Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’
Before we get into the meat of this post — and there is a lot of meat product in it — a brief update: Over the last several weeks, my Appalachian League articles have proceeded apace on MiLB.com. The most recent article, on the Burlington Royals, can be found HERE. Check the dropdown bar within the piece to see all of my articles from the trip. The only Appy League team I have yet to cover in any capacity is the Danville Braves. Thus, I will jump ahead in the blogging narrative in order to provide this post, on my D-Braves designated eaters.
I’ve been recruiting designated eaters since the 2012 season, and in that time the overwhelming majority of them have been male. Not to stereotype, but men seem to comprise the majority of my readers, and men seem to be more willing to pose for ridiculous photos featuring themselves and Minor League foodstuffs. So let’s hear it for Brooke Robinson and Mary DeFriest, 2016’s first female designated eaters!
In the below photo, Brooke and Mary were photobombed by Blooper!, whose name includes a built-in exclamation mark.
Brooke and Mary are both currently employed by the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who operate approximately 45 miles southwest of the Danville Braves. Brooke is the team’s coordinator of promotions and community relations; last season she was a promotions assistant for the Corpus Christi Hooks. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Brooke said she knew she wanted to work in baseball after attending a Chicago Cubs game at age 5.
“I just loved the atmosphere and wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I eventually want Bill Murray status. I want to be a team’s director of fun.”
And, yes, Brooke Robinson is named after Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. She said her dad wrote the third baseman a letter telling him he was going to name his daughter after him, and that Robinson sent back an autograph.
Mary, originally from Great Falls, Virginia, graduated from Indiana University this spring. She then relocated to Greensboro, where she works for Brooke as a promotions and community relations intern. This is her second Minor League Baseball internship as she spent last season with the Tri-City ValleyCats. Mary said she enjoys working in Minor League Baseball because “it’s a creative atmosphere and I’m a creative person, so I thrive in that atmosphere.”
Brooke and Mary were excited to do their part to alleviate the extreme designated eating gender disparity that has existed thus far.
“First of all, it’s all guys all the time,” said Brooke. “And we’re in the business. We do the YMCA every day. We have no shame.”
OK, time to eat! The concession stand lines were very long on this July 3 evening, but fortunately we had a man on the inside. The following spread was presented to Brooke and Mary, and they were psyched to do some designated eating.
Well, then have at it!
Designated eaters check in, Danville Braves. https://t.co/R7LHWIWUKK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 4, 2016
The “Kitzmiller” is a fried bologna sandwich, named for longtime D-Braves assistant general manager Bob Kitzmiller. Kitzmiller, who retired from the team in March, passed away the morning after this ballgame took place. (I learned of his death via a moment of silence prior to July 4’s Burlington Royals game.) Kitzmiller was well-loved at the ballpark and the community; click HERE to read a local newspaper tribute. Far beyond being a bologna sandwich namesake, Kitzmiller made a large impact in Danville’s sports community and the Appalachian League in general.
Brooke and Mary enjoyed their Kitzmillers.
“I’ve never had bologna cooked this way before, but it tastes pretty good,” said Mary. “I like grilled onions.”
“I’d have been scared to try it, but now that I have I’d definitely get it again,” said Brooke.
Brooke and Mary then cleansed the palate with a beer, which was not a Coors Light despite the usage of a Coors Light cup. My notes say it was a “local orange IPA,” so perhaps it was something from Danville’s 2 Witches Winery and Brewery.
At any rate, the brew got exceedingly high marks. Mary gave it a “10 out of 10” because it didn’t “have a crazy bite to it” and was “smooth.” Brooke declared that a better beer could not be found outside of her native Texas.
Next up was a Blooper! Dog, featuring mustard, chili and a fried pickle. Extreme close-up!
Mary: There’s a lot of mustard.
Brooke: The mustard’s on everything.
Mary: The pickle’s so good. Pickle is the key. I kind of want to eat the pickle by itself.
Brooke: My pickle slid out, so I ate the pickle already.
Mary: They should sell pickle fries like this.
Before moving on to the BBQ Dog, Brooke and Mary sent me on an important errand.
Evan help us. https://t.co/YlENXxBNKG
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 4, 2016
Once you’re done laughing at the above (if you’re ever done laughing), then you can move on to this extreme close-up of the BBQ Dog. Topped with pulled pork and slaw, it is more photogenic than it’s Blooper! Dog counterpart.
Once again, a brief conversation ensued.
Mary: I like that it’s not drenched in sauce. Sometimes there’s too much sauce and the bun gets really soggy.
Brooke: And it’s vinegar-based. I would get this.
Mary: I would definitely get this. It’s the perfect combo.
Mary then declared the BBQ Dog to be her favorite item of the night. Brooke went with the Kitzmiller.
And me? I’m just here for the popcorn.
Brooke and Mary’s work was done for the evening, meaning they were now free to hang out with old pal Blooper! and new pal Captain America.
“This was awesome,” said Brooke of the designated eating experience. “I assumed at a smaller ballpark they just had hot dogs. But people should come and try the food here.”
“I’m really thankful for this opportunity and wish it could continue,” said Mary. “I just love food and wish I didn’t have to stop eating.”
I, in turn, thank Brooke and Mary for their designated eating service. It was indeed a great night at the ballpark.
— brooke robinson (@brookebaseball) July 4, 2016
This will be the only Appy League post I’ll have time for before embarking on my next trip, which kicks off Aug. 1 in Sacramento. Please accept my apologies for the blogging backlog –it’s been a very busy couple of weeks for me professionally as well as personally. In a nutshell, I’ve had to find a new apartment in NYC and will be moving in on Friday. I leave for my next road trip two days later. Crazy times!
