Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’

On the Road: Wrapped, Stacked, Smothered and Deep-Fried in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Shortly after May 28th’s Omaha Storm Chasers game began, I rendezvoused with a fan by the name of Paul Biler.

But Paul was not just any fan. Paul was that evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). I picked the right man for the job.

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Paul is “from Toledo by way of Utica,” but has lived in Omaha since 1997. His family made the move to Nebraska after his wife got a job as a private investigator for a health insurance company. Paul now works for Mutual of Omaha, but he also has an extensive background as a radio deejay. His most recent work in that regard was for Omaha oldies station KGOR, but for the majority of our time together his mouth would be used for the consumption of food. That, in a nutshell, is why Paul volunteered to be designated eater in the first place.

“I can eat,” he said.

Our journey began with the “Cor-dog-o”, a new addition to the Werner Park concession menu. It is named in honor of general manager Martie Cordaro, who became enamored with it after it was originally served as a Nashville-inspired “Eat Your Opponent” specialty item. I’ll defer to the press release:

OMAHA, Neb. – This season the Omaha Storm Chasers are bestowing their President and General Manager Martie Cordaro with the highest honor a Minor League Baseball team can give: naming a hot dog after him. The “Cor-Dog-O” is one of many new food items fans can try this season from Ovations Concessions at Werner Park.

A concession item that was long overdue, only the “Cor-Dog-O” can truly reflect the “interesting” personality and style of Martie Cordaro. The specialty item consists of two hot dogs, pulled pork and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla shell, one of the only hot dogs at Werner Park that is not served in the traditional hot dog bun.

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A closer look:

062Martie sets the scene:

“Oh, that is good,” said Paul after his first bite. “I only got the dog side of it, but I can definitely taste barbecue sauce.”

He then took another bite, leading him to declare that “the pulled pork is wonderful.”

When informed by Storm Chasers executive chef John Schow that the barbecue sauce used was local favorite Cookies (a molasses-based sauce), Paul was enthused.

“If you’re having  a party, put a pound of Vienna sausages in the slow cooker and then throw some Cookies on it,” he said. “Cook it for four hours, and then it’s perfect.”

Next up was an item that can be procured at “Poldberg’s Philly Grill,” named after Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg.

063That item is the “Ruben Philly” — chopped corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye and 1000 island dressing on a hoagie bun. It’s served with a Schwartz-brand pickle and chips (made in-house).

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Oh, man. Let’s take a closer look.

066Take it away, Paul.

“The corned beef is nice and lean, and there’s a good zing from the dressing,” said Paul. “Definitely, a heart attack in a bun.”

We then moved on to the Champ Burger, created by Schow in 2013 after the Storm Chasers won the PCL Championship. It consists of three 1/3 pound patties, bacon, ham and onion rings.

068Paul was ready for it.

070“The beef is good, cooked all the way through,” he said. “And the onion rings are really good, too. But I’ve never been too much of a burger eater.”

Schow was enamored with Paul’s eating efforts, and eventually told me “I want a photo with that guy.” So, here you go:

073Schow, like a lot of food and beverage guys I’ve met in this industry, absolutely loves working at the ballpark. It’s a casual environment that allows plenty of room for fun and experimentation.

“It’s a sweet gig,” he told me. “I mean, killer.”

And, clearly, he’s doing killer things with it. Hopefully not in the literal sense, but items like this will certainly accelerate one’s path to the boneyard:
069This is the Midwest delicacy known as the “Frenchee” — American cheese on white bread, deep-fried.

IMG_1334“Is the bread Rotellas?” asked Paul, referring to a beloved Omaha bakery.

“Of course it’s Rotellas,” replied Schow.

These two were definitely on the same wavelength.

“Say a prayer for me,” added Paul, overwhelmed by the amount of food he was now dealing with.

“Sir, I have a couple times already,” replied Schow.

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If you want a Frenchee outside of the ballpark, Paul mentioned that local restaurant Don and Millie’s is known for them.

“It’s hot, definitely something you want to break open and let cool for a while,” said Paul. “It could use more cheese. Mostly I’m tasting bread.”

But that was a rare criticism of what was clearly a fantastic culinary experience.

“The food here is great,” said Paul. “I’ve been to a lot of ballparks where the food is pedestrian, but here there’s a lot of stuff that’s unique to the Omaha area.”

I’m writing this post some three weeks after visiting Omaha, but for all I know Paul is still at the ballpark making his way through what was a most prodigious dinner. He sure had his work cut out for him.

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Oh, and for the record: I would like to commend the Storm Chasers for offering gluten-free hot dogs at the ballpark. I enjoyed one later in the ballgame.

