Hot Dogs or Haute Dogs?

The vast expansion of ballpark menus.
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It’s the sixth inning and outfielder Jay Bruce has smacked his second two-run homer, driving in four runs in the final game of an early season series against the Atlanta Braves. The crowd is on their feet chanting “Bruuuuuce.” Normally, I would be too, but a Big Red Smokey is occupying my lap. Spicy brown mustard and shreds of sauerkraut cling to my previously white shirt and litter my notebook. I’m feeling a bit squeamish in the hot sun, likely due to the first four innings of appetizers: three bites of my man’s Italian sausage with onions and peppers, a half bag of peanuts, a 16-ounce root beer float, and two bottles of water. As long as I don’t make a sudden leap to my feet for a rallying cheer, I don’t think the fans of section 118 would mind if I unbuttoned my suddenly tight waistband.

Collectively, they’ve out-dined and out-drank me by 45,000 calories. A parade of dogs, pizza, soft pretzels, ice cream in miniature plastic baseball hats, and the grossly named Funachos!—a small trough of corn chips and shiny Nickelodeon-yellow cheese—have been steadily inhaled course-by-inning since the first pitch was thrown. This is the equivalent of a restaurant chef’s five-course degustation menu complete with 20-ounce beer pairings, at roughly the same price. And that’s just the standard (and sub-standard) ballpark fare. There’s also Montgomery Inn, Skyline chili, Penn Station, grilled chicken sandwiches, steak burgers, salad, brats, goetta dogs, veggie dogs, fresh fruit cups…and petit fours. That’s right, miniature cakes and pastries, a side of sweet liqueur in a signature shotglass optional. Ballparks have become a giant feeding trough.

It used to be a bag of peanuts, a box of Cracker Jacks, and a couple of beers were enough; you were here for one purpose: to watch the leather get knocked off the ball. But as Major League Baseball has evolved into big business, most ballparks across the country have been rebuilt into multimillion-dollar entertainment complexes, and franchises have been busy retooling the image of baseball for the MTV generation from that of a slow game to an “experience.” Kiss Cams, dancers, animatronic races, video games, and signature “at bat” music for each player guarantees your attention is never untethered for one sponsored minute; and a smorgasbord of regional fare in the concession stands assures that your palate is never bored, either. From AT&T Park in San Francisco to the new Yankee Stadium, ballparks across the country are trying to appeal to everyone, even the “casual” baseball fan. You know, the one who buys a $42 ticket to play video games and dine rather than watch baseball. Though hot dogs and beer still rule, Asian noodle bowls, edamame, crab tacos, pressed Cuban sandwiches, and champagne are all part of the contemporary MLB menu. I’m all for good food and a little culinary diversity, but if I want a dainty miniature cake, I’ll go to afternoon tea.

Originally published in the June 2009 issue.

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