To see all my posts from my May 13 visit to the Carolina Mudcats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas 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 guy right here, holding meat in both hands, his name is Sherman Gillespie.
Sherman lives in Garner, North Carolina, a town located south of Raleigh. He has worked 25 years in the Raleigh police department, holding down a variety of positions through the years. Currently he is a “school resource officer sergeant,” overseeing the officers who are placed within high schools throughout the city.
Sherman is also, not surprisingly, a big Minor League Baseball fan. He is a native of Shelby, North Carolina, and annually takes time off in order to volunteer at the American Legion World Series held at historic Keeter Stadium. Sherman attends approximately 10 Carolina Mudcats games each season and also goes on Minor League ballpark trips with his family. At this particular game — Friday, May 13th, for those keeping score at home — he was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Carson.
I am writing about Sherman because he had volunteered to be my designated eater — you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark foods that my gluten-free diet prohibits. (The Mudcats do a good job with gluten-free offerings, with GF chicken tenders, Red Bridge beer and GF buns on request. Food and beverage director Dwayne Lucas told me that “Anytime someone has an allergy, we try our best. It’s about accommodating it as many people as possible.”)
Sherman’s culinary journey began with two items I had procured from the concourse-level “Grand Slam BBQ Stand”: Pig Wings ($10) and a Carnitas Tacos platter ($8).
We began with the Pig Wings (aka pork shanks), which Sherman is holding in the above picture. They were accompanied by an order of fries, which tasted spectacular — thick, crispy and dusted with Old Bay seasoning.
“It’s not bad,” said Sherman. “It’s like a chicken wing with a lot more meat. It’s juicy. Tastes just like a chicken thigh, but like eating ribs.”
From there it was on to the Carnitas Tacos platter.
“It’s hot and crunchy, but doesn’t have a lot of flavor,” said Sherman. “It just needs more seasoning.”
As the catfish was being consumed, Sherman was visited by some of his Raleigh PD school resources colleagues. Sherman is their boss, but they were giving him a jovial hard time about all sorts of things and I’m sure they’ll enjoy the pictures in this post. Sherman’s son, Carson, is on the left in the Reading Fightin Phils cap.
And with that, my time with Sherman and his pals ended. And with this sentence, my Carolinas trip blog posts are now complete. Thanks to all those who’ve followed along, and stay tuned for plenty of posts from my imminent Appalachian League trip.
To see all my posts from my May 12 visit to the Columbia Fireflies, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas 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).
At each Minor League ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Columbia’s brand-new Spirit Communications Park, that individual was 16-year-old Carter Blackmon. Carter was attending the game with his Dad, Nathan, a well-known (some would say legendary) figure in the world of Minor League Baseball. He spent eight seasons (1997-2004) as the International League’s assistant to the president before transitioning to a then-fledgling website by the name of MiLB.com. Nathan, officially, is the site’s “director of MiLB initiatives.” If you work in Minor League Baseball, then you probably know him.
Now let’s get to know Carter, who lives with his Mom and Dad and two sisters (one of whom is his twin) in the town of Waxhaw, North Carolina. Carter is licensed to drive, plays offensive tackle for his high school Parkwood Rebels and says a “perfectly cooked cheeseburger” is his favorite food. Carter also told me that he “likes” to fish, which prompted his Dad to say, “Like to fish? You fish at least three days a week. It’s more than ‘liking.'” Carter then conceded that he loves to fish, and proudly showed pictures of some of his latest bass conquests from the ponds of Waxhaw. The biggest bass he’s caught in the region was eight and a half pounds.
Fish wouldn’t be on the menu tonight, but barbecue was. With Fireflies VP of marketing Abby Naas serving as our guide, we began our journey at the Fireflies’ “Low N Slow” cart.
From this cart, Carter was given a pair of sandwiches. The Pulled Pork is topped with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, utilizing a recipe developed by Fireflies president John Katz. The Beef Brisket has a tangy “Carolina Gold” sauce.
Have at it, Carter.
“Oh, dang. That’s good,” said Carter, of the pulled pork. “The sauce is excellent — sweet with a little bit of tang at the end.”
He was an even bigger fan of the brisket, as he deemed the Carolina Gold sauce to be “too good for words.”
“If I had to use one word, it’d be ‘extravaganza’,” he continued, after giving the semantics a lot of thought. “It’s like a little mustard and a little barbecue thrown into one.”
Carter is a barbecue aficionado and says that if you’re ever in Waxhaw (hey, you never know), then Jo Jo’s and the Rock Store are both good places to check out. After prompting from his ever-watchful father, he added that “Mom and Dad’s is also a pretty good place to eat.”
Next up was a pair of tacos from the “El Toros” stand, so-named because “toro” means “bull” and the Fireflies’ Spirit Communications Park is located on Bull Street.
“We go to Salsarita’s a lot, so I’m experienced with tacos,” said Carter, referring to the Mexican restaurant chain. “I love tacos.”
He then showed his love for tacos by tearing right into one. I believe it had chicken in it, while the other one had pork.
“The black beans made it good, too, and usually I have tacos with no beans,” he added.
At this juncture I was called away from my designated eating duties to participate in a karaoke contest atop the dugout. I featured this video in my last post and I’ll feature it again here, as it was one of the greatest triumphs of my life.
The above contest was hosted by Fireflies executive vice president Brad Shank, and upon returning to Carter and Nathan I found that Pork Shank (no relation) was waiting for us. Pork Shank was joined by Tri-Tip Sandwich. Both are available in the upper-level suites.
