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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hickory Crawdads: Dogzilla

During my road trips, one of my main goals is to visit the most ballparks that I have never caught a game at. The end game is to see a game in every ballpark associated with professional baseball. But, during my trips I am married to team schedules and geography. I would love to see a game in Kannapolis while I am in the Carolinas, but I can't convince the team to change their schedule to accommodate me. So, I found myself, for the fourth time in my life, at L P Frans Stadium in Hickory, North Carolina for a Crawdads game.

Fortunately, I love this park. It is small, usually has smallish crowds and is a well thought out, no frills ballpark. Not to mention the shows. I was treated to a 19-3 spanking of the Crawdads by the West Virginia Power. It was an offensive display that the Crawdads fans found...well, offensive. I typically root for the home team, but since I grew up in West Virginia, I felt obligated to pull for the Power. And it was just cool enough and threatening rain that I was able to wear my WV jacket.

For such a low maintenance ballpark, the Crawdads offer up something awesome called the Dogzilla. It is two large hot dogs covered in chili and slaw, with a side of fries. I did my best, but the hot dogs are catching up with me and I could only eat about a third of it all. Talk about a spanking.

Had I been at my best, I would have been tempted to take on the CLAWossal Challenge. For $25 you get a footlong hot dog, an order of pub chips, a BBQ sandwich, a Carolina burger, a corn dog and three onion rings. Eat it all in one full inning and you get your $25 back PLUS a CLAWossal tee-shirt. It's been done, but rarely. No takers on the night I was there, but it warrants another trip to L P Frans Stadium when I am at my best. And it the Crawdads have another thumping like they did last night, maybe they will let me pitch a few innings. 

Durham Bulls: Cue Dog

While in North Carolina I checked out the ballpark where the movie Bull Durham was filmed. It is still standing, and still home of baseball, albeit college baseball. The Durham Bulls built a new ballpark in the mid 1990s. I took in a game there in the late 90s, catching some innings with a guy a have known since the first grade. So it seemed natural to attend my next Bulls' game with the the same guy. When Bruce and I were at the game in the 90s, he was childless. This time he brought his college-aged daughter. Man, how did that happen? Things in life seem to happen way too quickly. Then next thing you know Chipper Jones will be retiring.

Me, Katherine the Wunderkind, Bruce
The ballpark in downtown Durham had not changed much since my last visit. It is still the magnificent brick structure it has always been with that bull just above the left field wall that migrated from the old ballpark and is feature prominently in the movie. It is one of my favorite minor league parks. They did it right when the built Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The Cue Dog
Their dogs aren't too shabby either. The offer the Cue Dog (short for Barbecue). It is basically a super large Carolina pulled pork dog. Along with the Brightleaf frank is a generous portion of pulled pork and cole slaw. Nothing too wild, except the size of it. It's a foot long meat torpedo that will sink any appetite.
Little league players with big league appetites

This is one outing that I enjoyed the company much more than the game. There is something to be said about having a monster hot dog and a beer with someone you played little league baseball with. You should call up your old friends and take in a game; today. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Winston-Salem Dash: The Cheesy Pig

The Cheesy Pig
Years ago, I went to a Winston-Salem Warthogs game in Ernie Shore Stadium. Now the city has a new ballpark (since 2008) and a new name: the Dash. The ballpark is a brick and steels structure, has a nice open concourse design with an outfield wall that has more nooks and crannies in it than Keith Richards' face.

Mascot and some handsome guy

Both tickets and parking are pricier than most ballparks in the single A level. Six smackers to park your jalopy and the cheapest seat will be close to ten bucks. As far as the level of play.....let's just say that the Dash had four errors in the first two innings and were trailing 13-0 when I left.

The Cheeseapeno
While the action on the field was bush league, it certainly was not at the concession stand. A sausage stand on the first base side offers some great concoctions. I had the Cheeseapeno Dog, which is a Lowe's (the meat guys, not the home improvement guys) sausage infused with cheese and jalapenos. Then they top it off with grilled peppers and onions. The sausage is spicy, but to really make it a scorcher they offer Texas Pete hot sauce in a pump at the condiments station. It was absolutely delicious and very reasonably priced. I was satisfied and ready to watch the game.

Then I met Kit Edwards. Kit is the hand on the concessions helm at BB&T Ballpark. I was still basking in the glow of the Cheeseapeno Dog when he insisted I try the star of of the Dash's menu, the Cheesy Pig Dog. It has a Smithfield frank which shares the bun with a hearty portion of Carolina pulled pork topped with mac n cheese. It is a dog that will fill you up and leave a smile on your face. He also keeps most ingredients sourced locally, which keeps it fresh, tasty, and provides a sustainable product. After one dog, I managed about three quarters of the Cheesy Pig. Afterward, the paramedics were able to roll me to my seat in a wheelchair after being treated for a food induced coma.

Concessions King Kit Edwards
Kit and his team do an awesome job of offering up some over the top concessions, which is an important factor in making a trip to the ballpark a memorable experience. I, for one, will never remember the name of the starting pitcher or the final score two years from now. But I will remember making a pig of myself with the Cheesy Pig.