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On the Road: Yesterday Hits Today in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The last time I was in Omaha was September of 2010, attending the final game at Rosenblatt Stadium. The city’s Pacific Coast League team, then known as the Royals, was slated to move to a new stadium in the nearby town of Papillion the following season. As part of this 2010 visit, I swung by the stadium construction site and got a sense of what this new facility would look like.

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sarpy_suitesandseating-thumb-450x337-23908813I think my favorite image, though, was this: piles of warning track dirt, looking like sand dunes on another planet.

sarpy_warningtrackdirt-thumb-450x337-23909213Cut to May 28th, 2015, when I ended my Midwest road trip with a visit to this same location. Much had changed.

The stadium, now known as Werner Park, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers. If nothing else, the parking is ample.

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031A statue out front pays tribute to noted Nebraskan Bob Gibson.

033The Storm Chasers have a large cadre of mascots, but I’m not sure if this one is part of the official roster. Regardless, he (she? it?) was there to greet me when I arrived.

034Hello, Werner Park.

035During my exploratory lap around the ballpark, I noticed a group of well-dressed men standing in the outfield. I have no further information to offer.

036 037The area surrounding the ballpark still possesses a rural feel. However, Storm Chasers general manager Martie Cordaro reports that 150 houses are under construction in the immediate area, as well as additional commercial and recreational development.

039The home and visiting clubhouses are located in left field, with a ramp leading across the concourse and down onto the playing field. The Storm Chasers clubhouse is on the right, as in toward center field.

041If this random grouping of individuals doesn’t scream “Minor League Baseball” then, really, I don’t know what does.

040I then made my way onto the field, so that I could observe the pregame ceremonies at close range.

043Kids love to mess with Casey’s tail.

044While Vortex likes to mess with people (I incorrectly identified Vortex as “Stormy” in this Vine video. I hope that the Omaha mascot community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.)

This is Stormy. He’s anemometer-ically correct.

048Now here’s an idea that other teams might want to steal. Before every Storm Chasers game, a young fan accompanies manager Brian Poldberg to home plate for the exchanging of the line-up cards.

051During the singing of our National Anthem, the Storm Chasers players were accompanied by a veritable gaggle of local youth athletes.

053And then it was time to, yes, Play Ball.

056It was a gray Thursday night, decent but far from ideal conditions for baseball. Martie told me that, the day before, the team had experienced what he deemed to be the best weather in Werner Park history. And, on top of that, the team had staged a star-studded “Salute to the Kansas City Royals” promo in honor of their long-time parent club.

“You should have been here yesterday,” said Martie, echoing a sentiment that has been expressed to me by Minor League general managers across the land.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was today. In the next post of this Storm Chasers saga, I’ll cover the today that was in further detail.

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On the Road: Tenderloins and (Gluten-Free) Buns in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27, 2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is Tim Mullin.

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May 27, 2015, was to be a very special day for Tim. For on May 27, 2015, he visited the Cedar Rapids Kernels and served as my Designated Eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Tim, a Indianapolis native who now lives in Chicago, is very familiar with the Minor League scene. In addition to owning his own production company, Park Walk Productions, he the author of the (recommended) Baseball Road Trips: Midwest and the Great Lakes.

“I’m glad that I can share in the experience, because I’m typically alone at the ballpark,” said Tim, referring to a professional state of being that I’m familiar with. “I’m definitely qualified [to be the designated eater]. but maybe that’s not something to be proud of.”  

Tim wasted no time in getting down to business. When I met him on the concourse at the start of the game, he had already procured this pork tenderloin sandwich.

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The Pork Tenderloin is, quite literally, bigger than Tim’s head. It is bigger than just about any human’s head, unless that human happened to have a cranium of Bochyian proportions.

038Tim had procured this sandwich from a concourse kiosk that only sells pork tenderloin sandwiches. (Hey, it’s the Midwest). His had lemon pepper seasoning and a citrus BBQ sauce, along with “tons of pickles for resistance.”

When put up against Tim, the pork tenderloin offered little resistance.

“You’ve got to hit it at an angle,” he said. “It’s good to get a little bit of bread to accentuate the meat.”

Tim reported that Iowan pork tenderloin sandwiches are actually smaller than those found in his home state of Indiana. Also, he was gratified to learn that the Kernels’ version of this sandwich was not deep-fried. “I think that’s what skyrocketed Indiana into obesity,” said Tim. “The fried pork tenderloin sandwich.” As for the Kernels’ iteration of the Pork Tenderloin, Tim declared it to be “outstanding.”

“I’ve never seen a grilled one at the ballpark before,” he said. “They do it fresh here, take the whole patty and just throw it on the grill. Like, ‘Whoa, isn’t this supposed to be frozen?’ It’s great.”

However, as great as the Kernels’ pork tenderloin was, Tim said it wasn’t the best he’d ever had. He bestowed that honor upon the Bourbon Street Distillery in Indianapolis, instead.