Carter said the tri-tip “had a nice crust around the meat. The grilled onions were great, and the sauce excellent.”
As for the shanks, I went ahead and tried ’em myself. Carter, meanwhile, played the role of cinematographer.
“Very meaty,” it says in my notes. “Not much seasoning. Tender. Overwhelming.”
(I assume I was writing about the shanks there, and not brainstorming the “About Me” section of my online dating profile.)
Carter was unable to eat dessert, unfortunately, as he still has five years to go before he can legally sample Mocha Chocolate Moonshine and Caramel Moonshine ice cream. This creamy alcoholic dairy product is produced locally by JB’s Pr%f.
Nathan, ever-helpful, was happy to step in.
Nathan’s impish grin in the above Vine pretty well sums up how the moonshine ice cream tasted.
Speaking of summing up: Carter said that, when it came to the designated eating experience, “Shoot, I don’t have any words. It left me speechless. I started to like new things. It was a journey of discovery.”
And that, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about. Shanks for everything, Carter.
To see all my posts from my May 10 visit to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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).
Prior to embarking on my Carolinas road trip, I did not receive any designated eater volunteers for my evening with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. “Don’t worry,” said the Pelicans (I’m paraphrasing here). “We’ll take care of it.”
Take care of it they most certainly did. Via Facebook, the Pelicans recruited not one but FOUR designated eaters. Not only that, but these four designated eaters got to enjoy a four course (one per inning) concession standvaganza that took the designated eating concept to bold new terrain. Pelicans food and beverage director Brad Leininger and his ballpark kitchen crew are masters of the craft.
I met my four designated eaters at a picnic area located down the first base line, just after the game was underway. Our location was within spitting distance of the “Clark and Addison Grille”, one of many Cubs-themed modifications to the ballpark in the wake of the Pelicans affiliating with Chicago’s National League affiliate prior to the 2015 season.
When I arrived at our designated location, the designated eaters were already enjoying a variety of cold, canned alcoholic beverages. It was “Craft Beer Tuesday” at TicketReturn.com Field, and, furthermore, the Pelicans had just become the first professional team to add buckets ($30) and growlers ($25) to the daily beverage menu.
This quartet, from left to right:
Thomas Robinson — A Myrtle Beach native who now lives in-between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, North Carolina. Thomas is a big baseball fan and, while not yet a Pelicans season ticket holder, he said “I’m going to be.”
Chris Lizio — After working for the Pelicans in 2015 as a production assistant, Chris transitioned to a digital broadcast assistant position at nearby Coastal Carolina University.
Rich Johnson — For over two decades, Rich has hosted The Fishing Line program on New York-area TV and radio. He also spends ample time in the Myrtle Beach area, and particularly enjoys watching the Pelicans on dollar beer nights. “My record is 12,” said Rich. “I don’t drive, of course.”
JD Hewett — JD is a childhood buddy of Thomas; the two played baseball together growing up and now regularly attend Pelicans game. JD, who now lives in Little River, South Carolina, works alternately as a commercial artist, furniture reconditioner and hot dog vendor (selling to a whitewater rafting clientele from the riverbanks of Robbinsville, North Carolina).
The first inning was dedicated to the Pelicans’ Chicago-centric variations of ballpark favorites.
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 10, 2016
We’ll start with Thomas and Chris.
Designated eaters check in part one, @pelicansbaseball https://t.co/FWsHVlGsCi
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 10, 2016
Thomas, as you saw, had the Chicago Dog. I promise there is a hot dog in there somewhere. It’s just submerged underneath green relish, sport peppers, tomato, a pickle spear, celery salt and who knows what else.
Chris had a “Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Burger.” As the name would imply, it’s a burger featuring a deep-dish pizza bun. I don’t have a standalone quote from Chris regarding this item, which I assume is because his mouth was full.
Before moving on to Rich and JD, I’d like to give a shout-out to the house made chips that accompanied these items. Thick, crispy, seasoned with Old Bay and accompanied by a dipping sauce whose specifics I forget but which were nonetheless complementary to the overall flavor package.
Rich and JD, you’re up.
Designated Eaters check in part two, @pelicansbaseball https://t.co/tZ2lXM2dSN
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 10, 2016
The Double Play Dog is an Italian sausage topped with Italian roast beef and peppers.
“It’s excellent,” said Rich. “I don’t think of beef on sausage but the two flavors really balance nicely. It’s not in your face. It creeps up on you. It’s got a great kick that dissipates fast, like a chili pepper. It doesn’t linger until the next bite.”
The Polish Sausage is self-explanatory, with the titular meat topped generously with sauteed onions and peppers. I’m going to assume that my lack of a specific quote on this item was once again due to mouths being full. (The vegetable array seen behind the Polish Sausage was universally ignored, the only item all night to receive no interest. Make of that what you will.)
Everybody was having a great time, and that was only the first course. Beer break!
Next up for the boys was an array of coastal cuisine: crab cake, fried clams and fried shrimp along with a heap of fries. The boys were pleased.
The Pelicans’ crab cakes are sourced from the aptly-named Crab Cake Lady, who operates out of Murrels Inlet, South Carolina.
In a Facebook post of his own, Rich said that the crab cake may have been the “best thing he ate all night. Tangy, delicious and not much filler at all.” The fried clams and shrimp received general approbation as well, with lack of greasiness and ample meat within the breading cited as distinct positives. Thomas said that the clams were “as good as anything you’ll find in Calabash,” claiming that that particular North Carolina locale set the gold standard for local seafood.
