Thursday, May 25, 2017

Santa Fe Fuego: Red Chili Cheese Dog

Sometimes you just have to catch a game; even if it is not associated with major league baseball. That's where the independent leagues come in. If you live in a town that is not large enough or clever enough to attract a minor league team, the independent leagues fill in the gap. Wichita, Kansas has the Wingnuts for example and Amarillo, Texas....well, Amarillo is working on getting a team.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A town that is a state capital that is so focused on its art scene that it forgot that you need an MLB affiliated baseball team to be considered a real place that most folks will want to call home. I still hold Albuquerque in higher regard, mainly for keeping it real and having an MiLB team. We have the Fuego, a team that is part of the independent Pecos League. The Pecos is expanding, and now has some interesting venues, but it will never compete with MiLB teams. Level of play is better than high school but less than single A level ball. It makes for some very interesting, and high scoring, games.

At least our team in Santa Fe offers a decent specialty dog. For eight bucks you can get a red chili, cheese dog. It also has beans in it. While unique (red and green chilis are a New Mexico thang), it is a so-so concessions choice. It is an absolute must eat it with a fork or most of it will end up on the stone bleachers at Fort Marcy park. I think the frank was a Ballpark brand, which isn't bad but it is no Nathan's or Hebrew National. And the price is about two bucks too expensive. Plus, it didn't fill me up. While I love hot dogs, at the Fuego game the Frito chili pie is a better choice and provides more bang for the buck.

I would never recommend a dedicated road trip to see the Santa Fe Fuego play. But since Santa Fe (for reasons unknown to me) seems to be a vacation destination for many, if you are in town you should catch a game. And after staring at pieces of art that you cannot understand or identify that costs thousands of dollars, a six dollar seat on hard stone will seem like a bargain. And it's baseball. Baseball trumps art any day.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Albuquerque Isotopes: Orbit Dog

After checking out dozens of other teams, I finally made it to my local MiLB ballpark: Isotopes Park, home of the Albuquerque Isotopes. I would have gone earlier, but warm weather comes late to the high desert. While I love baseball, I do not like watching it in football weather.

The Isotopes' mascot is orbit, you know, like proton and electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom? Yeah, science was not my strong suite in school either, but I could explain the infield fly rule like nobody's business. Anyway, the specialty dog at Isotopes' Park is called the Orbit Dog.

While it is a regular sized hot dog, it is piled high with awesome toppings. It starts with a regular hot dog, put on some mac 'n cheese, put some pulled pork on top of that and garnish with BBQ sauce and a strip of bacon. It is a delicious tasting treat that anyone will love. It is like having all of your comfort foods on a bun.

Guess who else loves this dog? Dogs, that's who. It was also the Isotopes' annual Bark in the Park event and I took my Blue Healer mix Fern. That's a picture of her checking out my colossal treat. I did buy her her own regular hot dog, which she downed in about twenty seconds. It didn't seem fair she got a mundane dog and I the Orbit Dog, so I shared the bacon strip with her. She seemed satisfied with that deal.

In case you haven't read about my previous trips to Isotopes' park, it is one of my favorite in all of minor league baseball. And, it is a true eater's park. In addition to having some stupendous hot dog choices, there are tons of other great food options. And probably the only condiments stand to have green chilies as a standard feature. It is New Mexico after all. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

West Virginia Power: The Cuban Dog

The prodigal son comes home. I grew up in West Virginia, so I was naturally excited about catching the West Virginia Power at their relatively new ballpark in the capital city of Charleston. When I was a kid, they were known as the Charleston Charlies, but it wan't until the 1990s, when they were called the Alley Cats, that I took in a game at old Watt Powell Park. It was a fun experience. But not for my date; she got hit by a foul ball....hard.

Now, in the twenty first century, I FINALLY stepped into Appalachian Power Park. It is a no-frills affair, with nothing really awesome to note. They did do a great job of placing the ballpark. It is downtown and incorporates one of the old warehouses it replaced as part of the stadium. Fans can also see the gold dome of the state capital building over the right field wall. It's one of those parks that doesn't have a huge draw to it, but is on most fans' must visit list.

I attended a noon game that was the first game of a double header to make up for a rain out the night before. It was overcast, misty and cold. But the action on the field was superb. After dealing with what is undoubtedly the most uninformed and glum fan assistance staff, I finally was able to track down the specialty dog offered at Appalachian Power Park. It is the Cuban Dog. Hint for the information booth: it's served at the concession stand right next to you.

Is uses a frank that no one could tell me the brand of, has ham, cheese, brown mustard and sweet pickles. It was mighty tasty and is highly recommended. The prices was fair as well. Had it been warmer, and I didn't need to do jumping jacks to keep from freezing, I would have had two.

