Tagged: Ballpark Grub

A Goodwill Gesture: A Free Beer at the Ballgame

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Even in the most comfortable of great seats in some of
today’s ballparks, chances are you’re going to be sitting closer to a stranger
than you’d like. This, especially for somewhat introverted people like me, can
be a source of discomfort. Introducing yourself to strangers, something our
parents always told us not to do, is difficult, and we just want to have a good
time at the ballgame.

But you’ll likely get to talking to folks a little bit, as I
have done many times. And you’ll discover that you may have a few things in
common. Of course you do. You love baseball enough to pay the considerable price
to see it live, even if it means sitting just inches away from strangers.
Something in the brain must be functioning properly.

I find that nothing builds up goodwill with your new and
intimately placed neighbor than buying that person a beer, if they’re the sort
that likes one or two at the game.

It’s a friendly enough gesture anywhere to offer someone a
beer, but at ballpark prices, it’s above and beyond. Most ballparks charge
upwards of $7 for a brew nowadays, so you’re being especially generous there.
Maybe I’m weird, but while $7 is too much for me to buy a beer for my own self,
I don’t consider it overpriced as a matter of building a rapport with the
fellow in the seat next to me. What the heck, while I’m establishing
solidarity, I’ll have one too.

I remember my first trip to then-Jacobs Field. I was by
myself wearing Orioles gear. When I first sat down in my lone upper level seat,
there was no one to my right, and the guys to my left were not overly friendly
to the partisan outsider fan. Not unfriendly, but not shaking my hand or
anything either.

The people sitting to my right found their seats shortly
after the game started, and they chatted me up a little bit, which I
appreciated. I wasn’t causing a scene or anything else that ticks off the home
fans, but I thought it was nice anyway. So I bought both of them a beer–and
then the guy on my left suddenly started becoming friendlier, asking me how
many strikeouts Jamie Moyer had (I was keeping score). Coincidence? I think
not!

Another time, in my first trip to Toronto, a nice Canadian
chap was fascinated by the idea of my taking the trip all the way from New
Jersey to see SkyDome, and bought me a Labatt’s, assuring me that I did not
need to return the favor when I told him I couldn’t afford to. Up to that
point, I hadn’t had a drop, and the beer was good and cold. And I will always
think highly of that gentleman, as I would hope the Indians fans I shared brews
with would think of me.

Buying a beer for your neighbor is a swell thing to do for a
few reasons. First, of course, is the money you’ve saved them. I don’t mean
this in a way to say people are selfish, but while they may pinch pennies when
it comes to buying beer at the game, they will gladly drink one offered by
someone else with no strings attached. Second, a beer will help the person
loosen up and relax and not feel so uptight about sitting so close to a stranger.
Third, there’s a fair chance that the recipient of your largesse will return
the favor. Win-win-win!

And if you have a great time at the ballgame–which often
comes simply from having an enjoyable, relaxed, I’m-just-happy-I’m-not-at-work
conversation with the person next to you during the contest–isn’t that worth
$7?

Just don’t drink and drive, at least not in that order.

Boog’s Barbecue: Pit Beef from the Local Star

When Oriole Park at Camden Yards first opened, one of its more striking features was the constant flow of smoke from that green tent in the outfield. Games shown on ESPN would always include a shot of Eutaw Street next to the B&O warehouse, full of patrons waiting in line to shake Boog Powell’s hand and partake of some pit beef.

 

Boog’s Barbecue is usually featured on a top ten list of signature ballpark food items, and it’s frequently mentioned as a “can’t miss” part of visiting Camden Yards. People stand in line and meet the big fella, and then order a smoked beef or turkey sandwich covered with BBQ sauce and served with beans and cole slaw.

 

The culinary revolution at ballparks owes a lot to Boog Powell. After Camden Yards opened, for the first time, there was a popular food item at a ballpark besides the ubiquitous dog. Whether or not Boog’s Barbecue would have been a hit without the friendly local star shaking hands and signing autographs is hard to say, Boog’s place added an especially nice touch to an already spectacular ballpark.