“But I’m getting toward 50, so I have to phase [Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches] out of my life,” he said.

“Whoa, you don’t look 50,” I replied.

“I’m cherubic. I feel like I’m cheating on my wife right now. She watches out for my diet, and is constantly pulling me out of trouble.”

As for me, Ben’s Biz, I’m a lone wolf. I don’t have anyone to pull me out of trouble. I must look out for myself. But I didn’t even need to look out for myself while in Cedar Rapids, as the Kernels were already looking out for me via a substantial slate of gluten-free items on the concession menu.

Excuse the quality of this photograph. It’s the thought that counts.

044I opted for a gluten-free jumbo dog, which was delicious. The bun had a great consistency, melded well with the dog and (the ultimate test for a GF bun), did’t fall apart. (I need to look into what brand of bun this was. I somehow seemed to have neglected this crucial bit of information.) 045Who needs a designated eater?

But, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Tim. Our next stop was this riotous build-your-own burger and hot dog stand.

027Tim, after careful consideration of all the options, ordered what was, in essence a foot-long hot dog BLT.

048He looked rather professorial after putting on his glasses.

049“In Chicago it’s a mortal sin to put anything but mustard on a hot dog, but I’m tempted to try mayonnaise on this,” said Tim. “The dog’s fantastic, but this might be the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like a Polish sausage, but girthier, if that’s a word. I’m gonna speed dial my cardiologist.”

And that’s where we say goodbye to Tim, as he eats his foot-long frankfurter BLT.

050As unhealthy as the evening may have been, Tim had no regrets.

“If Ben Hill said he needed somebody to eat for him, and at the end of the day you get thrown off a cliff, I’d do it,” said Tim. “It’s fun. It really is.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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On the Road: Chips, Burgers and Beer in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The Peoria Chiefs, who played their first season in 1983, were named in honor of the Peoria Indian tribe. But, in these more culturally aware times, the team has shifted its iconography and marketing to more firefighter-oriented themes. You know, like “Fire Chiefs.”

Peoria_ChiefsThe Dozer Park concession areas follow this incendiary theme, with stands like these:

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007My designated eater on this evening — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits — had no interest in visiting either of the above two locales. This individual, one Thomas Doran, was in fact saddened at the suggestion that we do so.

031Only one thing could turn Thomas’s frown upside down . He was a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and therefore wanted to stop at a concession stand with the alliterative name of Cantina Caliente.

So that’s what we did. Pulled Pork Nachos put Thomas in much better spirits.

034Before we learn about Thomas’s food opinions, let’s learn about Thomas. He’s a 22-year-old Peoria native, and a huge fan of both the Chiefs and their parent St. Louis Cardinals. He graduated from nearby Ridgewood High School, where he managed the baseball team, and then went on to Bradley University. Thomas graduated from Bradley with a bachelor’s degree in history — “Because I’m a baseball history buff” — and he is now looking for employment at either a museum or a library. While at Bradley, Thomas remained involved with baseball as the school’s play-by-play transcriber.

In my notes it says that Thomas is a “fountain of local baseball knowledge.” Several weeks after meeting him, this is what I most remember. Throughout our various conversations his eyes would light up and his speech would quicken, in his excitement to convey various baseball facts and figures. He has a true passion for what he loves.

Thomas gave high marks to the nachos overall, due to the fact that they “pack in a lot of stuff.”

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“The chips could be stronger,” he added. “So they don’t fall apart when you scoop them.”

Thomas also enjoyed some tacos.

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He said that these were “spicy and dripping” and that he would get them again. And if you happen to be in Peoria and have a craving for Mexican food, take note: Thomas reports that the best such restaurant in town is Blue Margaritas.

036Thomas and I were soon joined by the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz history, the appropriately-named Eric Cupp.
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Eric, an active-duty guard who lives in Paragould, Arkansas, is a big fan of the Cardinals and all Cardinals affiliates (particularly the Memphis Redbirds). He and his wife were in town celebrating their 15th anniversary, as part of a baseball-centric vacation that also included a Cardinals game in St. Louis as well as what would be his first game at Wrigley Field.

Eric was tasked with drinking the Chiefs’ new “Squeeze Play Ale,” created especially for the team by the Peoria Brewing Company. Strictly from a logo-perspective, this is the best team beer in Minor League Baseball.

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Eric gets to work.

“It’s smooth, but has a little bit of a bite,” said Eric. “It’s refreshing, and smooth going down. A very good beer. There’s just the right amount of flavor, to let you know that you’re still drinking a beer. It’s a shame you can’t try it, but I’m glad that you can’t.”

I can’t eat burgers either. Next, and last, up for Thomas was a “Beer Cheese Burger” from the Chiefs’ Burgertopia kiosk. I don’t think this picture really does it justice, but here you go.

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Thomas was a man of few words: “The bun’s a little soft.”