JD is a huge Motorhead fan — just check the shirt — so I thought it was fitting that he was the one who found the “devil shrimp.” #RIPLemmy
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 11, 2016
Bog Balls, a South Carolina specialty, consist of chicken, rice and sausage mixed together into a ball and fried. They are served with a Sriacha mayo dipping sauce and, as I later learned, are gluten-free (!)
Chris said that the fried pickles “might be my favorite thing in the ballpark.” But nonetheless, he made a beeline for the chicken waffle bites. They are fried in waffle batter and come with a side of syrup. (The sweet potato fries, dusted in cinnamon sugar, were similarly sweet.)
Thomas went ahead and grabbed the fried bologna sandwich, remarking that “a big cut of bologna is the best way to go. Who doesn’t like a big bologna?” He then made a suggestion to Pelicans food and beverage director Brad Leininger. “Y’know what’d be good on this bologna? A fried egg.”
With so much food being eaten and so much being said about it, I was finding it hard to keep track of everything that was going on. This Facebook Live video, posted by the Pelicans, illuminates the general scene during this time. These guys were really living it up, in a sort of collective disbelief over how well they were being treated.
Finally, mercifully, we came to the end.
Fourth Inning: Dessert
And then there was funnel cake.
Postscript: I’ve been recruiting ballpark designated eaters for nearly four years now, beginning shortly after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Just like anything related to one’s job, I sometimes get cynical about it. It adds a lot of extra work at an already busy time of year, and, truly, you can only ask a guy how a hot dog tastes so many times before it gets a little boring. But I still love the concept, because it gives me a chance to meet people, at every ballpark I visit, who I otherwise wouldn’t. I love getting to tell their stories. And my own cynicism is often trumped, as it was in Myrtle Beach, by the almost giddy enjoyment of the designated eaters themselves. Brad Leininger and Pelicans staffers such as Jen Borowski, Kristen Call, Hunter Horenstein, Andy Milovich (and others, I’m sure) put a lot of effort and coordination toward creating an experience that was truly memorable for all involved.
Rich: The food was so great, I’m not gonna eat for two days. At the gym tomorrow, I’ll be in slow motion.
Chris: This made it even harder to decide what to eat here. Everything is so good.
JD: I couldn’t ask for a better evening at the ballpark. It was great hanging out with you and these guys, and watching Rich drink.
Thomas: This was the best experience I ever had at a ball field. I played ball, but this was the best.
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) May 11, 2016
Thanks, guys. It really was a lot of fun.
The Charleston RiverDogs are known for many things, and chief among those many things is food. As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I have made an annual habit of dedicating a preseason post to their new concession options. And when I last visited Charleston in 2011, food and beverage overseer Jon Schumacher laid out a spread that included a Pimento Pickle Burger, a RiverDog, a Pig on a Stick corn dog, Kitchen Sink Nachos and, of course, the Pickle Dog.
The Pickle Dog is no longer offered at RiverDogs game, sadly. And, even more sadly (from my self-centered perspective) Schumacher has left the team in order to open a restaurant of his own. This new establishment, Harold’s Cabin, is co-owned by RiverDogs co-owners Mike Veeck and Bill Murray.
But the RiverDogs food tradition has been ably carried on by current food and beverage overseer Josh Shea and his assistant Jay Weekley, who continue to roll out new items such as this:
Of course, I would not be the one consuming such lowcountry ballpark specialties. That job, as always, goes to my designated eater. In Charleston, this individual was one Frank Monterisi. I took the below photo of Frank before tutoring him in the basics of food posing technique. Namely, do not block the entirety of the foodstuff with one’s hand.
Frank, originally from New York, moved to North Carolina along with his family in 2003. A graduate of Clemson University, he relocated to Charleston in 2007 and currently works as a math teacher at a community college.
“Teaching runs in the family,” said Frank, a RiverDogs season ticket holder. “Being a math teacher is like being a politician. You walk in on the first day and half the people hate you already. I try to do it so that math isn’t like the other four-letter words that people use.”
There would be no four-letter words used on this evening, math-related or otherwise. As a great man maybe once said, “You can’t talk when your mouth is full.”
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 9, 2016
The Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog was brought to our plastic picnic bench location by Jay Weekley, who explained that it is made with yellow stone grits, smoked gouda and shrimp. This mixture is then breaded in hush puppy batter and served alongside a tomato gravy dipping sauce. Like many items in American retail history, it sells for $9. Weekley said that the team sells approximately 25 per ballgame, “which is pretty good for a brand-new item.”
Frank, who prepared for his designated eating assignment by consuming just five Frosted Mini-Wheats earlier in the day, said that the dipping sauce was “amazing” and that the breading was “not too heavy and not too soft.”
He then washed it all down with two alcoholic milkshakes.
These might not be much too look at, but they were a lot to taste. On the left is an Apple Pie Shake — Angry Orchard cider and vanilla ice cream mixed with an actual apple pie from Charleston’s Mudd Pie Girl Bakery.
“This is fantastic,” said Frank. “There’s the old saying ‘American as apple pie’ and baseball is the national pastime. So what’s better than an Apple Pie milkshake?”
I think Frank should get a part-time job writing ad copy for the RiverDogs.
On the right is a Palmetto Biscotti Shake — Biscotti cookie dough, vanilla ice cream and Palmetto espresso porter beer. Frank praised the “rich, almost coffee-like taste,” but I think he still had his mind on the Apple Pie Shake.
It was then time to lighten things up via the Harvest Salad, which, par for the Minor League Baseball course, is served in a helmet and feeds 2-3 people.
“We introduced this last year,” said Weekley. “Everybody seemed to be doing Quadruple Bypass Burgers and things like that, and we wanted to go healthier. We use hydroponic lettuce — it’s never in the soil — hollow out the core, fill it with quinoa and top it with fresh fruit and feta cheese.”
