In February 2012, I wrote a blog post counting down the 10 best things I’d eaten on my travels in 2010 and 2011. I thought it’d be fun to do, but had no idea of the response I’d get. It’s been one of my top three most-read blog posts to date and my ballpark eating exploits even got mentioned in the Dallas Observer! In honor of Opening Day 2013, it’s time to reveal what things I ate in 2012 were good enough to crack the top 10 list.
As with last year’s list, I’m only considering things I’ve personally eaten and this is an overall list, not just a list of 2012 food. Grab your Rolaids and get ready for your stomach to start growling; you might need to grab a bite after seeing this list. In the list below, you’ll see the name of the item, the park at which I bought it and the team that calls the park home. The number in brackets is last year’s ranking; as you might guess, an “NR” note means it’s new to this list.
** When I released this list, I said I’d post an honorable mention item if I reached 200 followers on Twitter. You responded, so here’s the item, as promised. Thanks for all the follows and for all those who retweeted my message about getting to 200 followers! **
Honorable mention: Curverogie – Peoples Natural Gas Field – Altoona Curve (NR)
I’ve had a number of different types of sandwiches on my ballpark travels, but Altoona’s Curverogie is certainly one that stands out. Introduced to the menu in 2012, it features ham, onions, cheese and an enormous pierogi. As you can see, it was absolutely loaded with ham, and complemented with a nice, crusty roll, it was delicious. It doesn’t quite crack the top 10 because the pierogi was sort of lost among the strong tastes of the ham and onions, but this is still a sandwich I’d buy again and again.
10. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox (6)
Although I ate this pretzel way back in 2011, it’s still the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten. A reader of this blog told me that Bowie didn’t sell the Old Bay pretzel in 2012. I haven’t confirmed that, but if so, it’s too bad. If you like a tangy combination of Old Bay, two types of cheese and pretzel dough, this is a real treat.
9. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (4)
Rye bread, corned beef, smoked meat, sauerkraut, cheese and mustard. Mmmm. I tried this enormous sandwich in 2011 and loved it … and then had it again this summer and it was bad enough to slide down five spots on my list. The 2012 version of the sandwich was largely cold, which really didn’t work well. It’s expensive enough that it’s got to be tasty to order, and the verdict is out as to whether I’ll try it again.
8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium / LeLacheur Park – N.H. Fisher Cats / Lowell Spinners (8/NR)
We’ve got a tie in the eighth spot on this list! I really enjoyed the clam chowder I had in New Hampshire in 2011, and I’m including the bowl I enjoyed in 2012 in Lowell as a split entry, given that they tasted exactly the same. I had a cold during my visit to Lowell, so the piping hot soup was a welcome relief on my throat. You’ll see above that I had oyster crackers on my soup in New Hampshire, but didn’t bother in Lowell. Still, a really tasty soup for a chilly evening at the park. (Odd how I was sitting in virtually the same spot in both parks, huh?)
7. Steak and cheese sandwich – Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox (NR)
I love red meat, so I’ve had steak and cheese sandwiches at a number of parks. This one was made to order, just like at Subway, which was a nice touch. The bun was soft and doughy, the steak was surprisingly fresh and the addition of hot sauce made this sandwich jump. And, hey, the scenery made this sandwich taste even better.
6. Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries – Arm & Hammer Park – Trenton Thunder (NR)
Here’s an item that has grown on me since my visit to Trenton last May. I’ll admit I didn’t know what crab fries were, and when I realized they didn’t have anything to do with crab, I was slightly disappointed. But as far as fries go, they were delicious — just the right texture (not bony but not too soft) and the Old Bay was a nice addition. The warmed white cheddar sauce served with them was perfect for dipping, and the portion size was huge, too.
5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles (4)
As I said above, I’m a big red meat fan, but the turkey sandwich I had in B’More in 2011 was outstanding. And meeting 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell at his concession stand was an added bonus. A word to the wise — the horseradish is molten hot. Go easy.
4. Red Osier prime rib sandwich – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (NR)
The highest-debuting entry on this year’s edition of the list, the Red Osier prime rib sandwich in Rochester was amazing. I’ll concede that the photo isn’t overly great; I snapped it fast because I wanted to get eating. The prime rib was the best I’ve eaten outside of a steak house and far better than Quiznos prime rib, for reasons of comparison. I’m definitely hitting Red Osier when I visit Rochester again. Thanks to a few readers of this blog who told me to check this item out — you were absolutely right!