Nonetheless, he only had good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“I did it because I wanted to be on the blog,” he said. “It’s great. I get free food, that’s the best part.”

Thanks to Thomas (and Eric) for acing their “designated” responsibilities. I enjoyed getting to know them.

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On the Road: Deep-fried Everything in Clinton

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Clinton LumberKings (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

As you can see, the Clinton LumberKings offer a fairly extensive concession menu.

037Upon close inspection, however, there’s one item that stands out above the rest.

The Garbage Pail.

At $8.50 this is the most expensive item on the menu, and the only one that explicitly warns that substitutions are not allowed. Per LumberKings concession manager Kathleen Ward, it generally contains “mini-tacos, chicken strips, french fries, onion rings, cheese balls, corn nuggets, poppers, corn dogs and sometimes beef sticks.”

I don’t think beef sticks were in this one, but everything else was and then some. This is the Garbage Pail, in all its glory.

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Ward is one of the creators of the Garbage Pail, the original iteration of which dates back to over a decade ago.

“We always had fried food left over,” she told me. “So we finally went to [general manager] Ted [Tornow] and said, ‘Can we just put it all together and call it the Garbage Pail?’ He said, ‘I have no problem with that.'”

She continued, “At that time it was super-small and it was, like, three bucks. … It was literally the leftovers. Cook’s choice. [Fans] didn’t get to pick, and they knew it. But they loved it, and now it’s grown to eight different things. A family of four could eat a Garbage Pail now and be very happy. And men drinking a lot of beer eat one by themselves.”

My designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was not a man drinking a lot of beer. Rather, my designated eater was — shocker! — a woman.  She wasn’t drinking beer, but she was nonetheless amenable to having a large heap of fried food placed in front of her.

Meet Amanda Cady.

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Amanda was at the LumberKings game along with her husband, Cory, and son, Alex.

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The Cadys were a fun family to get to know, however briefly. Cory, a machinist by trade, has amassed a collection of some 110 hats. In the above photo, he’s sporting a Fourth of July edition LumberKings cap.

“It’s a little ridiculous,” said Amanda. “The guys at Lids know him by name.”

Alex, meanwhile, is sporting a Round Rock Express cap because he loves trains. Alex, who Amanda said is a “local celebrity” at the ballpark, has autism. Amanda and Cory are heavily involved with a local organization, Strides for Clinton County Autism, raising money for special-needs teachers and other such educational initiatives.

“We just want Alex to have the same opportunities that everyone else has,” said Amanda.

Here’s a closer look at the shirt she was wearing.

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Amanda grew up in Clinton and has been going to ballgames at the Midwest League ballpark now known as Ashford University Field all her life. Her uncle, Brian Eggers, served as LumberKings assistant general manager from 1987 through 1994. Among many memories from that time, she recalled going to afternoon dinners at her grandmother’s house and playing ball in the street with members of the team.

As for the Garbage Pail, Amanda said she’s “been eating it ever since they had it.” (I wonder if, back then, she was a Garbage Pail Kid.)

The Garbage Pail is a bit monochromatic, and it can be difficult to discern exactly what lurks beneath the deep-fried breading. Amanda said she challenges herself to identify and then eat one specimen of every item before repeating herself. It’s a noble strategy.

Here, Amanda breaks down that which lurks therein. She’s a Garbage Pail expert.

You’ll notice that some of these items differ from those listed at the top of this post, but Amanda said that minor deviations are common. When it comes to the Garbage Pail, there’s always “some kind of surprise.”

Amanda’s favorite item in the Garbage Pail pantheon would be the corn nuggets.

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Yeah, corn nuggets.

And, jeez, I’m just now realizing that that’s all I’ve got from this Garbage Pail-centric portion of my afternoon with the LumberKings. Thanks to Amanda for  being a good sport and knowledgeable fried food consumer. Hopefully her appearance in this post helps spread the word that women can be designated eaters too. It need not be the male-dominated sphere that it has been thus far.

Yours in equality,

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On the Road: Eating in the Rain in Quad Cities

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Quad Cities River Bandits (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

If you read the previous post in this series, then you know that the Quad Cities River Bandits game I (attempted to) attend at Modern Woodmen Park was rained out. But while rain stopped the ballgame, it didn’t stop my designated eater! (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)

At Modern Woodmen Park, that individual was Dean Birkhofer.

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Dean, a retired math teacher, husband, father and Beatles fan, grew up in Wilton Junction, Iowa (“Junction” has since been dropped from the town name) and now lives in North Davenport. He was motivated to become a designated eater after receiving pressure from his daughter and son-in-law. (That son-in-law, Paul Worley, is a reader of this blog who contributed a “Why I Love” guest post this past February.)

Dean is a lifelong baseball fan, particularly of the Brooklyn-turned-Los Angeles Dodgers. So how did a kid from the Midwest come to like the Dodgers?