“A lot of people think of salad as rabbit food,” said Frank, who is not a rabbit. “But the fruit adds a nice element and then you mix it with the cheese, it’s like seven food groups in one. It’s nice to see ballparks going away from the norm.”
But there are many ways in which to deviate from the norm, some ways more healthy than others. Shea soon arrived bearing a Double Chicken and Waffle Burger, and this thing looked so good that I had him explain it for posterity.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 9, 2016
“My experiences were high and they were met,” said Frank. “As a Yankee, chicken and waffles have become my favorite food since moving to Charleston.”
There was no time for further reflection, for Jay Weekley is a relentless man.
In Jay’s right hand (on your left, dummy) is a Hawaiian Dog. It is topped with pineapple relish, pineapple, red onions, pickled okra, “a little cilantro grown here at the stadium” and house-made lemon aioli. In Jay’s left hand (that would be your right, hockey puck) is a Southern Kimchi Dog. That one has shredded collard greens, locally-made kimchi, sweet piquant peppers and a ginger-soy dressing.
A closer look, for all you closer-look fiends out there:
Frank, like me, is a single man. That makes me an expert in online dating profile pictures, and I do believe that this would be an excellent one. Good luck out there, Frank.
Things had, by now, crossed over into the realm of the ridiculous. Next up was one of the RiverDogs’ new rice bowls. The Southwestern Chicken Bowl, to be exact, consisting of yellow rice, chipotle chicken, house-made corn salsa, cilantro coleslaw, black beans and lime crema.
I took a closer look. Too close, probably.
“It’s definitely got a kick to it,” said Frank. “The best way to describe it is ‘Loaded Nachos without the nachos.'”
Loaded Nachos without the Nachos is simply “Loaded”, which is how Frank felt at this juncture.
“There was food variety for all. Everything’s great.”
Now that I think of it, has anyone checked on Frank recently? For all I know, he could still be passed out on a plastic picnic table. But like most endeavors that end in such a fashion, I’m sure it was all worth it.
To see all my posts from my May 8 visit to the Greenville Drive, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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 is Rich Wofford. On Sunday, May 8, Rich and his family attended a Greenville Drive game at Fluor Field so that he could serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
The above photo was taken outside of an empty Fluor Field suite, where myself, Rich, his family, luxury suites executive chef Rob Hansen and food and beverage manager Kyle May convened for a few innings of food-based reverie.
I’ve mentioned Rich’s family twice already, so I’ll briefly jump ahead in the narrative in order to show a picture of the Wofford clan on the cusp of dessert. From left to right, we have Colton (3), Charlotte (4), Rob, Calum (six months) and Dovie.
The Woffords live in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Rob works as an accountant for a non-profit organization, while Dovie has a full-time job and then some in her role as stay-at-home mom. (She takes care of “the rats,” as Rob lovingly put it.) This all took place on Mother’s Day, so a happy belated Mother’s Day to Dovie.
Rich is originally from Greenville. He met Dovie while living in Arizona, and moved back to South Carolina three years ago. Despite growing up in Atlanta Braves country, Rich is first and foremost a Boston Red Sox fan. He said that the Sox were his father’s favorite team, and though it was never pushed upon him he nonetheless became a fan during a time in his youth when the Braves “were in a stretch of terrible years.” Rich is also a big fan of Cal Ripken, and said that “Calum” is as close as he could get to convincing Dovie to name one of their children “Calvin.”
The Drive are a Red Sox affiliate, so Rich is particularly enamored with his hometown Minor League team. He said that he and the family attend about seven games a year, watching approximately three innings “before we go to the playground.”
Today, the playground could wait. There was eating to do.
The above spread was laid out for Rich by Drive food guys Hansen and May. We’ll cover each one individually, but we’ll begin with something not included in the above picture: The Hot Tot.
Have at it, Rich.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 8, 2016
“It’s a good ballpark hot dog,” said Rich. “There’s not a lot of hot in the tot, but the taters add a nice crunch on the top.”
Charlotte then took a bite.
“It’s good!” she said. “I kind of like the spice.”
Charlotte’s favorite color is pink and her favorite team is (surprise) the Red Sox. After answering these queries she momentarily got distracted by a talking dog video on the scoreboard, but quickly regrouped. The talking dog video had reminded her of her pets — Dribbles the hamster and Dudley the dog — though, unfortunately, “all of them died.” She then went on to tell me that her favorite player is Dustin Pedroia and that if she had all the money in the world she’d buy a Belle dress (Belle being a Disney princess character).
Our interview concluded with me asking Charlotte “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in your life?” She had an answer at the ready:
“When Daddy said ‘Pull my finger!'”
Rich broke out into peals of embarrassed laughter and immediately asked that this remark be stricken from the record. However, being a brave and honest man, he later consented to have his daughter’s delighted account of his finger-pulling request documented within the public sphere.
Anyhow, we were talking about the Drive’s ballpark food options.
This “Triple Crown” slider platter — available in the 500 Club restaurant/bar/group area — was constructed with aplomb. From left to right we have (if my notes are correct) the “Chef”, the “Big Hurt” and the “Sultan of Swat.”
The Chef, consisting of bacon, cheese and green peppers, was Rich’s favorite. He said that it was an “excellent burger” because the “meat was perfect” and overall it was an excellent combination of ingredients. The Big Hurt — topped with fried jalapenos — got lower marks because it was “spicy, very spicy, to the point where I don’t taste the burger.”
The Sultan of Swat, topped with fried green tomatoes, red onions and pimento cheese, was the most interesting looking of the bunch.
