Well, the results are in, and I’ve got a number of tasty items that you must try if you ever have the chance. Before we begin, let’s go over the ground rules:
1. I’m only counting food I’ve eaten at parks I’ve visited. You won’t see any items on this list that I haven’t eaten or sold at parks I haven’t visited.
2. I’m looking at individual food items, rather than a ballpark’s overall selection.
10. Pulled pork nachos – Classic Park – Lake County Captains
You might think you’d need to reach for some Tums after getting through these ample nachos, but they’re not heavy in a bad way. The pulled pork was excellent and better than I’d expect to find at a ballpark. The one knock on these was the server forgot to give me cheese.
9. Apple crisp – Parkview Field – Fort Wayne TinCaps
Parkview Field has several apple-themed dishes on its menu, given that Fort Wayne in the place Johnny Appleseed is buried. The apple crisp was the best ballpark dessert I’ve ever eaten. (And the ‘Caps helmet it’s served in is a cool bonus.) Visit my website to read about all the apple treats and other food items at Parkview Field.
8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I ate Northeast Delta Dental Stadium’s clam chowder on a July evening last year, and even though it was a hot day, really enjoyed the soup. I can see it being the perfect ballpark food on a cold April or September night. The clam chowder isn’t the only seafood item on the menu here. Here’s the full list.
7. Philly cheesesteak – Cooley Law School Stadium – Lansing Lugnuts
I wasn’t a huge fan of the processed cheese goop on the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing, but the bun was fresh, the steak was perfect and the onions and peppers were savory.
6. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox
Crab might as well be the official food of Maryland, and if you’re having crab, you need to season it with Old Bay. This cheese-filled jumbo pretzel was rolled in Old Bay. Dangerously perfect.
5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles
I tried turkey and pork sammies at Boog’s BBQ in Baltimore, and the turkey one ranked higher in my books. It’s expensive, but you get an ample amount of meat and can also load up on onions, Old Bay, BBQ sauce and horseradish.
4. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays
Shopsy’s makes darned good deli sandwiches and the Bill Cosby Triple Decker was outstanding. It was huge, filling and not as greasy as you might expect. The coleslaw and pickle were a nice addition, affirming that I’d eaten healthily by getting a meal with “vegetables.”
3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays
Quaker Stake & Lube wings are delicious, and surprisingly, the quality doesn’t drop off when served at a stadium. I’ve had several flavors of these wings at Rogers Centre, and they’re all winners in my book.
2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings
Mac and cheese? Check. Chicken and hot sauce? Check. Blue cheese dressing? Check. Simply the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had anywhere. If you’re in Rochester, don’t pass up a chance to try any of the gourmet mac and cheeses. On my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, I’ve got a complete rundown of Frontier Field’s delicious foods.
1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds
Aberdeen’s menu offers many variations on crab and the crab cake sandwich was killer. On a fresh bun atop lettuce and tomato, and seasoned with plenty of Old Bay, this is the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. Definitely worth the drive if you’re remotely in the area. Visit my website for a complete guide to Ripken Stadium’s food selection.
I’m curious to hear about the amazing food other people have eaten, and where. I’ll be sure to check it out!
As always, follow me on Twitter to read the latest about my website, my blog and my travels.
Ballpark giveaways are a bit of a double-edged sword in my mind. On one hand, it’s usually fun to add something new to your collection, especially when it’s free. On the other hand, giveaway days draw more fans, which means longer lines, less space to walk, etc.
Still, if I see a giveaway day when I’m planning a road trip, I do what I can to arrange my schedule so that I can take advantage of the giveaway.
Over the past couple summers, I’ve added a handful of unique items to my collection. Some have actually been useful, too.
Here are the items that I accumulated in 2010 and 2011.
Cleveland Indians – Kenny Lofton Bobblehead
When I visited Progressive Field in 2010 for Kenny Lofton Indians Hall of Fame induction night, fans were given this Lofton bobblehead. I like how it replicates his famous catch in ’96. I also got a bobblehead last year when I was in Lansing. You can check it out here.
Lansing Lugnuts – Sticker
The story about getting this sticker was sort of funny. I read on Lansing’s website that if it’s your first Lugnuts game, you should visit the guest services booth to get a Lugnuts sticker. Cool, I thought. I’ll get a Lugnuts logo sticker that I can put on my laptop. And if other teams have a similar giveaway, I can build a MiLB sticker collection. Obviously, the sticker aimed at toddlers isn’t what I was expecting. I left guest services with a bit of a sheepish look on my face — but with the sticker in hand.
Detroit Tigers – Pin
I’m not sure I’ll ever find the occasion to wear this Tigers pin in the lapel of a suit jacket, but nonetheless, it’s a nice giveaway. This wasn’t given to every fan upon entering Comerica Park; you had to sign up for some mailing list to receive the pin.
Binghamton Mets – Lip Chap
This B-Mets lip chap is one of the most useful giveaways I’ve ever received. I got it last July 4 during a stop at NYSEG Stadium. Of course, I’m drawn to the baseball shape of the container. Pretty cool.
Portland Sea Dogs – Baseball
Fans who played catch on the field at Hadlock Field when I visited last July were given a Sea Dogs baseball. When I was in Vermont in August, the team had a similar giveaway — although I was busy getting autographs outside the clubhouse and the balls were gone by the time I got to field level.
Cleveland Indians – Tribe Time Towel
My brother and I hit Progressive Field last September and took in Jim Thome Night. Fans were given It’s Tribe Time Now towels, which we got to wave when Thome hit his last home run as an Indian.
