Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’

On the Road: Nachos, Corn and Pickles in Visalia

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.

img_0230Specfically, 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.

So why are Chad and Mike being featured on this blog? You guessed it — they had been recruited to serve as my designated eaters, eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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.


Chad Stafford, circa 2013

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.

img_0229A closer look.


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.

img_0239These were the Spicy Corn Nuggets which, like most fried food, look rather unremarkable from the outside.

img_0234But within lurked a world of corn-centric color and flavor.

Also pictured: fingernails

Also pictured: fingernails

The Spicy Corn Nuggets came with a triumvirate of dipping sauces: barbecue, mustard and ranch. Mike and Chad were psyched to try them.

img_0236Mike: “They ain’t so hot.”

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.

img_0233 Mike then demonstrated the proper way to eat one.

img_2402“I miss the juiciness. I need juiciness from a pickle,” said Chad. “I don’t know, there’s just something about a hot pickle.”

“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.


On the Road: Turkey Mike’s in San Jose

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.

img_0196Turkey Mike’s is overseen by food and beverage coordinator Ramiro Mijares.
img_0197After 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.

img_0200“The chicken sausage was delicious, but the ribs weren’t very good,” said John. “The chicken was great, because it had a good rub to it.”

“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 story HERE.

churrosPaul, Mike and Kristen are the stars of this not-at-all awkward Vine video.

When you’re in love, this is the only way to eat a churro.

img_0204Oh, and we also got some ice cream in a helmet. This is Willow Glen Creamery’s famous “Dole Whip.” 

img_0206And…that’s it. I’m done. Between this and my previous San Jose Giants posts and articles, I’ve written over 4000 words about my night at Municipal Stadium. This is insane.

John, please accept this “Designated Eater” t-shirt as a token of appreciation for your food consumption efforts.

img_2366And thanks, everyone. It was my pleasure.


On the Road: A Trip Down Gigante’s Alley in San Jose

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.

img_0183John, 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.

img_0207He 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.


Clockwise, from top: John, Kristen, Julia, Matt

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.

dsc00034Meanwhile, 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.”

img_0144First 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.

img_0182Have at it, John.

“It’s buttery, crispy and not too salty,” said John. “I’d get it again.”

So would Kristen and Julia.

img_0184The 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.

dsc09981 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.

img_0189As you can see in the above picture, the Hard Frescos cart also sells Noodle Bowls.

img_0185John got some help from Julia on this one.


“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.

img_0190“This is good. The barbecue is definitely the most pronounced taste,” said John. “Chicken’s good. Cilantro’s good. And there’s a good, crispy crust. I’m a big fan of flat crusts.”

img_2337And, hey, look! We had French fries! Garlic fries, even. I don’t know where these fries came from (my notes are distressingly silent on the matter), but that they existed is indisputable.

img_2338And then there were tacos, from the Coors Light Taco Truck. On the left we have pollo asado, on the right is beef barbacoa.


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.

img_2348Believe 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.



On the Road: Leaning Healthy in Modesto

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.

img_0129Derek 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.

img_0124Then he ate it.

img_0125Derek was ambivalent about the hot dog, calling it a “standard hot dog.”

“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.”

img_0126Have at it, Derek.

“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.
img_0128“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.


Curds? No whey!

Derek quickly provided a demonstration on how to eat a deep-fried cheese curd.

img_0131Derek’s an athletic guy, but nonetheless he was unable to pull off the ol’ “throw a cheese curd in the air and catch it in your mouth” stunt. He made a yeoman’s effort, though.

“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.

img_0133“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.


On the Road: Asparagus, and much more, in Stockton

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.

img_0082Joel 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.

img_0083The Zamoras began with the Baked Potato Fries, topped with bacon, sour cream, cheese and chives.

img_0084Have at it, father and son.

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.

img_0085Fernando said that he could taste both toppings equally but that, all in all, these were “more of a snack.”

“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?”

img_0088As 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.

img_0089“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.

img_2240Joel 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.

img_0093“The bread’s good, it’s not overcooked and it has a perfect crunch to it,” said Joel.