Rich was underwhelmed, however.
“There was lots of onion taste, and that’s pretty much it on that one.”
Next, we classed up the joint by tasting the seared tuna (available at the suite level). The tuna, spiced up with a creole-style seasoning, was served atop a bed of greens and accompanied by a sesame ginger sauce and a jicama slaw.
“If you’re not familiar with jicama, it’s a vegetable kind of like an unripe pear. Pretty mild as far as texture goes,” explained Hansen. “[The slaw] has yellow pepper, red pepper, fresh mint and strawberry.”
I probably ate more of the tuna than anybody. In my notes it says that there is a “Nice spice on the edges. The tuna is tender and the flavor radiates outward.”
Rich said that the tuna was “not what I’d expect to eat at a ballpark, but if I found it I’d eat it. The [sesame ginger] sauce has a nice heat that goes away quickly.”
From the perspective of the Wofford family, the best was most definitely saved for last: Xangos.
Xangos is (are?) fried cheesecake. The Drive’s version, a “sweet” level specialty, is dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a chocolate dipping sauce. It got a 100% Wofford approval rating, summed up by Rich’s assessment that “I don’t know how to describe it other than ‘perfect.'” It even put a momentary stop to Calum’s crying, leading Rich to deem it a “baby husher.”
The dessert based reverie could only last so long, as Calum, though no longer crying, summarily threw up on Rich.. Assessing himself as his family prepared for departure, he noted “This would definitely be the ‘after’ picture. I’m covered in chocolate sauce and baby barf.”
The Wofford family then left the suite, moving on to their far more familiar playground environment. There, the kids would find swings to swing upon, slides to slide upon and, hopefully, fingers to pull upon.
To see all my posts from my May 7 visit to the Durham Bulls, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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 is Ken Childs.
Ken, a Massachusetts native, attended college (and played baseball) at North Carolina Wesleyan College. Collegiate wood bat aficionados may remember him from his stint as bullpen catcher for a Cape Cod League Hyannis Mets team that included Jason Varitek. Upon graduating from college in 2001 he moved to Durham, and in Durham he remains. Ken is currently an IT manager for Duke’s anesthesiology department. He also works as a PA announcer at South Boston [Virginia] Speedway and covers bobsled, skeleton and luge at his website slidingonice.com. Ken, clearly a 21st-century renaissance man, is also a diehard Durham Bulls fan. He’s a half-season ticket holder with front row seats located just past the first base dugout.
Finally, and most importantly to the purposes of this narrative: Ken served as the designated eater when I attended May 7’s Durham Bulls game. Therefore, it was his duty to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. That ballpark cuisine included the Angus Barn steak and cheese sandwich that he is brandishing in the above photo.
Let’s take a closer look at this $16 behemoth.
Angus Barn, a well-known upscale Raleigh steakhouse, is one of two new Bulls food vendors for the 2016 campaign. These steak and cheese sandwiches — angus beef, grilled onions, peppers, cheddar cheese and secret sauce on Italian bread — are prepared and sold out of a concourse kiosk. The only other item on the Angus Barn menu is cheddar cheese and crackers; clearly, steak and cheese is the prime attraction here.
“You have no shame, right?” I asked Ken, as he was preparing to take his first bite of this imposing creation.
“My softball team’s name is, quite literally, No Shame,” Ken replied.
At this moment, I knew I had selected the right man for the job. Have at it, Ken.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 7, 2016
“Amazing,” said Ken, while removing dripping foodstuffs from his chin. “I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but it’s delicious as hell. This is the best cheesesteak I’ve ever had. I’m not even exaggerating here.”
As for the hefty $16 price tag, Ken said it was justified but conceded that there are better deals to be had.
“The food here [at Bulls games] is so good, and so much of it is not $16.”
That said, he then went back to rhapsodizing about his sandwich.
“I’m taking some huge bites here. Everything is cooked perfectly. It’s fantastic.”
On the left is Vader Ade, consisting of Fruit Punch Gatorade and blood orange sorbet. On the right is Yoda Soda, which is Lemon-Lime Hawaiian Punch with Sierra Mist and lime sorbet. Ken sampled the former and I the latter. Both were overwhelmingly sweet. Kids would love ’em, I think, but it was a little too much for my refined and sophisticated adult palette to handle.
“It tastes like ice cream covered in Pixy Stix juice,” is the quote written in my notebook. I’m not sure who said that, me or Ken, so let’s just consider it a team effort.
Despite having eaten a massive steak and cheese sandwich in less than 10 minutes, Ken was still hungry. Or, at the very least, he was still willing to stuff more food into his mouth. Next up was a visit to Smokebox Barbecue, located on the outfield concourse.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 7, 2016
“You’ve got to come at this thing from the bottom to really get it right,” said Ken. “But the barbecue is incredible, and that plus the dog and the slaw, it all comes together. It’s inexplicable, really.”
As with the steak and cheese sandwich, Ken consumed this oversized item within the span of a few minutes. His food consumption efforts were nothing if not conscientious, focused and dedicated.
“I’m not one to back down from a challenge,” he said. “Thankfully, there’s no bad challenge here. The food here is incredible. They’ve got a little bit of everything, and it’s fantastic. It really is.”
Thanks to Ken volunteering to be my Durham Bulls designated eater. This was an experience that really stayed with him.
. @bensbiz Just checking in: Just about 14 hours later and I’m still full.
— Ken Childs (@TheKenChilds) May 8, 2016
To see all my posts from my May 6 visit to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of 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).