3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (3)
Unlike my second experience with the Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker, I ate the Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings again at Rogers Centre this past fall and they were just as good as ever. Hot, meaty and flavorful. There’s nothing else to want in a chicken wing. I went to an actual Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant in Cleveland in 2011 and I’m happy to report the quality of the ballpark wings isn’t any less than at the restaurant.
2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (2)
The buffalo mac and cheese at Frontier Field was the first thing I ate since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and it remains the second-best thing I’ve eaten. Nearly three years after eating it, I still consider is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten and will have a hard time saying no to it when I’m in Rochester this year.
1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds (1)
The crab cake sandwich in Aberdeen hangs onto the championship belt for another year. As I wrote last year, it’s the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. The crab tasted fresh and didn’t have that gross seafood odor. The tomato and lettuce were a nice touch, the bun was tasty and the Old Bay (which seems to be prevalent on this list) just topped everything off. I wonder if 2013 will finally be the year I find something better at the ballpark.
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I was lucky enough to see 18 games at 16 parks in 2012, and while last year wasn’t quite as busy as 2011, in which I saw 29 games in 24 parks, it was still packed with awesome moments. For a complete rundown on everywhere I’ve been since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010, you can check out this link.
On my travels, I occasionally get to pick up some neat souvenirs. Traveling in itself is expensive, so I don’t always splurge for extras, but between some neat ballpark giveaways, cool things to buy and unforeseen adventures, I’m often able to pick up a few things of note.
When I visited the Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats in August, I had to buy a ticket for the game — all the other MiLB teams I visited in 2012 hooked me up with press passes, which was awesome. Buying a ticket to see the Rock Cats wasn’t all bad, though, as my visit happened to fall on the evening of an above-average stadium giveaway. On this night, the team was handing out blankets, which is something different for my collection and actually useful:
It’s big enough (4 feet by 4.5 feet) that it’s hard to photograph, but I think you’ll agree that it looks great.
A few days later, I visited LeLacheur Park, home of the Short Season-A Lowell Spinners. This visit was outstanding. Not only did I get a comprehensive tour from Jon Boswell, the team’s director of media relations, but the ballpark is absolutely beautiful. During our tour, we talked about boxer Micky Ward being from Lowell and Jon told me he’s met Ward on more than one occasion. In fact, the team had had a Micky Ward garden gnome giveaway at one point. Before I could hardly comment, Jon rifled through a box in the team’s office and dug up a Ward gnome for me!
While Ward might look a little silly with a gnome hat and beard, this is a neat item to add to my collection, especially given that I’m a huge fan of boxing and have a bunch of Ward fight posters and even a boxing glove signed by him. As you can see here, he’s depicted in his Lowell Spinners trunks, which he’s actually worn in the ring:
When I had the fortune of visiting Fenway Park during its 100th season, I definitely wanted to get my hands on a couple 100th anniversary souvenirs. I bought a 100th anniversary cap, which you can see here, and since I loved the logo, I also picked up this large crest:
As you can see, I haven’t taken it out of the package yet, as I’m still contemplating whether to stick it to something or not.
During my Fenway visit, I also couldn’t resist getting a drink in a Fenway Park commemorative cup:
It goes well with the other cups I’ve picked up on my travels:
Late in the summer, when I was back home, I bought a couple cans of something to put in the cups above:
I used to collect sports-themed commemorative soda cans, but I’m a big fan of these Budweiser Jays cans.
And speaking of the Blue Jays, I picked up my last souvenir of 2012 when I caught a couple games at Rogers Centre in September. The Jays significantly revamped their team shop before last season, and it featured a ton of neat game-used and player-issued items. When I was browsing through the store, I came across this:
It’s the name plate off former catcher Curtis Thigpen’s locker stall in the clubhouse. Thigpen played just 57 games over parts of 2007 and 2008 with Toronto, but he was a prospect I followed very closely. I’m a huge Texas Longhorns fan, and when the Jays drafted Thigpen out of Texas in 2004, I was super pumped. I closely followed Thigpen’s progress through the minors, including his stops in Auburn, Lansing, New Hampshire and Syracuse, and although he had a short MLB career, he was one of the guys I really rooted for. This was his name plate during the 2008 season and, as you can see, it’s got the MLB authenticated hologram in the lower right corner.