Entry price into the ballpark is slightly above most at that level, but not prohibitively expensive. Parking for me was easy; there were about 100 fans at the first game as it was an early Sunday start on a dreary day. But at a regular game, I suspect it can be a bit of a bear to find a spot. I also got to see the “Toast Man.” If you are a fan of minor league baseball, you have to google him. I saw him in action at Watt Powell decades ago, and he is still at it; serving up toast when opposing players strike out.

Lastly, while the girl that accompanied me last time was hit by a ball, I got to leave with one. Balls are regularly fouled behind home plate where it is a short flight to land in the street. Prior to me grabbing it, that baseball found a beautiful black SUV to thump before it rolled down the street. Tip: always park away from the diamond. Extra tip: if you go to a game with me, keep a sharp eye out for balls; my track record for avoiding them ain't so great. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Richmond Flying Squirrels: West Coast Dog

It's nice to visit old friends. And that was exactly how I felt when I drove up to The Diamond. I took in a game here in the 1990s when it sported AAA International League action. Now, it has been downgraded to an AA team, but a team that has perhaps the most awesome name in all of baseball: The Richmond Flying Squirrels. How could you not love that name? I actually bought a hat with the team logo, and getting me to open my wallet for some team apparel means you have one damn impressive mascot.

The Diamond opened in 1985, but has the look and feel of a 70s era utility ballpark, like the ones they used to call cement ashtrays....only half of one. Instead of being circular, it is semi-circular. It has the concrete d├ęcor, crowded and stuffy concourses and crappy scoreboard that most stadiums in the 1970s had. Think Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, but sliced in half. Still, I love the diamond. If you ever want to experience how minor league baseball was before it became in vogue, take in a game in Richmond.

Hot dog wise they do pretty well. There is one stand called The Dog House, that offers a few specialty dogs. I had the West Coast Dog that included a Ballpark brand frank, habinero BBQ sauce, pico de gallo and tortilla strips. I was famished and had it in my hand long enough to snap a picture, then it was gone in about sixty seconds. It was delicious. Not huge, but tasty. They also have a Bacon Me Crazy Dog I was tempted to try.

Now the bad news. My luck with the weather ran out. I have had the good fortune to not have experienced any rain delays or rainouts. After two innings of play a torrential rain rolled in. The pulled out the tarp, and then pulled it back after a lapse in precipitation. Then they rolled it back out. I guess the radar picture didn't look too promising. That's when I called it quits. I had my dog, caught some action in The Diamond, but it was time to head west.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Greensboro Grasshopper: The Mike Pi(a)zza Dog

Wrapping up my tour of Carolina baseball I took in a Greensboro Grasshoppers game. They have a quaint little ballpark downtown that, when surrounding construction is completed, will have a nice view of the tiny Greensboro skyline. Ticket prices are very reasonable, as are concessions. They offer a few ordinary dogs, but the real hot dog excitement takes places just outside of the gate.

On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the food truck Hoppin' Hound Dogs wheels in, parks on the outside concourse and works its wiener magic. It really is magic, read the menu, put money in the window and in a few minutes an awesome hot dog comes out of the window. I think they have elves working inside.

The truck offers some truly unique baseball themed dogs that are not to be missed. All use Smithfield brand franks, but you can upgrade to an Italian sausage or brat for an extra $1.50.

Here is a rundown of their menu items: Connie Mack Attack, Hank Aaron-ing for Spicy, Mike Pi(a)zza Dog, Pete Rose Gambler, This Dog Wille Mays You, Sammy “This Ain't” Sosa, Catfish Hunter Carolina Dog, Big Leaguer. Hoppin' Hound Dogs gets the cleverness award for this year's baseball road trip.

I had the Mike Pi(a)zza Dog ($7.75 with an Italian sausage upgrade). Mainly because I had been craving pizza for some time. It really was delicious. I wish I had the stomach capacity and financial wherewithal to try all of their items. But there is always next year.

Now let's talk dogs. Real dogs. The Grasshoppers have three baseball black labs. Because black labs matter you know. One is retired from diamond duties. The other two perform on field antics such as bringing the umpire a small bucket of baseballs between innings and retrieving bats. The dogs are amazing and a big hit with the fans. Those labs make the game worth going to even in you hate baseball.

So get down to First National Bank Field (yeah, I know. Another stadium named after a bank), grab a dog, eat a dog and pet a dog.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Atlanta Braves: Some Fancy Dog

I take a certain pride in being able to say that I have had a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks. That bit of my soul came to a crashing end at the start of the 2017 season when the Atlanta Braves opened a new ballpark. Never mind that their previous ballpark was only seventeen years old, in great shape, and one of the better baseball venues in the big leagues. No one has been able to explain to me why the Braves thought they needed new digs.

But, I am a complete man once again. I have had a dog in the brand, spanking new SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. During my first season of blogging I rated each ballpark. I had a system, but since I haven't used it in a while I will simply break down the pros and cons of baseball's newest stadium.