My regular readers are by now well aware of the “designated eater” concept, but since this is the first such post of the year allow me to provide a brief review:
During the 2012 season I was diagnosed with celiac disease, meaning that I had to adopt a gluten-free diet. “Gluten-free” and “ballpark food” have a minimal Venn diagram overlap, which led to a conundrum for me. How could I continue to make stadium cuisine a part of my coverage while I myself could no longer eat most of it? The answer to this query came from on high, entering my brain space as an idea fully formed.
At each ballpark I visit, I would recruit a fan to consume the concession specialties that my diet now prohibited. This initiative started in earnest during the 2013 season, and as of this writing more than 60 individuals have bravely served in the designated eater role. In Greensboro, home of the Grasshoppers, that man was Alan Hand.
In the below picture, you can say Aloha to Mr. Hand on the left. On the right is his good friend Ronnie Higdon.
Alan and his family — wife Kristina and daughter Elliott Rose (named after Pete) — moved from Oregon to Mooresville, North Carolina in 2002. Alan and Ron became friends as a result of their respective daughters becoming friends. The two men soon found they had a mutual passion for Minor League Baseball exploration, and estimate that they attend 30 games together each season. Alan reports that he has visited 67 ballparks, while Ron puts the number at “a bunch.” Included in this bunch is the South Atlantic League in its entirety, an excursion he underwent as a sort of 50th birthday present to himself. While not pursuing their Minor League Baseball road trip urges, Ron works as a theater teacher in Mooresville while Alan is a behavior specialist in the Rowan County school system.
“I was sitting in an IEP [individualized education program] meeting and there was a lull, and I saw your post about needing a designated eater in Greensboro,” said Alan. “‘Dude, I am so doing that!'”
So here we are. Our first stop was the Grasshoppers’ “Cheeseboro” cart, which features an array of grilled cheese sandwiches.
The above photo doesn’t really convey just how unique this concoction was (at least by ballpark food standards). The “sweet” came in the form of strawberry marzipan brie and cinnamon, with the “salty” component delivered via prosciutto and Old Bay seasoning.
Have at it, Alan.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 6, 2016
Alan said that the sweetness of the cheese had a “rich, melty taste that took the edge off of the salt.”
“The cheese is melted right into [the prosciutto], it meshes well and has a nice finish,” he continued. “That’s the thing here [at Grasshoppers games]. These guys really know what they’re doing.”
After the grilled cheese, we headed over to a cart situated on the third base side of the concourse. There, a man obscured by beer cans could be found in the act of grilling sausage and its various accoutrements.
With sausage procured and picture taken, there was nothing left for Hand to do but transfer to mouth.
“Oh, this is good,” said Alan. “You can really taste the pork. It’s got a good snap to it. The grilled veggies are awesome, caramelized with a little bit of sweetness. The bun is nice and soggy from soaking up all the juices. Good. This is so good. I would definitely get it again.”
A ringing endorsement, to be sure, and that just about did it for the designated eater portion of the evening. Alan and Ron soon went back to their spouses in the stands, noting that their attendance at this Grasshoppers game once again earned them “wife points” and that “we realize how lucky we are.”
Back home, Alan presumably enjoyed a nightcap in his idyllic screened porch. He later sent this photo along because, if you look closely enough, you can see that the porch is illuminated by lights placed within collectible Minor League cups. Fellow #cupdate aficionados, take note.
Let’s also hope that Alan remembered to feed his dog, Bailey. The needs of a 2010 Kannapolis Intimidators “Bark in the Park” award winner should never go unmet.
To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
Embden, a small town in central Maine, is surrounded by the Kennebec and Carrabassett Rivers. The town’s website declares that its current population is an estimated 939 people, who are “proud of our history and optimistic about our future.”
I met two of those proud and optimistic people at the Sept. 4 Portland Sea Dogs game: Erik Carey and his 11-year-old son, Luke.
Embden is over 100 miles north of Portland; one would think that would be a prohibitive distance for Erik and Luke to travel on a regular basis. But if one would think that, then one would think wrong.
Erik and Luke are Sea Dogs season-ticket holders, who regularly make the long drive to Hadlock Field together.
“My wife has been to one game, my daughter has been to one. I think Luke and I have been to about 30,” said Erik, an eighth-grade teacher with 20 years of experience in the education field.
On these frequent father and son excursions to Hadlock Field, Dad drives while his son reads. These trips are so long and so frequent that Luke was able to read the bulk of the entire Harry Potter series while riding alongside his dad on trips to and from the ballpark.
On this particular evening, Erik and Luke varied up their Sea Dogs routine by serving as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
We began at the Shipyard Brew Pen, located at the far end of the third-base line.
Shortly after we arrived in the area, there was a commotion behind us — shouts, squeals, nervous glances toward the sky and the sound of uncertain footsteps.
A foul ball was headed our way!
Erik dove for cover, but Luke kept his eyes on the prize. The ball bounced off of the asphalt and onto the roof of the Brew Pen, whereupon it rolled straight down and into Luke’s waiting hands.
Congratulations to Luke, the first-ever designated eater to snag a foul ball.
The Shipyard Brew Pen sells lobster rolls, and when in Maine, you’ve gotta get a lobster roll. Right?
The Sea Dogs’ lobster rolls are provided by Beal’s Lobster Pier.
Now it was Erik’s time to shine.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 5, 2015
“This is pretty good…” Erik began.
“But not as good as my catch!” interrupted Luke, still psyched to have snagged an official game-used Eastern League ball. But back to Erik:
“Uh, um, uh, there’s so much pressure,” he said, searching for a way to describe the lobster roll. “Let me take one more bite.”
“No…” said Erik, still at a loss for words. He and Luke then commiserated briefly, using teamwork to come up with the following lobster roll description:
“The creaminess of the lobster melds well with the crunch of the bread.”
