 menu. That honor goes to…well, I’ll let the team make the announcement, as they have done so in cinematic style.

Yes, the Westside Po’  Boy: sports kielbasa, pierogies and sauerkraut smothered in marinara sauce and loaded on a hoagie roll. It replaces last year’s winner “Chicks With Sticks” (celery, carrots, and hummus) which was — the horror! — actually good for you. Clearly, healthy eating at the ballpark is a concept that the American populace is not quite ready to embrace.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

(Nacho) Typical Blog Post

The previous post on this blog ended with an anniversary logo (the Hickory Crawdads 20th, to be exact), so in the interest of seamless transitions let’s keep that particular train right on a-rollin':

Good natured ribbon

It should be self-explanatory, but the above mark commemorates the fact that 2012 will be the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ fifth season. They played their first season way back in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, the price of a postage stamp was a mere 41 cents, and Ben’s Biz Blog was less than a year old.

But enough about bygone eras. Let’s celebrate the future! The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announced that there will be a nacho stand at the ballpark in 2012,  and the team is currently conducting a Facebook poll to determine what the stand should be called. I am pleased to report that my submission of “Nacho, Nacho Stand” is one of the finalists.

I am not pleased to report that, as of this writing, my submission has received all of 16 votes. “Class A Nachos” is currently in first, and, really, that one is not nearly as good as  mine or fellow contender “Nachossss.” Biz Blog readers, now is the time to rectify this egregious wrong! Vote HERE! (If I win, I’ll donate my free full-size free nacho grande helmet to charity).

I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!

2012 will also be Season 1 for the new-look Swoop, mascot of the South Bend Silver Hawks. When Swoop last appeared in this blog, he was engaged in an intimate moment with a Miss America contest.

But those days of tongue-in-beak insouciance are over. For last week, the Silver Hawks gave Swoop a makeover:

Speaking of the Silver Hawks, they were, to my knowledge, the only MiLB team to run a local TV ad during the Super Bowl. That spot, cinematic in scope, can be viewed HERE.

Of course, a far more common Minor League approach is to engage in a spot of parody. The Frederick Keys did just this, putting their own spin on a FIAT ad (the original can be viewed HERE).

And speaking of the Super Bowl, you’ll no doubt recall that the last post on this blog started with info on the Lowell Spinners us-against-the-rest of the New York-Penn League big game bet.

It was a sizable gamble, and the Spinners lost. Therefore, mascot Canaligator is in for a summer of abject humiliation.

Even more so than usual:

As for me, I’ll be “writing a blog…all summer long.” Don’t you forget about me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Year in Ballpark Food, Part 1

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.”

Maple Syrup Dipping Sauce!

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:

There's a burger under there, promise.

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.

Suitable for sharing

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:


In addition to the hallucinogenic turkey leg seen above, highlights included delectable brisket sandwiches…

Philly-style cheesesteaks…

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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Evening Goes to the ‘Dogs in Charleston

Wednesday was one of those endless-seeming travel days that only a plane ride can provide. Nothing like waking up in brutally hot New York City and making it to even more brutally-hot Charleston, SC by lunchtime.

I didn’t have much time to explore this by-all-accounts beautiful city before heading to the ballpark, but I would like to note that the first shot of this road trip was fired at Fort Sumter!

But jokes pandering to history nerds didn’t get me to where I am today. Minor League Baseball did! After my brief cameo at this Civil War landmark I hightailed it over to “The Joe” aka Joseph P. Riley Ballpark aka “The home of the Charleston RiverDogs.”

Exterior ballpark shots were neglected in favor of my latest series of player interviews, which can be viewed HERE (my personal highlight was being able to ask RiverDogs’ closer Mark Montgomery about his recent five strikeout inning).  Once those were complete, I had time to soak in the scene.

And during one of my brief forays into the RiverDogs’ clubhouse, I met legendary clubhouse manager “Rally Vinnie.”

As Vinnie attended to his (seemingly endless) clubhouse duties, the players warmed up on the field.

The starting pitcher for the visiting Lexington Legends was 2010 first-round draft pick Mike Foltynewicz, who I chatted with this past offseason. He had more important things to do on Wednesday, however. Like get loose.

During my pre-game wanderings and press box socializing, I was introduced to inimitable PA man Ken Carrington. Ken is unique (so far as I know) in that he does both PA and on-field host duties while “on-location” throughout the stadium. For my article on Ken (and the RiverDogs experience in general), check out today’s piece on MiLB.com. Please.