“I think I finally figured it out,” said Dean. “My Dad played softball. He threw right and played center field….I think I came to associate him with Duke Snider. [My Dodgers fandom] solidified when I was six. I made a bet with my uncle on the ’55 World Series, that I’d get a nickel if the Dodgers won. They won, and a couple weeks later I had to send him a letter. ‘A bet’s a bet.’ He sent me 27 cents, which was probably all the change in his pocket, and of course I changed that into 27 baseball cards.”

Fortunately for Dean and I, the River Bandits were willing to whip up a few special concession stand offerings despite the fact that the game had been called and the concession stands were closed.

We started with the “Pit Boss Burger” — an all-beef burger, cheddar cheese and in-house smoked BBQ pork.

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Here’s Dean, sauce all over his face, enjoying this delicacy.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” he said. “Really good barbecue sauce. Tangy. It’s going to be on my list when I come back for a game next year.”

Dean then wiped his mouth with paper towels that he had brought from home. Dean was nothing if not prepared.

Dean was also prepared for the next item presented for his consumption: the Midwestern delicacy that is the pork tenderloin sandwich. Believe it or not, this thing is on a bun. It’s just that the bun is obscured by the meat.

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Have at it, Dean.

080Dean opted to consume the the pork tenderloin sans condiments, remarking that “I’m a meat eater. Don’t ruin it.”

But first, the sandwich needed to cool off a bit. Dean, once again displaying an admirable level of preparation, passed the time by asking baseball trivia questions. One such question went as follows:

Who was the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in the same World Series?

I’ll provide the answer at the end of this post.

As for the tenderloin, Dean said that he’s a big fan of this sandwich in general and the River Bandits’ iteration in particular. As for why he’s a fan, he had a bit of trouble articulating.

“There’s a taste. I don’t know how to describe it. Yeah, I don’t know,” said. Dean. “This one’s really good though.”

Good? Yes. But the River Bandits don’t make the area’s best, according to Dean. That honor goes to Tc’s Point After in Dewitt, Iowa.

Meanwhile, Dean complemented his sandwich consumption with a beverage housed in a collectible cup. Yep, it’s time for a #cupdate!

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082But wait! Dean wasn’t done yet. In addition to arriving at the ballpark with his own napkins and trivia questions, he had a also brought me a gift.

084For those not in the “know,” the above mini-helmet depicts the logo of the awkwardly-named “Swing of the Quad Cities.” The franchise was known by this name — which referenced Bix Beiderbecke and the Quad Cities’ jazz legacy — from 2004-07. The River Bandits moniker, which had been in use from 1992-2003, was readopted in 2008 and the team hasn’t looked back since.

In fact, current River Bandits general manager Andrew Chesser was downright offended by Dean’s mini-helmet offering.

“I’m a little sick to my stomach,” he said.
083I, for one, like the mini-helmet. I wear it every day here in the office.

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And that’ll do it for Dean and his Quad Cities River Bandits sandwich-eating experience. I’d like to express my thanks to both him and the team for being Designated Eating pioneers, as never before had the eating been done after the ballgame was postponed.

“It was awesome,” said Dean, when all was said and done. “I just wish there was baseball to go with it.”

Trivia Question Answer: The first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in the same World Series was Chuck Essegian, who accomplished the feat in 1959 as a member of the Brooklyn Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thanks for playing.

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On the Road: Heart Attacks and Raging Cougars in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Regarding designated eaters, standard operating procedure calls for one (1) such individual to be recruited at each ballpark I visit. This individual will then consume, and be documented consuming, the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But standard operating procedures can be deviated, subverted, tweaked and outright ignored when the situation calls for it. The situation called for it in Kane County, as I recruited not one but — wait for it — two designated eaters.

052That’s David Lesser on the right and, because Lesser is more, Jason Bohn behind him and to the left. I asked both of these gentlemen to be designated eater, simply because they sent me an email asking for the privilege at exactly the same time. Tie goes to the eater.

The Cougars, led by the unstoppable force of hospitality that is public relations director Shawn Touney, provided David and Jason with seating in the new “Strike Zone” area behind home plate. This area includes wait staff service, which was coordinated in this case by food and beverage director Jon Williams.

So what do you have planned for these guys, Jon?

We began with the Heart Attack Burger, described by Jon in the above video as “Two grilled cheese sandwiches. In between that is a half-pound burger, grilled onions, fried egg, two strips of bacon and a bacon-chipotle mayo sauce.”

053Have at it, guys.

Okay, let’s take a moment to meet our designated eaters.

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David, a long-ago West Michigan Whitecaps intern, was attending the game with his wife, Kristin. They live in Chicago; he works in the accounting department of a law firm and she as a fifth grade teacher. David enjoys Cougars games because “they put on a good show,” and is a huge fan of Minor League Baseball in general. He said that he wanted to be a designated eater because it represented “a great chance to eat a lot of good food.”