If you’re wondering how much of a fan of Thigpen I am, I can tell you I’ve got almost all his signed baseball cards and this beauty — a game-used bat that I picked up a few years ago:
A close-up of the barrel:
The rear of the barrel:
And the knob:
In fact, I’ve got the clubhouse name plate and bat displayed together here in my home office, and they look awesome.
Thinking about the Jays has me fired up for Opening Day, so I’ll share another souvenir. I didn’t get this one in 2012 (although the Jays are still selling these) but I think you’ll agree it’s neat. It’s a piece of authenticated turf from the team’s World Series wins in 1992 and 1993:
Just for you, I’ll pop open the box and show you the actual piece of turf:
I wonder what souvenirs I’ll end up picking up this year. I’m going to be visiting a ton of ballparks in 2013; significantly more than I did in 2012, so there’ll be lots of opportunities for neat items to grab and share with everyone here.
Thanks for reading and please remember to follow me on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide to help support my trips!
Having an enjoyable, relaxing experience in Lowell on August 20 did wonders for my cold, and although I wasn’t feeling 100 percent just yet, going to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox — and a great opponent in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — does wonders to improve how you feel. I spent the morning of August 21 doing some touristy things around Boston, before heading to my hotel in the early afternoon and looking forward to visiting Fenway Park again.
For the two nights I stayed in Boston, I was at the Holiday Inn Express Saugus. This hotel is just outside of the city, which makes a huge difference because Boston is not a cheap place to visit. With most hotels close to Fenway Park going for $300 and up a night, it definitely makes sense to stay outside of the city’s core.
The Holiday Inn Express Saugus is ideal because it’s only about 20 minutes from Fenway Park (more during periods of high traffic) and it’s located on a main artery that takes you right into Boston. There’s no messing around and getting lost where this hotel is concerned. Additionally, the area around the hotel is full of restaurants, grocery stores, fast-food places and more. On my second night, I made a short walk down the road to a Panera Bread that was less than a mile away, for instance.
Here’s the front of the hotel:
I was impressed with my room, and as I’ve said previously, I had great luck with hotels on this trip. The room was large and featured all the amenities I needed for a two-night stay. This is what my room looked like:
Mid-afternoon, I packed up and made to drive back to Boston. Doing so wasn’t intimidating because I’d already been to the city and Fenway Park itself for the Futures at Fenway game three days earlier. As you might remember, I paid just $10 to park for that game, so when I got to Boston and started seeing $35, $45 and $50 parking lots, I scoffed at the type of people who’d pay that much to park. In fact, I even took this photo …
… to illustrate just how much people will pay to park for a Red Sox game. Fortunately, I knew the secret and I expertly navigated the streets to find my trusty ol’ lot. You can imagine my slow-motion, confused reaction when I saw that the lot was charging $35 for parking. I quickly realized the price had been dropped for the Futures game because it wasn’t a Red Sox game. Stunned, I started to pull into the lot but then had a change of heart. I couldn’t accept this price, which was more than the ticket I’d bought for the game.
So what did I do? I drove around the city for 10 minutes before returning to the lot and handing the attendant two $20 bills. Argh. That took a little of the wind out of my sails, but when I got out of my car and turned the corner, this sight quickly cheered me up:
Although I’d done a million laps of Fenway Park and the surrounding area when I was here for the Futures game, I enjoyed wandering around again. With a Red Sox game a few hours away, there was definitely more electricity in the air, even with the Sox’ struggles this season. Instead of repeating the same type of shots as in my Futures post, I’ll focus on things I didn’t see/share last time.
I checked out the statue of the recently deceased Johnny Pesky, which had crowds around it whenever I saw it:
I returned again to the Bleacher Bar (but didn’t get IDed this time) where I could look through the gate to see a couple Red Sox during batting practice:
By now, the streets were starting to fill up, and I continued to walk around and snap photos. One of the coolest areas outside Fenway Park is the wall covered in player banners and retired numbers. Trivia time: Anyone know the weirdly ironic connection between the Tris Speaker banner and Jackie Robinson number?