“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.

img_0094As 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.

img_0095As you can see, Fernando’s a chip(wich) off the old block.

img_0096“I’d highly recommend the Baked Potato Fries, the Sriacha Fries, the ice cream and the pizza,” said Joel, summing up his experience.

“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.


On the Road: Ribs and Donut Burgers in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, 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).

Heading into my West Coast road trip, I was shocked and borderline appalled that no one had volunteered to be my designated eater in Sacramento. I expect that in smaller markets — your Princeton, West Virginia’s and what have you — but California’s capital city? Perhaps my reach, which I assumed to be vaster than a 1001 galaxies, is less than I thought.

Nonetheless, I still had a designated eater in Sacramento. Two, in fact. They were recruited by the River Cats.

Kyle Moses is on the left, Mike Hager is on the right.


Kyle and Mike are the best of pals. They’re both from Tracy, California (about an hour south of Sacramento) and have been fans of the River Cats ever since the team arrived on the scene in the year 2000. Kyle and Mike grew up together, played with and against one another in various sports and now work together (at Rise Medical Staffing). Oh, and they’re roommates. There’s a picture in their living room of the two of them in their travel team baseball uniforms, hanging out in a Raley Park suite.

And now, they’re designated eaters together, tasked with the job of consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. But speaking of gluten-free, the River Cats food and beverage team (led, in this case, by sous chef Ryan) whipped up a few dishes for me.

There was shrimp and broccoli over rice, enlivened with pepper flakes.

img_0005There were also lettuce wraps, with citrus brine turkey, apple cider vinegar mustard and tomatoes.

img_0006I enjoyed both of these items, but the lettuce wrap was particularly excellent, a great mix of texture and flavors. Everything was a blur at this point. The food was being placed before us and taken away at a rate that was making my head spin.

So let’s get back to Kyle and Mike, as they’re the stars of the show here. Or perhaps the real star of the show is this plate of barbecue ribs.

img_0007Have at it, guys:

Kyle immediately praised the sauce, which chef Ryan said was Sweet Baby Ray’s.


“The meat falls right off the bone,” said Mike. “Barbecue is where I can be most critical, but this is prime.”

Mike can be critical of barbecue because Mike is a true barbecue aficionado. He bases road trips around visiting restaurants and does it himself in the backyard. This is a passion he inherited from his father, a regular in barbecue competitions and former manager of a Kinders restaurant (a California-based barbecue chain).

Next up was a turkey cheddar panini (with bacon), served with house made chips and a French onion dipping sauce. Kyle and Ryan can be seen brandishing their paninis in the photo at the top of this post.


“I like the way it’s pressed, it has a nice texture,” said Kyle. “Some places do a mediocre job with that.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Mike. “Everything was good.”

We then moved on to the piece de resistance, a donut bacon cheeseburger.


Another view:

img_2210Specifically, this consists of a third-pound never-frozen burger topped with two bacon rounds and tomatoes. The donuts are from a local bakery.

While Mike said he liked the “sweet and saltiness,” Kyle said that if he ordered it again then he’d abstain from the tomato.

“If I’m gonna go with something that’s 800 calories, then I don’t need a tomato,” he said. “The meat, bacon and donut is fantastic. I don’t think it gets better than that.”

img_0013And that was it for Kyle and Mike, best friends until the end.

“I’d get everything again,” said Mike. “I’ve never not been satisfied here with what I’ve gotten. I’ve never left Raley Field hungry.”


On the Road: “Moose” Meat and Smashed Cupcakes in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

As mentioned in the previous post, the Burlington Royals have a concession stand. All teams do.

img_0165But the B-Royals concession scene is not limited to the above area. There is also a tent. This tent is called “Grill 1986,” a reference to the team’s first season of Appy League existence. The grill itself probably hasn’t been around since 1986. Most grills don’t live that long.

img_0184At Grill 1986 I made the acquaintance of one Justin Moody.


Justin was, of course, my designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a paralegeal, but grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and is, as such, a huge Pirates fan. The first Minor League game he remembers attending was the Greenville, South Carolina-based Capital City Bombers (in 1992 or thereabouts), and he has since visited every park in the Carolinas. Justin’s a regular reader of this blog and said that he “thought it would be fun to join in on your journey, and lend my stomach to you.”