“My wife claims that when I got this opportunity, I was more excited than when we got married,” said David.

“That’s not a joke,” added Kristen.

I then, apropos of nothing, asked David to name his favorite band of all time. He had to mullet over, but settled on Diamond Rio.

Of the Heart Attack burger, David said that “It’s basically a patty melt with an egg on it, in between a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s good. Really good.”

Okay, let’s move on to Jason, who was a considerably faster eater than was David.

054Jason grew up in the idyllic vacation wonderland that is the Wisconsin Dells, and now lives in Milwaukee. After a stint doing software support for a tech company, he is about to begin a new position with the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. He had previously worked in the world of Minor League hockey, which gave him an appreciation for how such entities operate. These days, Jason loves visiting Minor League stadiums as they help facilitate his passion for “travel, sports and zoos.” His favorite band is Ben Folds Five, whom he had recently seen play at a church.

“It was a hike to get here. I had to rent a car,” said Jason of his designated eating motivation. “But I get to see a Minor League team I haven’t seen yet, meet royalty — that’s you — and eat at the same time. I mean, I might as well.”

Jason accomplished his goal of not being “the first person to die of a heart attack while eating the Heart Attack Burger.” He did eat the thing in 90 seconds flat, however, remarking that “I fasted all day for this.”

“It’s actually really good,” he said. “It’s obviously sloppy, but everything is quality.”

Okay, next up: BBQ Pork Chop Sandwich. 10 ounces of butterflied boneless meat on a bun.

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David was familiar with this item, which he said might already be his favorite ballpark concession item. (“The barbecue sauce is great.”) In this photo he appears to be kissing the sandwich as opposed to eating it. To each his own.

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As for Jason — blink and you miss him eating it. This man was a true speed demon.

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“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m not really a big pork guy. It’s all the same.”

Next — more pork! A barbecue pulled pork sandwich, specifically.

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Kristin, David’s wife, volunteered to be photographed with this one because “My students will love it.” Okay, Mrs. Lesser’s fifth-grade students, this one’s for you:

064Meanwhile, Jason had pretty much eaten the whole thing by the time I was able to look in his direction.

065Despite his already-professed lackluster pork opinions, Jason was effusive.

“The pork was tender and the barbecue wasn’t overpowering. It never overtook the flavor of the awesome bun.”

Meanwhile, I was provided with some cheese fries. Cheese fries are good. I enjoy them. I wish I had some right now.

060Gluten-free for life!

061Finally, our designated heroes enjoyed Oreo Churros for dessert.

066En garde!

067“Excellent, and who doesn’t like a big tub to dip it in?” said David. “Growing up a White Sox fan, these were one of the staples of the concourse.”

Finally, it should be noted that David and Jason were drinking the new, team-branded “Raging Cougar Ale.”

ragingAnd in a collectible cup, no less.

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#Cupdate

“Two Brothers makes a lot of good beer,” said David. “It’s hoppy. It’s good. I’m not good at giving descriptions, as you can tell.”

“I know nothing about beer, and I’m from Milwaukee,” said Jason. “It tastes like beer to me.”

So there you have it, folks, a cavalcade of Kane County concessions. Thanks to David and Jason for their enthusiasm, Kristin for her humor and patience, Jon for his culinary expertise, Shawn for the generous accommodations and the Strike Zone waitress (I never got her name) who provided excellent service throughout.

That’ll do it from Kane County, but this ramshackle one-man show of mine will be rolling on for months and months to come. Thanks, to you, for following along.

050

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Exploring the Past in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On the eighth and final stop of my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip, I finally busted out of the confines of the Florida State League. Specifically, I headed north to Jacksonville to see the Suns. This was a significant stop for me. Not only was it the culmination of a fairly grueling road trip, but I have now visited every Minor League ballpark in Florida (the entirety of the 12-team Florida State League as well as Pensacola and Jacksonville).

Sunshine State, complete!

010The Suns, Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, have played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville since 2003. But we’ll get to that facility over the next two posts of this series. My afternoon started with a (metaphorical) trip back in time, to a living relic from Jacksonville’s baseball history: J.P. Small Park.

019For a little bit of background on this truly historic facility, I refer you to this plaque.

037To save your eyes, I’ll type it out:

This site had been the location of baseball and other sports for [over] 100 years. 

The location has been known at different times as Barrs Field, the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park, Joseph H. Durkee Memorial Athletic Field, and since 1980, James P. Small Memorial Stadium. 

The current steel and brick grandstand has basically the same appearance as it did when it was originally designed and constructed in 1935. For 20 years this structure served as the center of professional baseball until a new municipal stadium, the Gator Bowl, opened in 1955. 

