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.
Way back in 1995, I took a trip to Toronto for the first time, partly to see what was then called SkyDome and partly to visit the Orbit Room owned by Alex Lifeson of Rush. As you may remember, it was a good year to go to baseball games, even if it pained one to do so. Attendance was way down following the 1994 strike that cost us a World Series. For the first time since the SkyDome opened, it was easy to get tickets.
I was by myself, a suburban young man spending a week in a big city and not knowing really what to make of all of it. When I arrived at SkyDome for the first of two games I was attending, the sky was cloudy and the roof was closed. I stood outside, waiting for the gates to open. The area almost seemed deserted.
On the outside concourse, I watched as a man dressed in Blue Jays gear set up a small drum kit. Once he had finished setting it up, he began playing a catchy beat on the skins, pausing every so often to shout “Let’s go Blue Jays!”
I don’t remember whether it was because I was an Orioles fan jealous of the Jays’ recent success, or because it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to see a street performer at a ballgame (Toronto has some of the best street theater you’ll ever see), but I didn’t think too much of it. Nor did I go talk to the fellow, or drop a couple bucks in his bucket.
I kind of regret that.
I don’t know for sure if that man was Rick Donaldson, who still today pounds the skins and leads Jays fans in chants for their home team outside of Rogers Centre, but I don’t know how it couldn’t be. He’s been doing this for many years, and says himself that you should do these things for love, and then the money will come. I try to live by that philosophy with my ballpark booklets.
Watch any of Rick’s Youtube videos and he comes across as a guy who wants baseball fans to have fun. And in interviews with him, you find out that he knows a little about the game, too. There isn’t anything wrong with trying to make a few bucks performing on the street at a ballpark, but Donaldson truly is a fan.
People like Rick are what make baseball great, and they deserve to make a few dollars. Heck, the Blue Jays ought to be paying him. Baseball fans love to watch stars like Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols, men who are at the top of their game. But in the end, we just want to be entertained. Sometimes, you have more fun at a minor league game where you don’t know any of the players. Or at a spring training game that doesn’t matter.
Donaldson brings enthusiasm for the Blue Jays to every home game. He helps folks share in the love of a baseball team. Most of all, he reminds everyone that this is supposed to be fun.
So if you’re at a Blue Jays game and you hear Rick drumming and chanting, talk a walk over, drop a few bucks in his bucket and talk a little baseball with him. Tell him Kurt Smith sent you, because I owe the guy one.