 

The big power-hitting first baseman was a perfect choice to head a food stand at Baltimore’s new ballpark. He is not a Hall of Famer, and somehow one can’t imagine Cal Ripken or Brooks Robinson meeting fans every night. But he was certainly a great ballplayer, and every Orioles fan who was there in the late 60s and 70s knows who he is. Such stands featuring local stars are commonplace today especially in newer ballparks, but in 1992 this was a very unusual and interesting idea.

 

Since the success of Boog’s, the local baseball heroes who weren’t quite national superstars have places of their own, like Greg Luzinski in Philadelphia, Luis Tiant in Boston, Gorman Thomas in Milwaukee and Manny Sanguillen in Pittsburgh. It’s not that the Hall of Famers wouldn’t represent the team or the city as well, but these guys make the local fans feel like the team didn’t forget the lesser known names that were just as important to a team’s greatest moments.

 

The lines for Boog’s aren’t as long as they once were. In the 90s when Oriole Park was a very hot commodity and had a winning team on the field, the place sold out or nearly sold out every night, and plenty of folks waited in line for Boog’s autograph, even during the game. Today, while Camden Yards is still highly regarded, many Orioles fans have grown disgusted enough with 13 straight losing seasons and on especially slow nights, the once familiar smoke no longer wafts out from the green tent shortly after the game starts.

 

But Boog is still there, shaking hands and taking photos, and there’s now a Boog’s on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland–advertised as the “Best Beef on The Beach – No Bull!”, a sly dig at Bull’s BBQ in Philly, perhaps?

 

Whatever, as long as he’s still at the Yard.

 

Ballpark Food Is Too Expensive!

You’ve heard it a million times. You’ve probably thought it a million times. You think it every time you pay about six times what it would cost to make the same meal at home at any sporting event.

 

And you’re right. Athletes’ salaries being what they are, jacking up the cost of food at the ballgame is how owners pay for .300 hitters. The prices for ballpark food spiral out of sight; pushing customers to the brink every time, just to the point where they grumble but still pay. Yankees fans may love having Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez on their team, but they earn it at the concession stands.

 

I don’t blame fans for being outraged at this development, even if it is still supply and demand. I’ve often wondered why teams don’t reduce the prices of concessions and presumably sell more of them, but apparently they’ve figured out the maximum profit point and know better than I do about conscience-free food sales.

 

Still, of late there have been some positive developments in ballpark eats. Many teams offer ways to save on food, like all-you-can-eat sections and discounts for early-arriving fans. Most ballparks will allow you to bring in your own food if you’re strapped for cash.

 

And many of the new ballparks today offer a popular hometown delicacy; this certainly is an attractive new option for out-of-town fans that can save a trip to an established hole-in-the-wall while they’re in town. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia offers several variations on the popular cheesesteak with Tony Luke’s, Campo’s, and the Schmitter, and you can also get the ever-popular Chickie’s and Pete’s fries. Citi Field in New York gathers long lines of fans for Shackburgers at the Madison Square Park based Shake Shack and leftover fans can go to Mama’s of Corona for a big sub. PNC Park in Pittsburgh now sells the Primanti Bros. sandwich, famous for fries and coleslaw actually piled onto the mess. And at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the holiest of holy hot dog cities, fans can go to the Chicago Dog kiosks and get a wiener on a poppy seed bun dressed up Chicago-style, or “dragged through the garden” as locals call the dog dressed with numerous toppings.

 

The one drawback is that the local delicacies tend to cost a little more than the standard fare, making it decision-time again. I got to thinking about this last Saturday night, when I was lucky enough to attend a Flyers game at Wells Fargo Center in Philly. There were Campo’s cheesesteaks and Chickie’s and Pete’s fries available…instead I went with a generic hot dog and fries, because I didn’t want to wait in line or pay more.

 

The dog was bland–and suffered from the indignity of unavailable spicy brown mustard. The fries were also surprisingly subpar, somehow not salty enough. I ended up regretting the decision, probably more than I would have regretted the extra few bucks and minutes I would have spent getting something worthwhile. Not a professional cost-benefit analysis, I know, but this isn’t supposed to be work!