It's new. That means everything is shiny, clean and works.
It has an AWESOME scoreboard.
Smaller displays around the park provide the fans with lots of information.
It is very well lit; seeing the action at night is not an issue.
This is a big one: they still offer reasonable priced seats. I paid $8.

It is WAAAYY too slick. They tried too hard to be everything to everyone.
It is a kid zone nightmare. It has a rock climbing wall and zip lines. Really.
Parking is super confusing. It is a hodgepodge of lots all over the place.
The majority of parking must be paid for in advance and get a “permit.”
Did I mention parking is a pain in the ass?
No one working there seems to know where anything is.
It is no where near the city of Atlanta.
Lots of security walking around. I felt like I was in 1965 Poland.

The Tomahawk PorkChop
Then there is the feel of it. The ballpark is part of a larger development called The Battery. When completed, there will be all sorts of boutique shops and restaurants for fans to get raked over the coals at. Right now, most of the storefronts are empty and have this fake paper over the windows that makes the business seem occupied; despite no people. Then there is the old-timey music piped in everywhere. Walking down the street toward the ballpark felt like Disneyland meets Twilight Zone.

Inside the stadium everything is super high tech and also a little to fabricated. The interior is a cross between Disneyland and an Apple store. For fans of baseball, true fans, we like the basics. Keep it simple. The game has survived over 100 years without the fancy gadgetry infused in SunTrust Park.

Then there is the dog. For a special and colossal food item, the Braves offer the Tomahawk PorkChop. A $26 behemoth of sandwich that includes, among other things, an entire deep fried pork chop. But its not a hot dog.

For hot dogs, the Braves outsourced their wieners to a boutique shop called First and Third. They offer fancy gourmet dogs that Paris Hilton would drool over. But I am not Paris Hilton. I want a big ass hot dog that will make me wish I had never met it after devouring it. Instead, I got what I deemed to be the most interesting dog on the menu: Nueske's Jalapeno Cheddar Bacon Brat. I supposed all those ingredients are somewhere in the brat, but I couldn't taste them. The toppings were odd as well. It was meant to be be some fancy palate pleaser, in the end it was bland and pricey at $9.

looks good, tastes bland
The information station at the ballpark had to check to see if they had anything bigger or better, because after spending $9 on the hot dog equivalent of a poodle I was still hungry. On their cheat sheet of stadium amenities they found the Mega Mega Dog. That was what I was talking about. It is supposed to be available at the same stand the Tomahawk PorkChop is made. Only no one there had any idea what it was or ever heard of the Mega Mega dog. Disappointing.

I could go on. To sum it up I have to say that the Braves spent the equivalent of the GDP of Venezuela to build an inconvenient baseball disneyland, something real fans can do without. Frankly, after all that time and trouble they went to, I miss Turner Field. 

Charlotte Knights: Ruben Dog

I get to check another ballpark off of my list that I had been trying to nail down for about three years. The Charlotte Knights stadium, home of some pretty hot AAA action. The real name is BB&T Ballpark, but as you all ready know, I visited a BB&T Ballpark just a few days ago. I think this bank is attempting a monopoly on naming stadiums. This version is an extremely nice minor league venue. Despite being dwarfed by its NFL cousin a few blocks away, it seems like a enormous facility. Perhaps after Hickory, most ballparks would feel huge.

Charlotte did it right. The stadium is situated directly downtown with the city skyline dominating over the outfield wall. The food selection is excellent and the park is spotless. The catch? It's pricey. The most I have paid for a minor league ticket all year. I plunked down around $12 for a seat, plus $6 to park. I guess you can mark that under you get what you pay for, because I left impressed.

The Knights' hot dogs could use a little help. They offer a smallish Squire Dog, which I think is a kids hot dog. But like other ballparks, they were clever enough to let Franx handle their specialty dog. They have three. I ended up with a Ruben Dog because it seemed the most exotic. If it is five years before I have another hot dog with mac & cheese on it it will be too soon. Teams need to be more creative.

The Rueben Dog could have been awesome. It was reasonably priced for a specialty dog. Although no one could tell me what sort of frank was on it, it was a natural casing meat and damn tasty. It was piled high with kraut, dressing and cheese but where it failed was the bun. It is served on a pretzel bun. I am of the opinion that even a brick tastes good on a pretzel bun; but it has to be fresh. The bun on the Ruben Dog was stale. When that happens, it ruins the rest of the dog AND it splits open and most of your hot dog's inner workings fall out of the bottom. You end up with a mess you have to eat with your hands and a not so stellar concessions experience. Serve up some fresh buns and you have a winner, otherwise you have disgruntled fans.

Provided they straighten out the bun issues at BB&T in Charlotte, this is a ballpark that is not to be missed. Just bring lots of cash.