Here’s Ken doing his thing on the field pre-game.

And here he is enthusiastically belting out “Mony Mony.” I’m sure there was a reason for this.

Some pre-game views, less than 10 minutes before the start of the contest (none other than Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner threw out the first pitch, but my photo of his ceremonial offering left much to be desired.)


Mascot Charlie T. RiverDog escorting the anthem singer off the field.

The RiverDogs are one of four teams presided over by the Goldklang Group, which includes both Mike Veeck (son of legendary baseball owner and promoter Bill) and legendary comedic actor Bill Murray on its executive roster. The Goldklang Group’s most recent slogan is “Be Your Own Fan,” and this free-thinking phrase definitely applies to the food.

Goldklang Group director of food and beverage John Schumacher is based in Charleston, and he and RiverDogs food and beverage man Josh Gilkey have put together an amazing array of choices (click HERE for the full menu).

At “Joe’s Bar and Grill” (named after mayor and stadium namesake Joseph P. Riley), one can get the Pimento Burger as well as the “Pickle Dog.”

Yes, this:

At the exceedingly popular “Dog World,” fans can choose from seven signature hot dogs, or simply build their own. Business has been especially good since Adam Richman from “Man vs. Food” took on the 1/2 pound “Homewrecker” during his visit to Charleston.

A visit from “Ben’s Biz Blog” is of significantly lesser impact, but nonetheless Schumacher and Gilkey gave me a tour of their operation before laying out a ballpark feast.

An appetizer course of boiled peanuts (a southern specialty) and local Palmetto beer.

Followed by THIS (sorry for the poor photo, even my camera was intimidated):

Pickle Dog, Pimento Pickle Burger, RiverDog (topped with cole slaw, mustard-based BBQ sauce, pickled okra), Pig on a Stick (foot-long corn dog wrapped in bacon), Kitchen Sink Nachos

Close up of the kitchen-sink:

Oh, and because that wasn’t enough: A Philly Cheesesteak Brat:

I did the best I could.

What, me have dignity?

Note proper pickle dog grip: middle finger on rear of hot dog to prevent slippage

Schumacher and Gilkey:

I had to depart from the feast prematurely, however, in order to dress up as what I had just consumed.

Karma?

It was time for Mission: Throw T-Shirts from the Back of a Truck:

The mission was successful.

But I have digressed, perhaps irrevocably so. Before concluding this road trip missive, a few more shots of the ballpark. Note here how quickly the fence juts out, from 305 feet to 345.

One of the best sunset views I’ve seen in the Minors: the swamps behind the ballpark, taken from the second level just outside the press box.

And, yes, the sun has set on this particular post. There is much more to come from the Carolinas. Too much, in fact, but I’ll do the best I can with it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Slammed, Dunked, and Stuffed in Akron

The fifth and final stop in this, my most recent Minor League road trip, was Akron’s Canal Park. This  facility has served as the home of the Double-A Aeros since 1997, and is located in the heart of downtown.

To give you an idea of the general surroundings, the stadium is located just down the street from the Civic Theater.

And across the street from from a closed storefront featuring this interesting artwork.

Large municipal buildings abound throughout the area, and some are even called “Municipal Building.”

And the streets are litter-free, thanks to Akron’s passion for the regional sport known as “Trashball.”

Canal Park offers a decent urban view from the seating bowl, with many of the buildings associated with the renowned Akron Children’s Hospital.

And Canal Park got its name for a reason — Akron was settled at the summit of the Ohio-Erie Canal, and developed into a  manufacturing and transportation hub. Beyond left field, there are still some aquatic reminders of the city’s history.

The view toward center field reveals an 18″x25″ digital scoreboard, as well as an inflatable slide that takes up seemingly every inch of available space.

Above the seating bowl are 25 suites (20 owned by the team and five by the city). They were personally decorated by the stadium’s original suiteholders, with motifs that could be characterized as  “ladies sewing circle” and “old man’s den.”

On this particular evening, early-arriving fans received a “Batman” bobblebelly in honor of the Aeros’ iconic on-field dancer and bat retriever.

The promotion that I was really looking forward to was “Car Survivor,” in which five contestants vie to win a car by seeing who can live inside of it the longest. But, as it turned out, the contest had ended the day before on a technicality.