The ballpark is located in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood. It was originally constructed in 1912, on land owned by neighborhood namesake Joseph H. Durkee. Between 1914 and 1922 it hosted Spring Training for a variety of Major League clubs (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Athletics). Minor League teams played there intermittently between 1921 and 1961, including the 1953 South Atlantic League Braves. This team, one of the South Atlantic League’s first integrated squads, included Hank Aaron on the roster. Negro League baseball was played here as well, in the form of the Jacksonville Red Caps.

036

035I was driven to the stadium by Suns director of security Rob Schoonover (a 33-year law enforcement veteran) and his wife, Jeanne. The visit to J.P. Small Park was motivated by a desire to simply see the facility, but as luck would have it a game was being played there that afternoon. Trinity Baptist College was in the final stages of an 8-2 victory over Edward Waters.

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025

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There was game day entertainment and everything.

031After the contest concluded, I wandered out on to the field.

027The dugouts are small and muddy, so most of the teams’ baseball equipment ended up scattered about the area.

028After the game, Schoonover introduced me to Nick Malpress. He’s been a J.P. Small Ballpark fixture for over 60 years (!)

034Malpress worked as a clubhouse assistant for the 1953 Jacksonville Braves, “shining shoes and getting stuff together.”

“Henry Aaron met his wife here,” he told me. “He and Felix Mantilla were coming out of the dressing room and he saw [future wife] Barbara Lucas walking down the sidewalk. It was just one of them things.”

The ballpark’s current dimensions are a quirky 341 to left, 371 to center and 285 to right, but Malpress remembered players “hitting the ball across the street, when there was a wooden fence all the way around. Hurricane Dora tore that fence down, yeah.”

Malpress has gone on to umpire countless high school and college games at J.P. Small Ballpark, and he attends nearly every Jacksonville Suns game held at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. But baseball’s not the only sport he’s involved with, as a Google search of his name reveals that he’s spent two decades on the Jacksonville Jaguars “Chain Crew.” He’s a Jacksonville sports icon.

Okay, it’s time for me to move the chains. This post is is the first down; stay tuned for two more, live and direct from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

This quick afternoon detour to J.P. Small Ballpark was an enjoyable one.

032

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Sea Cows and Eat a Burger in Brevard County

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Brevard County Manatees (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with this series of Florida ballpark posts, then you know there has been a recurring culinary theme: Florida State League concessions don’t go too far beyond the basics.

This is more or less true at the Brevard County Manatees’ home of Space Coast Stadium, although the team does have a few wild cards on the menu.

IMG_0402

In addition to staples such as hot dogs, burgers, Italian sausage, french fries, popcorn and nachos, the Grand Slam Grill offers blackened mahi tacos and fried as well as “Bang Bang” shrimp.

On the Friday evening that I was in attendance, they also offered this:

IMG_0403My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark foods that my gluten-free diet prohibits — was one Enrique Cortes.

IMG_0437

I wish I had a picture of Enrique that showed him in a non-eating pose. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was off of my game during my evening in Brevard County. The opportunity, it passed me by.

Anyhow, Enrique was attending the game with his wife, Lynette, and their son Enrique Jr. Enrique Sr. has been an art teacher at Palm Bay Elementary School since 2002. After graduating college with an art degree, he said that his master plan was to “get into the museum side of things.”

“I thought I’d just teach for a little bit,” he said. “But I never left. I enjoy it. You get to draw with kids all day. You can’t beat it.”

Enrique also serves as a coach for his son’s “machine-pitch” team, and he regularly attends Manatees games at Space Coast Stadium as well as Major League games in both Tampa and Miami.

As for why he wanted to be a designated eater, Enrique said that “I thought that it would be different, a new experience. I’m always looking for new experiences in the baseball world.”

Okay, great. But my issue was finding the ideal point in the evening for Enrique to get this experience. He was flexible, and my plan was to coordinate with the Manatees’ staff so that Enrique could be given a nice spread of concession stand highlights. This was not to come to fruition, as the front office was running around like maniacs (read the previous post to find out why) and the concession stand was slammed all night long.

By the time the seventh inning stretch rolled around, it was time to take matters into our own hands. Or, more accurately, Enrique took matters into his own hands. He corralled a coterie of Palm Bay East Little League players — it was Little League Night at the stadium — so that they could star in this rollicking Vine video.

Enrique and I then visited the Grand Slam Grill, ordering the “No Wake Zone Burger” from a no-nonsense, exhausted-looking woman with a name tag that said “Margot.” The game was nearly over at this point; we were fortunate that the concession stand was still open, and here we were ordering some convoluted new special item. Margot shot us an “Are you kidding me?” look before asking, “Do you know how to dial 911?”