We began with the “Moose Taco”, an item that came into being because the girlfriend of B-Royals’ general manager Ryan Keur thought that was actually the name of Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The “Moose Taco”, truth be told, is more like a “Moose Burrito.”


Have at it, Justin.

Mikey Morrison, the B-Royals food and beverage overseer, told us that the contents of the Moose Taco “depends on the day.”

img_0188“Today it’s beef with cheese and jalapenos on the side,” he said. “Originally we would spell [the Moose Taco] like his name [Moustakas], but we made it the Moose Taco so that people would know what it is.”

“The pickled jalapenos give a nice little spice to it,” said Justin. “The meat has got a good smoky sear to it. I think it’s a burger patty that’s been cut up, but it’s really good. It eats pretty easily, the only thing in it is meat and cheese. You don’t get slowed down by lettuce or sour cream or whatever.”

Next up was Funnel Fries, marking the second time in as many days that one of my designated eaters consumed them (see also: Yankees, Pulaski).


Justin cleared his mind and opened his mouth.

img_1987“[The funnel fries] came out nice and warm. Not too oily or greasy, which I really appreciate,” he said. “They’re good and crunchy, with just enough powdered sugar. Sweet, without trying to create a new cavity. Pretty darn good.”

Justin, if you’ve noticed, is pretty darn good at articulating his food thoughts.

The food was washed down with a Red Oak beer, brewed in nearby Whitsett, North Carolina. Morrison explained that the team began offering it at the ballpark in 2015 and that it “quickly became a best seller.”

img_0194Justin described it as a “good red or brown ale…crisp and refreshing on a hot day. It’s got a good malt flavor to it. It’s one of my favorites, actually.”

Another local favorite on offer at the ballpark are cupcakes courtesy of Burlington’s Main Street Cake Shoppe.

img_1992Justin’s wife, Meghan, was also at the ballgame. For most of my time with Justin, she elected to remain in her seat and keep score (not a bad decision at all). But Justin recruited her to come to our grill-side location to help him consume the cupcake.
img_2013Perhaps inevitably, Justin ended up getting his just desserts.

“It’s nice and soft,” said Justin. “I’d say it’s pretty much the perfect cupcake, though a lot of it ended up on my face.”

Indeed, it did.

img_0192Despite suffering this dessert-based indignity, Justin had nothing but good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“There’s nothing wild or outrageous,” he said, of the Burlington concession scene. “Just really good basic ballpark food, and I appreciate that they’re supporting local businesses.”


On the Road: Funnel Fries and Chicken Fingers in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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).

This man’s name is Thomas Panek. But you don’t need to call him by his full first name.

“Tom is fine,” he told me.

img_0091Tom was more than fine on this Saturday evening at Pulaski’s Calfee Park, as he had the duty and privilege of being my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

His ballpark dinner was obtained from this concession stand, where one’s chances of getting hit by a foul ball are decidedly slim.

img_0071This is what was obtained. (Not shown: a bag of peanuts with an accompanying brown paper bag for the shells).

img_0080There’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary in the above photo, though it is an impressive array for a Rookie-level team operating out of an 81-year-old ballpark (albeit an 81-year-old ballpark that has been extensively renovated in recent years).

Before moving to an individual rundown of the items in question, let’s get to know Tom. Originally from Toledo, he now lives in Christiansburg, Virginia and works at Tetra, the Blacksburg, Virginia-based fish food and supply company. At Tetra, Tom makes algae-controlling pond blocks.

“I’m the only one making them, so if you see a Tetra pond block, that’s me,” he said. “I make them in a room, by myself. I love it. We sell a ton of them. I know I make a lot of them.”


Made by Tom Panek

Tom moved to Virginia after meeting his wife, Beth, via an online backgammon game.

“We became friends, I visited her, we dated a little bit and the next thing you know we got married,” he said.


Tom and Beth

“I was a Navy brat,” said Beth, who works in a domestic violence center. “So I said, ‘I’m not moving. If you’re interested in being with me, then come to me.'”

So here we are. All caught up and with Tom about to dig into some funnel cake fries.

img_0081Have at it, Tom.

“They’re good, but not as crunchy as I thought they’d be,” said Tom. “They’re different.”