After a while, I picked up my ticket at the will call window. I love the 100 Years logo on these tickets:
Since I’d done a lot of walking, I decided to get in line and wait for the street to open back up again. As I waited, I looked over at the NESN set, and guess who I saw? Peter Gammons:
It was a good thing I got in line when I did, because check out what the scene looked like ahead of me:
Soon enough, the gates opened up and I stepped into Fenway Park for my first Red Sox game. Although the crowds were fierce, the seating bowl wasn’t overly stuffed, so I was able to make it down to the front row behind home plate for batting practice:
After a few minutes watching from here, I moved over to the first base side and had this view:
My mission was to get close to Pesky’s Pole, as I hadn’t been able to do so during my previous visit. I still wasn’t sure about the legality of signing it, but given that it’s completely covered in signatures, I wanted to give it a shot. When the crowd dispersed slightly, I made it up to the pole and signed my name quickly. You can see it right in the center of the right side of the pole. Yep, it’s the one with all those Ms and Ls:
As I milled around at field level, I was able to see a handful of Red Sox stretching. I should note that I visited a few days before the mega Boston-Los Angeles trade, but even still, the Sox lineup wasn’t exactly brimming with superstars because of injuries. Still, it was cool to see Jarrod Saltalamacchia (so close I could see the white paint on his fingernails):
Shortly before 7 p.m., I made my way toward my first vantage point of the game. I had a standing room only ticket that gave me free reign anywhere in the infield, provided I wasn’t actually in the seating bowl. Tickets like this are common at Fenway Park; in many standing room areas, people are four and five deep. On the third base side, I peered through the crowds and had this view during the anthem:
Then, in a tribute to Pesky, the Sox did three cool things. They draped the Green Monster in an American flag:
Pointed out the #6 cut into the grass in left field:
And Pesky’s son threw out the first pitch:
As the game was seconds from getting underway, I managed to squeeze into a tight spot at a railing, which gave me something to lean against, at least. The view wasn’t exactly superb, but it just seemed like part of the Fenway Park experience. Here’s what I saw from my spot:
From here, parts of the field were slightly obstructed, but I had a perfect view of the plate, which was perfect given that I really wanted to see Mike Trout:
I watched an inning or two from this spot, and then decided to continue trekking around. I enjoy walking, but I’m not a huge fan of standing. I ventured toward the left field corner where I saw this neat-looking sign:
And when I followed the arrow, I made it to a spot overlooking the Monster, which was packed:
If you’re wondering, there’s no sneaking onto it; security here is very tight. From roughly the same area, I turned and captured this panorama of the park before it got too dark:
Remember how I had the Bud Deck virtually to myself during the Futures at Fenway game? That wasn’t the case during this visit:
Somewhere high above the third base side, I came across a wall featuring concert posters of acts that have played at Fenway. I thought I’d walked around the entire park during my earlier visit, but I completely missed this. The display was really neat and featured acts from the Rolling Stones to Boston bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
From there, I went all the way to the other side of the park — back to the Bud Deck, where I looked down on the sea of people in the right field bleachers. I like how this shot turned out. Can you see the Lone Red Seat? I sure can’t:
Last year, I took two long road trips in May and June. This year, my first trip was in May, but I hadn’t taken an extended trip as late as August until now. One thing I realized is that late-summer trips aren’t as conducive to photos. In May and June, for example, I can take pretty decent photos up until perhaps the seventh inning or so. But in August, things are dark around the third or fourth inning, which means photos are a little more challenging. Before things got too dark, I took this photo of the purple sky above the press box:
And this panorama of the city:
As the sky got darker, I found a somewhat low-traffic standing-room spot on the first base side and stood there for the rest of the game. When I zoomed in with my camera, I could still take half-decent shots …
… but that soon became more difficult. So, I put my camera away, leaned against a wall and enjoyed the best sport in the world in the sport’s most celebrated venue.
A day after our first visit of the season to Toronto, we took the train to Rogers Centre for a second straight game against the Red Sox. Once again, we were visiting to take notes and photos for my website.
On the night of August 9, 2010, my wife and I arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house in the Toronto suburbs after driving straight from Niles, Ohio after watching the Mahoning Valley Scrappers game. We had a great time at Eastwood Field, compiling photos and notes for my website The Ballpark Guide. Here’s the Eastwood Field/Scrappers page on my site.