Erik, like the lobster, was now on a roll.
“The best part is that that the meat is not rubbery, and the sauce, there’s just enough,” he continued. “I’m really getting the lobster taste, not the mayonnaise.”
“Hey, you’re doing good!” said Luke.
“Yeah. Thanks, Buddy.”
For dessert, it was my duty to procure Luke and Erik a Muddy Biscuit from a concourse concession stand such as this.
New for the 2015 season, the Muddy Biscuit is a chocolate-dipped variation of the Hadlock Field treat known as the Sea Dog Biscuit: Shain’s of Maine vanilla ice cream served between two chocolate chip cookies.
Luke, introducing the Muddy Biscuit:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) September 5, 2015
Like father, like son.
“This makes me sound like a bad parent,” said Erik. “Just wait until Mom reads this. … See, it’s not the cost of the travel down here. It’s not the cost of the tickets. I’m getting crushed by him at the concession stand.”
Luke wasn’t phased by his Dad’s accusations. He was lost in a dessert-based reverie.
“Would you say that the cookies and the ice cream complement one another? I’d say they do.”
“I don’t know,” replied Erik, before deciding that Luke’s Muddy Biscuit hypothesis was dead on. “It’s the perfect combination of a baked good and ice cream. Separate they are awesome, but when you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.”
This sounded like an analogy for the father-and-son relationship — “When you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.” Seeking to give Erik a rare upper hand in the dialogue, I asked Luke, “On a scale of 1-10, how thankful are you that your Dad takes you to these games?”
After much hemming and hawing, Luke grudgingly replied “10.”
“See, he doesn’t want to say anything nice about me,” said Erik. “Because he knows that I’ll remind him at the most inopportune moment.”
Note: My 2015 “On the Road” blog posts and articles are now finished. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and please feel free to get in touch any time about anything. Now the offseason truly begins. I’m going on vacation.
To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
As mentioned previously, my visit to Burlington, Vermont to see the Lake Monsters was not part of my end-of-season New England road trip. It was a standalone visit that took place on July 11, which I have since shoehorned into my larger New England narrative.
When in Vermont I stayed in neighboring Hinesburg with my cousin, Ali, her husband Jim, and their two kids Jason and Becca. (I call Ali my cousin, but her Mom and my Dad are cousins so technically I think we’re “first cousins once removed.” And her kids are, what? Second cousins once removed? It gets confusing really quickly.)
Ali, Jason and Becca accompanied me to July 11’s Lake Monsters game at Centennial Field, and I recruited the latter two to serve as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)
Jason and Becca were joined in this endeavor by Jason’s friend, Devon. Jason and Devon are in fifth grade, while Becca is in second grade. Let’s meet them:
Designated eaters check in, Vermont Lake Monsters https://t.co/qPyHZfaPSQ
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 11, 2015
Centennial Field is the oldest stadium in Minor League Baseball (the grandstand was built in 1922, but games have been played there dating back to 1906). Operationally speaking, the Lake Monsters don’t have the capabilities to offer a wide array of outlandish and/or regionally specific items (the bread and butter of most of my food posts).
Furthermore, my designated eaters, being kids, did not have the most sophisticated palettes. They wanted the basics anyway, and the Lake Monsters are adept at providing the basics.
He was far more charitable toward the cheeseburger itself, remarking that “It’s good. The cheese is actually melted and the bun is good, too. A double burger may sound like a lot, but it’s actually the perfect amount.”
As for what food he’d like to see at the ballpark, Jason said that it’d be great if the Lake Monsters sold Moe’s tacos. He then recanted this sentiment, wisely stating that “I take it back. I don’t want chains, I want people to know about local restaurants. So how about Public House? They have good baseball food, I think.”
Our focus then turned toward Becca’s pizza.
Becca, in this case, was a second-grader of few words.
“I think it’s really good,” she said. “The sauce is really good.”
She then added that her ideal ballpark food would be “Strawberry and chocolate donuts, and maybe even some coconuts.”
Becca might be the first kid in the history of kids to like coconuts.
Finally, we have Devon’s foot-long hot dog. Like his buddy Jason, Devon eschews condiments. Perhaps this is why they are friends.
“I like ketchup but only on fries,” said Devon, seeking to clarify that he did not have an across-the-board anti-condiment philosophy. “This is the longest hot dog I’ve ever seen. I wish that on ‘Hot Dog Heaven Day’ [when the Lake Monsters sell hot dogs for a quarter] they would launch these into the stands.”
As for how the hot dog tasted, Devon offered a single word in response: “Good.” He then explained that his ideal ballpark food would be “Pizza and then edible baseballs. Like, a sphere cake, vanilla, with white frosting and red stitches.”
“They could call it ‘Cake Me Out to the Ballgame,'” I said in response. This was followed by an unamused silence.
Edible baseballs were not available as a dessert option. But Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwiches, a Vermont convenience store staple, were agreed by all to be an acceptable alternative.
“They’re really good with the creamy ice cream in the middle,” added Becca, who, for the record is also capable of making a funny face while eating a Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwich.
Becca: What was the highest number again? [I told her.] Okay, that.
Alright, then. Any final words before we wrap this up?
Becca: Kids ruin everything. Except me. I’m awesome.
Jason: I would recommend going to Vermont if you’re close by. Except for Essex. Don’t go to Essex.
[Note: Jason and and Devon are on the same hockey team, and Essex is their biggest rival.]
Devon: If you’re near the Vermont Lake Monsters stadium and they’re in town, then you should go.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Devon. Centennial Field is a good place to eat, and a better place to see a baseball game.