We then moved on to the nachos.

img_0084“What can you say about nachos?” asked Tom, before proceeding to say something about them. “They’re basic and good. I like when the chips get soggy because the cheese inundates them completely.”

Beth was a big fan of the chicken fingers, saying that they were “really crunchy, with a thick crust and hot, tender chicken. All white meat. They didn’t need sauce. They were flavorful on their own.”

img_0082These, I believe, were called Yankee Fries. They differ from normal fries in that they have a potato chip-like shape as well as eternal dignity and honor of the “Yankees” name.

img_0083I can’t confirm that these Yankee fries were gluten-free, so I shouldn’t have eaten one. I just got caught up in the moment and, hey, we’ve all gotta die eventually.


I would also like to note that I snapped a photo of the team’s collectible cups. This one’s for you, #cupdate aficionados.


Finally, there was dessert. From the following array of ice cream flavors, Tom and Beth selected English Toffee and Classic Cherry.

img_0097Soon enough, check marks on a piece of paper became reality.

img_0096Tom declared the ice cream to be “very tasty, but kind of plain.” Beth said that she was surprised that the English toffee was “a syrup base rather than a topping, but it tastes good.”

Thanks, Tom and Beth, for surveying the Calfee Park culinary scene.



On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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 want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”



On the Road: Loving the Bologna in Elizabethton

To see all posts from my June 29 visit to the Elizabethton Twins, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League 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). 

As befits a Rookie-level team working out of a small, city-owned ballpark, the Elizabethton Twins offer a fairly limited range of concessions. But what they do, they do well. I learned this during the evening I spent at the team’s Joe O’Brien Field, where the food offerings are served out of “Miss Jane’s Hardball Cafe.”


I did not sample the food offerings myself, of course. That task fell to Mr. Daniel Buck, my designated eater for the evening. It would be Daniel’s task to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.


Daniel, who lives in Elizabethton, is a truck driver. He runs the same route each day, working from 4:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., driving from Elizabethton to Roanoke, Virginia and back. He delivers tires while putting significant wear on his own, traveling approximately 1850 miles a week. His route includes stops in locales such as Marion, Chilihowie and Saltville (which, as he pointed out, was “the salt capital of the Confederacy“). Daniel was at the ballgame with his wife, Jennifer, and two and a half-month old grandbaby, Nariah. Yes, grandbaby. (Daniel is the same age as me, and he has a granddaughter. For me to attain grandfather status, I’d have to have some kids first.)

Food and beverage director Bruce Miller presented Daniel with two E-Twins specialties: the Fried Crown Bologna sandwich ($3) and a bratwrust ($4).


Daniel began with the bologna.

Bruce, who’s been the food and beverage director for seven years, explained that he prioritizes “good stuff and good products” and that the bologna is no exception.

“I get it from a meat company, you can’t buy it like this,” he said, while declining to name the company in question. “They make it for me, cuts that are as big as a hamburger. There’s five or six ounces of bolognan[in each sandwich], and I put a little butter on the bread.”

Daniel was an instantaneous fan of the bologna.

“Well, it was gone fast,” he said, after polishing it off in a matter of minutes. “It wasn’t overcooked, and cut thick. I can’t make ’em like that. I’m breaking out in a sweat, it was so good. That was a Carter County steak, right there.”

Next up was the bratwurst.


“It’s what you’d expect from a good ol’ ballpark bratwurst,” said Daniel. “It’s got a kick to it. I still love the bologna a little better and that’s saying something.”

img_0203This was all washed down with eastern Tennessee’s “energy drink” of choice, Dr. Enuf. If you’re in the region, you really owe it to yourself to get a Dr. Enuf. It’s got less distribution than Cheerwine, but beloved by those in the know.

img_1708Daniel wasn’t quite done yet. Dessert was deep-fried Oreos topped with vanilla ice cream.

img_0207Are you jealous?

As the above six seconds of video documentation makes clear, Daniel was a fan of the Oreos. More broadly, he was a big fan of all that was served to him during his time in this Joe O’Brien Field “Sky Box.”

“The food’s awesome,” is how he summed it up.

For that, we have Bruce to thank. I caught up with him later in the day and took this picture:

img_1725Thanks, Bruce! And thanks, Daniel.


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