The No Wake Zone Burger — two quarter pound burgers topped with crispy fried onions, bacon, tomato and blue cheese — is indeed a heart attack waiting to happen.

IMG_0433A closer look:

IMG_0436Have at it, Enrique. Have at it:

“That’s very good, a real juicy burger,” said Enrique. “The blue cheese gives it tangy-ness, a sweet bitter combo, just the right mix. It almost feels like I’m eating an egg in here.”

Nearly a month has passed, and I’m not quite sure what he meant by that last part.

Anyhow, here’s Enrique Sr. enjoying the burger as Enrique Jr. looks on.

IMG_0438“This is definitely something I would enjoy eating again,” he concluded. “I’d pay the extra bucks for it. There’s the saltiness of the burger, the crispiness of the onions. Good burger.”

Oh, and just so that I don’t get excoriated by all of the merciless #cupdate fiends out there, here are some pictures of the Manatees’ current collectible cup.

IMG_0439

IMG_0440And that does it. Literally, as at this point in the evening the game was over.

I’ll let Enrique have the last word. Given that the Manatees’ long-term future in Brevard County is uncertain, he had this to say:

“I hope the Manatees stay in Brevard County. I hope they don’t have to move. I fear the worst. I’ve enjoyed the past 21 years; I was here when they first started. I’d be sad to see them go. But it’s baseball, and it’s a business. I just want Enrique Jr. to have a team to root for.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Getting Some Bang for the Buck in St. Lucie

To see all of my posts from this visit to the St. Lucie Mets (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

We’ve reached the final installment of this St. Lucie trilogy, which could mean a lot of things, but in this case only means one thing: It’s Designated Eater Time!

You know the drill by now, but if not: The Designated Eater is an individual I recruit at each ballpark I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

In St. Lucie, this individual was Jay Meyer.

045Jay, originally from New York, moved to Boca Raton when he was 5 years old. He’s been a Minor League Baseball fan for over 20 years, going back to the days of the Fort Lauderdale Red Sox, but the St. Lucie Mets have long been his favorite squad. As you can see from his shirt, he has St. Lucie team pride.

Jay graduated from Florida State University medical school and is doing his residency at West Virginia University in Morgantown. His ultimate goal is to be a pediatrician. He said that he had been “going through baseball withdrawal” in Morgantown, a situation that should be alleviated next month when the New York-Penn League’s Morgantown Black Bears begin their inaugural season. Nonetheless, Jay says that the Sunshine State is where his heart is.

“Eventually, I want to come back home to Florida,” said Jay. “It’s what I know.”

OK, time to set the culinary scene with my evocative words and even more evocative pictures. Jay began his designated eating journey here, near the Tiki Bar.

027Just around the corner from the Tiki Bar, there is this concession stand.

046It was Buck Night — or was it Dollar Night? — at Tradition Field. Jay took full advantage.

Yep: Five hot dogs, five bucks. Jay was pleased with this arrangement.

038Specifically, these are Nathan’s Hot Dogs.

“They’re good. They’re Nathan’s,” said Jay. “It’s not the same as the [original] New York Nathan’s [in Coney Island], but for $1 you can’t lose. But it doesn’t have the same texture, the same skin, as the original Nathan’s. But it’s still good.”

Jay also enjoyed, or at least tolerated, an order of Nathan’s fries (he can be seen holding one such fry at the top of this post). My attempt at a closeup didn’t work so well, but here you go:

050“The fries are not as good as [the original] Nathan’s,” said Jay. “I like ’em more crunchy and hard.”

While Jay was indulging in his hot dogs and fries, I went and procured myself a Taco in a Helmet. At $6, the Taco in a Helmet is kind of a hard sell on dollar night, but dollar-night promos rarely include a decent gluten-free option and that’s what I was looking for.

Tortilla chips topped with ground beef, salsa, jalapenos, sour cream, lettuce and shredded cheese, modeled by a 30-something baseball writer who is — yes, ladies — single once again.

037Taco in a Helmet — ready for its closeup.

041When you’re done, turn it around and  — Bam! — souvenir.

044Speaking of souvenirs, here’s a #cupdate for all you cup-collecting fiends who will otherwise hound me day and night with your cup-related requests.

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043Finally, dessert! I don’t think I’d ever seen this at a Minor League ballpark before.

049The above photo depicts “Dirt in a Hat” — chocolate pudding with Oreo crumbles and Gummy worms.

051“I like it. It’s good, a perfect way to end the game,” said Jay. “It’s a good combo, the Oreos and the pudding are crunchy and creamy and then there’s the sweetness of the worms. It’s a win-win.”

And that’s when Jay and I parted ways, as he was enjoying the sweetness of the worms.

053Thanks for everything, Jay. You performed your designated eating duties with aplomb and verve.

And thanks for everything, St. Lucie. I really enjoyed my evening at Tradition Field.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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