 

So there you go. If you have ever had a favorite restaurant that always has a long wait, you know it’s worth the wait rather than to go to a lesser joint. As far as the cost–well, that’s up to you. You’re going to overpay anyway. A mushy generic hot dog is still going to be overpriced. You might as well pay a couple bucks extra for something half-decent with local flavor.

 

Ballpark E-Guides provides the skinny on most of the ballpark food, so you can have a plan going in or get the scoop before going to wait in line for unique local chow. How many times have you gone into a park and just looked for the shortest lines or the cheapest items? With a Ballpark E-Guide, you’ll know just what and where everything is…and you’ll be less likely to feel like you got burnt, like I did at the Flyers game. Whenever possible, Ballpark E-Guides will show you how to save money on such items, too.

 

Yes, ballgame food is too expensive. So my advice is to get something at least in the ballpark of your money’s worth.

 

On “All You Can Eat” Seats

In researching different ballparks, I’ve found that many of them these days, particularly the ones that host mediocre teams, offer “all you can eat” seats. Some of them, like Baltimore’s Camden Yards or Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, make this option available every night, while others, like Toronto’s Rogers Centre, make them available on certain nights of the week.

 

Sports Illustrated, in their new role as social critic, has taken issue with this, questioning whether it’s a good idea to be encouraging people to gorge on ballpark food in a nation with an obesity problem. (Included in their article is a link to the top ten minor league ballpark foods. Click on the link and the first thing you see is a huge photo of a four-pound burger smothered in chili, cheese and chips. I am not making this up.)

 

Baseball owners can’t win. They’re constantly criticized for the prices of everything, by the same people who criticize them for not spending money on top players. Now they’re giving fans too much food!

 

Still, with that said, I don’t recommend the all-you-can-eat sections, for different reasons. I sympathize with the health aspect of it, although I believe people are responsible for their own selves and if they keep this sort of thing in moderation they should be fine.

 

First off, count on all-you-can-eat seats being the worst in the park. In Baltimore, they’re the left field club seats; in Toronto and Atlanta they’re deep in the outfield; in Pittsburgh they’re in right field. In Baltimore and Pittsburgh particularly, these seats preclude a great view that makes the place special. Part of the reason this deal is offered is precisely because teams can’t sell these seats, especially to watch a bad team.

 

Second, it isn’t all that much of a bargain. Say you pay $17 extra for an all-you-can-eat seat (in Toronto, a 200-level outfield seat costs $22, on all-you-can-eat nights it’s $39). You’re essentially paying $17 for a low-level buffet of hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, and popcorn. Would you pay that much at a Golden Corral for such a limited menu? I wouldn’t pay that much at a Golden Corral period, but that’s not the point. Buffets in restaurants rarely feature anything gourmet-level; this is doubly true at the ballgame.

 

Third, none of the ballpark all-you-can-eat sections include local favorites that are featured in ballparks these days. Almost all ballparks feature a popular local delicacy, and if you don’t mind spending the money you’d be remiss to miss out on some of the civic pride of a town. It’s ultimately cheaper (see my second point), and it’s part of the ballgame experience. You should have a Primanti Bros. sandwich at PNC Park, or Boog’s Barbecue in Camden Yards, or a Georgia hot dog from the “Frankly My Dear” stand at Turner Field. Don’t waste $17 on the low-end unexciting grub because you get more of it.

 

This isn’t to say I don’t think people shouldn’t ever take advantage of the deal. If you don’t have time for dinner before the game, and you don’t care where you sit, you can have a couple of dogs, peanuts, some popcorn and a soda without worrying about how much extra it costs. It’s fine if you’ve been to the ballpark before and are just going to the game.

 

But SI’s social concern notwithstanding, it’s Dr. Ballgame’s opinion that you’re shorting yourself of the best possible ballpark experience with the all you can eat seats. And even health reasons aside, it really isn’t worth it.

 

Stick with me; there’s other ways to save money on food at the game.

 

The Taxi Crab – A Solution, Or Two

One of the many goals of the guides I am writing is to let people know where they can get a meal and possibly get an inexpensive brew before or after the game. Ballpark beers are running $7.50 and up these days, and we all know how much ballpark food is. The Taxi Crab gives Phillies fans a lot of the better of both worlds.