But the car was still there on the concourse — a 1996 Lexus with 182,000 miles already on it.

The fact that the Aeros are staging promotions such as “Car Survivor” can largely be attributed to new COO Jim Pfander, who spent the last decade with the Mike Veeck-owned Charleston RiverDogs.

One of Pfander’s beliefs when it comes to in-game entertainment is that “it doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be fun.” Perhaps that best explains new mascot Homer the Polka-Dot Pigeon.

This hallucinatory inflatable (the result of a staff meeting in which half the room was asked to suggest an animal, and the other half a color combination) is joined by long-time mascot Orbit.

As well as a fast food representative desperately promoting the consumption of a rival species in order to save himself.

And speaking of animal consumption, you may recall that the Aeros received a lot of attention this past offseason after unveiling gargantuan meat creations like the Three Dog Night and Nice 2 Meat You burger.

But such innovations are just a small part of a larger story, which is that the club has totally revamped its concessions. Pfander recruited fellow Charleston RiverDog Jason Kerton to serve as food and beverage director, and under his direction each of the six concourse concession stands has taken on a distinct theme.

For example, “Rabbit Food” is available at the health-conscious “Farmer’s Market.”

The menu at the left field grill stand is considerably less healthy.

A large array of franks are available at “The Dog Pound” (with the menu done up in Cleveland Browns colors).

The Major League-referencing “Jobu’s Voodoo.”

The self-explanatory Biergarten

While “Taters” is the only stand equipped with fryers (which are used to fry up pickles and sauerkraut, among a bevy of more standard fare).

But my food-centric wanderings were soon interrupted, as I was asked if I’d like to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

But of course!

But don’t let those flawless mechanics fool you — I bounced it, for the first (and I hope only) time in my ceremonial first pitch throwing career.

As penance for this lack of control, I accepted an invitation to spend some time in the dunk tank located down the right field line. But since this necessitated a change of clothes, so I ducked into the team store.

I selected the following retro-themed tee, which was then personalized with “Ben’s Biz” across the back (it’s always great when teams are able to provide this service).

The dunk tank is one of the kid’s area amusements, and usually occupied by interns. $1 buys two throws.

This kid, one “Heckman” from the nearby town of Solon, was relentless. He must have spent at least $15 at the tank, and knocked me into the water again and again and again. In the following picture, I am most likely saying “What the heck, man?” That was my go-to line.

But the water was refreshing, and all in all this was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of innings. I liked interacting with the various kids, and quickly judging whether to taunt them (as with Heckman) or attempt to increase their confidence via exaggerated displays of fear.

Upon leaving the dunk tank, I threw on my shoes and was immediately escorted to the top of the first base dugout for the nightly “Pie an Intern” contest. Usually this is preceded by some sort of trivia contest before the inevitable pie-ing, but time was short so on-field MC Calvin Funkhouser simply told the young contestant to “Go ahead and hit him with a pie.”

And so he did.

The pie was then removed, and I was turned around and put face to face with that menacing triumvirate of faux-Mexican wrestlers. Then, I was hit with a pie again.

Walking back up the stairs toward the concourse, I found it impossible to wipe the smile (or the whipped cream) off of my face. I was soaking wet and covered in whipped cream, and somehow still operating within a professional context.

And to top it all off, it was a beautiful summer evening.

I cleaned myself off the best that I could, changed back into my regularly-scheduled outfit, and met up with Kerton for dinner — Akron Aeros’ style!

Nice 2 Meat You Burger meets Three Dog Night

The Nice 2 Meat You Burger, which could feed two people easily, consists of two 1/3 pound patties, two hot dogs, bacon, cheese, and onions. It is honestly more than a publicity stunt — it’s very tasty. The key is that the meat well-done, providing a uniform crispness throughout.

Keep your distance, Chik-Fil-A cow.

Damp, sticky, smelling like whipped cream, and eating a giant hamburger. The apex of my life so far.

“Dessert” was the Three Dog Night — a hot dog stuffed inside a brat stuffed inside a kielbasa, placed on a hoagie roll and then slathered with sauerkraut and spicy stadium mustard.

This, too, was tasty. But it was more like eating a hot dog stew than some magical combination of meat, in which kielbasa combined with brat to create some heretofore unknown taste combination.

