Monday, March 26, 2012

Welcome to the Big Leagues

Spring Training is winding down, and baseball season is almost underway.  For fans in the larger metropolitan areas around the country, early spring brings the anticipation of summer days at the ballpark, watching high-quality, Major League Baseball action.  For the unfortunate fans living in cities a little further off the beaten path, baseball season means watching obscure minor league teams with questionable talent battle for the equivalent of a junior varsity championship.

It's no easy task to fill a stadium when the teams on the field have limited abilities and uninspiring names like the Cedar Rapids Kernels. If a team hopes to strike fear into the hearts of its opponents but is dead-set on calling itself the "kernels", I don't understand why the team wouldn't at least upgrade to "colonels".  Unless you've got some serious digestive issues or just hate flossing, pieces of corn don't rank very high on the intimidation scale.

Facing such hurdles, minor league times have come up with some creative ways to keep fans coming back to the ballpark in spite of the low quality product on the field.  And nothing draws the rural fans more than state fair-style food and unique twists on the staples of ballpark cuisine.

The Western Michigan Whitecaps minor league team, the Detroit Tigers single-A affiliate (and another club with an intimidating mascot), introduced its now famous Fifth Third Burger in 2009.  The burger earned its name from the five 1/3 pound hamburger patties that are nestled among chili, nacho cheese sauce, and a variety of other fixings inside an oversize bun. All this for only $20...and an impressive T-shirt if you finish.

The Gateway Grizzlies are a professional baseball team located in a St. Louis suburb in Illinois.  While their team name is more respectable, the Grizzlies don't enjoy the benefit of any type of affiliation with Major League Baseball, playing in the independent Frontier League. To help attract fans, the Grizzlies offer what they've dubbed "Baseball's Best Burger".  For a mere $4.50, you can can fit all the important food groups in the palm of one flabby hand--you've got a Krispy Kreme donut surrounding two slices of bacon, a beef patty, and cheddar cheese.

These teams know how to draw the crowds and shift the atmosphere at the games a little more toward "sideshow" than "baseball".  Thus far, Major League Baseball has ignored this pent-up demand for extreme ballpark food.  But that's no more--the Texas Rangers, last year's American League Champions, are throwing their hats into the ring with this beast:

It's the $26, one-pound, two-foot long chili dog named "Boomstick" or "Champion Dog" depending on where you make your dinner purchase at Rangers Ballpark.  The big dog, which features "exotic bread flown in from France," allegedly feeds three to four people, though I imagine a fair number of guys will step up to the plate and take a swing at downing a meal the size of a collector's bat. This thing looks mildly appetizing, though the hot dog itself looks a little dry and wrinkly in the photo...

Regardless, it's nice to see major league teams recognize that quality baseball and over-the-top food offerings can peacefully coexist and complement each other quite nicely.  The Dodgers took a step in the right direction several years ago with the opening of their All You Can Eat Pavillion--they're offering standard, normal-sized burgers and hot dogs, but the quantity can't be beat.

Looks like the Kernels and friends will have to come up with a new way to convince fans that a minor league team can compete with the big leagues in overall entertainment value.  I can't wait to see what they come up with next...let's just hope it's edible.

Here are some links with more delicious details and photos:

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