 

The Taxi Crab is a shuttle run by Chickie’s and Pete’s, a popular Philadelphia area restaurant chain. It carries passengers from the restaurant’s nearby location on Packer Avenue to Citizens Bank Park (or any of the sports venues in the complex). It will also pick up passengers at the park to take to the restaurant for a meal and good times, and then return them to the parking lot when they’re finished, giving them something to do as the parking lot slowly empties.

 

The shuttle is free; unfortunately you have to pay to park at C&P’s. But it’s still a better deal than parking at the Bank–your car is valet parked, and you won’t have to deal with post-game traffic in the Bank’s parking lot. It costs about the same, maybe a little less.

 

In addition to getting a better deal on parking and an easier exit, you can enjoy a meal at a popular local institution. This is a much easier way to try Chickie’s and Pete’s famous crab fries. They have a stand in Citizens Bank Park, but the lines for the fries get far too long, and they’re more expensive at the game. If you’re interested in trying the crab fries, try going to the restaurant and using the shuttle.

 

Besides the fries, Chickie’s and Pete’s has some pretty good grub at reasonable prices. You won’t save much money eating here over eating at the game, but there’s a good selection of seafood and a long list of different beers. They were voted #1 Sports Bar on the East Coast by ESPN, and the Best Seafood and Wings by the Philadelphia Inquirer. And the beer is cheaper.

 

So in summary there are three benefits to the Taxi Crab: less of a wait for the crab fries, less post-game traffic hassles, and a less expensive place for a beer or two before the game.

 

And Dr. Ballgame is all about finding a better way to do it.

 

Sun Life Arepas–Well, It’s Something

Sun Life Stadium in Miami is widely regarded as Major League Baseball’s worst venue for several reasons.

 

First and foremost, it’s undoubtedly a football stadium that gets a baseball field shoehorned into it in the summer. And despite that the Marlins have won two championships while playing their home games there, people walk in and around the stadium and see nothing but Dolphins, Dolphins, Dolphins–a team that hasn’t even appeared in a Super Bowl since moving into the new digs in 1986.

 

It’s also an enclosed stadium with no outside view…not that there’s anything worth seeing in Opa-Locka. The stadium is in a Miami suburb with no restaurants, nightlife or public transportation to the city. Very little public transportation at all, for that matter. You pay the stadium’s parking prices or don’t come to the game.

 

Worst of all, there’s few experiences like being outside on a humid summer evening in south Florida. Except for maybe sitting through a hurricane.

 

So unless you’re a hardcore Marlins fan, Sun Life doesn’t offer much in the way of the baseball experience. PNC Park it is not. Heck, it isn’t even Tropicana Field–at least at the Trop you escape the heat and thunderstorms.

 

But Sun Life does have something no other park I’ve researched has–arepas.

 

For the uninitiated, an arepa is something like a grilled cheese sandwich, except with cornbread. The cornbread is made from a mixture of kernel corn and arepa corn flour. Then the two hunks of cornbread sandwich a glob of mozzarella cheese. Think of it as a Latin hot pocket. I haven’t tried one, but given my affection for both cornbread and grilled cheese sandwiches, I can’t imagine not liking this.

 

Word in baseball is the arepa was a good part of the reason for star Marlin Miguel Cabrera’s noticeable weight gain. To listen to the blogs, he put on 40-plus pounds of cornbread and cheese.

 

Arepas are a South American cuisine, so they’re more popular in south Florida’s Latin population, but they can be found in most cities if one looks around a little bit. And truthfully, they aren’t hard to make either. The Sun Life Stadium Arepa recipe is available at many places on the web, which probably isn’t a good thing for the venue. They’re gonna need some better reasons than a suntan for people to come out for Marlins games.

 

All the same, at least when you’re in the sweltering heat of a nearly empty stadium that brags about a football team that hasn’t won since the Nixon administration, you can have a cornbread and melted cheese sandwich. If the Marlins start winning, that should be good enough.