One thing I liked about the Aeros’ approach to “extreme” concessions was that 1. they actually taste good and 2. they are available at all times. And, as a result, they are actually selling. Kerton estimated that through Saturday, intrepid Akronites had consumed 1000 Three Dog Nights and 600 Nice 2 Meat You Burgers.

And it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the mustard atop of the Three Dog Night is Bertman’s. The Aeros even have it for sale in the gift shop, and I am happy to report that I smuggled it through airport security and now enjoying it in NYC.

Kerton also sent me home with an array of peanuts from the iconic Peanut Shoppe. This Akron institution is located across from the stadium, and their products are available at Canal Park. I really wish I had had the chance to visit.

Another place I wish I could have visited was Chrissy Hynde’s VegiTerranean restaurant. The meatless fare offered by the Pretenders frontwoman would have been a welcome counterpoint to ballpark cuisine. Also, the Pretenders are awesome.

After the game, while gathering my scattered belongings,  I met longtime team owner Mike Agganis. We engaged in a freewheeling and rather absurd conversation, often punctuated with remarks like “I bet you’ve never met an owner like me!”

No, Mr. Agganis, I hadn’t.

After leaving the stadium, I happened upon the latest installment of Akron’s Saturday night “Lock 3 Concert Series.”

That’s Hotel Calfornia up there on the stage, an Eagles tribute band. I have no love for that particular rock entity, but it was an admirably flawless replication. They closed with “Life in the Fast Lane”, an apropos selection for any road trip soundtrack. There’s never a dull moment.

But, for now, I am back within New York City’s comforting embrace. To those who have sent me blog-worthy material over the past week — THANK YOU. It’ll be featured here soon, promise.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Feasting Before the First Pitch in Toledo

This is part 1 of 2 posts from Toledo. Check the blog and MiLB.com throughout the week for a wide array of “On the Road” content.

Call it what you will — Midwest Meanderings? Ohioan Oscillations? Buckeye Bandying About? — but my latest road trip has officially begun. It all kicked off Monday at Toledo’s Fifth Third Field, although I must admit I considered working remotely as this was the view from my hotel room.

But my last vestiges of professionalism soon got the best of me, and I dutifully went exploring. Fifth Third Field, home of International League stalwarts the Toledo Mud Hens, is a downtown ballpark that is completely incorporated into its downtown surroundings.

Moses Fleetwood Walker Square, named in honor of the first black player in Major League history (and a guy with a seriously fascinating life story).

Outfield sculpture paying homage to the halcyon days of yore.

A branch of the iconic Tony Packo’s is located across from the stadium. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit before departing.

But going to a hot dog joint prior to the ballgame would have been seriously redundant, especially considering what the Mud Hens had in store for me inside.

Food fit for a ballpark-visiting king! From left to right, that’s Greek Nachos (gyro meat and pita chips), Pulled Pork Nachos, and Bases Loaded Fries.

This triumvirate was soon joined by the Muddy Dog (topped with chili, cheese, and onions).

And Bloomin’ Bacon Burger! (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).

This array was presided over by concessions manager Corey Pleasant, Fifth Third’s food guru since 2002.

This was enough food for a party of five, so I felt a bit ridiculous sitting in front of this feast by my lonesome. I did my best.

You definitely can’t go wrong with any of the above items. I’d say that the pulled pork nachos were my favorite simply because they were pulled pork nachos. I mean, c’mon — Pulled Pork Nachos!

The copious leftovers from my feast were summarily fed to the press box wolves (in greater number on this particular evening due to a Japanese contingent tracking the every move of rehabbing Rochester Red Wing Tsuyoshi Nishioka). To those planning a Toledo baseball pilgrimage of their own, the above items are available throughout the stadium at locations such as this.

The Mud Hens do a great job promoting their concessions on the team web page, a full ballpark map can be found HERE.  But I unfortunately wasn’t able to partake in a leisurely meal. The team’s pre-game festivities were starting in earnest downstairs, including the requisite array of ceremonial first pitches.

This was to be followed by an event not seen often enough at your local professional ballpark — a Naturalization Ceremony! Look for an article about that on MiLB.com; it will certainly be covered in a follow-up blog post as well.

Much more to come from Toledo, in other words, but for now I’ve got to shut down, check out, grab lunch at Tony Packo’s, and get over to Fort Wayne. A sure-to-be-ridiculous evening with the TinCaps awaits.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 474 other followers