As I wrote at the time, I obtained a couple autographs at the ballpark’s autograph area in the right field corner.
Here’s the ball:
And who signed it, you ask?
The first signature is 1989-born pitcher Danny Barnes, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Barnes has to be one of the smartest guys in the Midwest League, too — he went to Princeton University. He’s pitching this season in a relief role, but has a very nice 4-0 record in 18 appearances. His ERA is just 2.73 and in 29.2 innings pitched, he has 50 strikeouts and just nine walks. With those numbers, I think people will soon be asking for his autograph at A+ Dunedin or AA New Hampshire.
The second signature is relief pitcher Marcus Walden, a 1988-born righty who’s one of three guys named Marcus on the Lugnuts. In 12 appearances this season, Walden is 1-2 with an ERA of 4.44. He was drafted by the Jays in the ninth round of the 2007 Amateur Entry Draft.
After a pair of games in Toronto, I set out early on Saturday morning to drive to Lansing, Michigan. The drive from Toronto to Lansing is roughly five hours, but with the Canadian long weekend just starting, the border was likely to be slow.
I crossed into the U.S. at the Sarnia border. The drive over the bridge took forever, and because of fog, there was absolutely no visibility:
Soon enough, I was into Michigan:
The border was mind-numbingly slow. Customs guards were checking the trunks of many cars, and when I finally got up to the booth, I had to show the guard the snacks in my cooler to prove it didn’t contain weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, I passed through without incident, and drove straight to Lansing. I was pretty excited for this game, as the Lugnuts are the A affiliate of the Blue Jays, so it’d be neat to see a bunch of future Jays. Last summer, I watched the Jays’ then-Short Season A affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. If you’re in the New York State area, I definitely recommend checking out Falcon Park.
The Lugnuts play at Cooley Law School Stadium (perhaps the smartest ballpark name in baseball), which is adjacent to the campus of Michigan State University. The Spartans also share the stadium:
I always show up early, but even 1.5 hours before game time, there were a ton of people milling around. Why? Because it was one of the Lugnuts’ three bobblehead giveaway nights. I bought my ticket …
… and started my walking tour of the outside of the stadium. Because the facility is downtown, it’s surrounded by a sidewalk and you can see the field from many different places outside the fence:
After my tour, I got in line and waited. Though the facility is nice, it’s close to a homeless shelter so there were a number of homeless men sleeping on the benches around the park and going from fan to fan asking for money. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, but if that sort of stuff bothers you, you may find it a bit intimidating in front of the stadium at times.
After the long wait, the gates were opened and I got my bobblehead. Who was it? Check back soon for a quick update on the player who was featured on it. Once I got into the stadium, I took a walk around to check out the scenes. Here’s a panorama I shot soon after entering:
Cooley Law School Stadium has lots of places to watch the game. There are decks, picnic areas, grass berms and many different little spots. It’s pretty neat. I like moving around during the game, and this ballpark definitely is ideal for that. From top to bottom, here is one of the grass berms in the outfield, part of an extensive kids’ play area beyond left field, a picnic area in left-center and the walkway that shows the field, a first fence, a concourse, a second fence, the sidewalk and the road:
At low levels of pro ball, it’s typically easy to get a ton of autographs before the game. Lansing, however, was a bit different. The team has two players sign in the right field corner for about 20 minutes, but other than that, no one came to the fence to sign. I got both guys on a ball. (Their names escape me right now, and the ball’s in my car so I can’t check. I’ll blog about it and upload a photo later.) Here they are signing for some kids:
Pretty soon, the Lugnuts came out to throw. I got an up-close picture of Gustavo Pierre, who I think has the tools to reach the Majors:
While I was hanging out at the fence on the first base side, I spotted a ball just out of my reach:
It was directly below me, and short of jumping on the field, there was no way I could get it. After the starter’s bullpen session, Lansing’s pitching coach packed up the bullpen and because it was starting to rain, I figured I’d let him know about the hidden ball so it wouldn’t get soaked and ruined.
“Coach, there’s one here,” I said. He looked over, then picked it up. “Do you want it?” he asked. Of course! I think he appreciated that I wasn’t just demanding the ball like everyone else does. So, after getting one ball in Toronto, I got an official Midwest League ball. This is the first ball from this league in my collection:
By the time of the first pitch, the umbrellas were starting to come out. The rain fell steadily throughout most of the game, but never came down hard enough to warrant a stoppage. I normally like to sit in several different areas each game, but since every unoccupied seat was soaked, I mostly stood.
Eventually, I got my dinner — a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The “cheese” was gross and unnecessary, but the steak itself was actually really tasty:
I also checked out the Lugnuts Hall of Fame area. I didn’t know that Carlos Beltran and Carlos Zambrano once played for this team:
The game itself was mental. Lansing scored a pair of runs in the first inning, but Bowling Green exploded with seven in the second. Lansing then responded by scoring runs in every inning but the eighth to win 13-9. The team combined for 36 hits, too, plus nine total walks. I think it’s safe to say these teams’ batters are ahead of the pitchers, development-wise. The Lugnuts have had a couple huge offensive games since then, too.
After the game, I watched the fireworks show and headed back to my hotel. In the morning, I’d head north to Midland, Michigan, to watch the Great Lakes Loons in what’s considered one of the best ballparks in the Minor Leagues.
As I write this, I’m still debating going to Syracuse in the morning for the Chiefs game against Rochester at 2 p.m. It’s a big driving commitment, but I’m anxious to get one game under my belt in 2011. Plus, as you may have read here, I’d like to get a bit more information about Alliance Bank Stadium before I write its official guide for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com.