Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Can Do It!

The 2014 baseball season is winding down. Did you know the schedules for the 2015 season are already out? After reading of my fabulous and glutinous exploits you are probably spinning a plan in your head right now on how to pull off your own MLB/Hot Dog Road Trip next year. So what is keeping you?.

Oh...right….time, cost and that separation from your significant other. I can help you plan your baseball bonanza by relating some insight from my own trip. First up, the time.

Time off from work I can only give you this advice: your clock is running out. Yes, you need a job to pay for living. But you have to ask yourself if the time is right to ask for a sabbatical, extended leave without pay or other deal with your boss. Hate your job? Quit in April, do your road trip and start your new gig when you get back. Life is short dude, see a game. If you are wanting to catch all 30 MLB teams in their home ballparks plan on a minimum of 2 months. Yes, it took me 103 days, but I’m a slow learner. If you hit it hard you can to it in 60 or 70 days.

Getting your significant other to agree to a lengthy absence? If he/she really cared for you they would let you live your dream. Best bet, take him/her with you or for at least a portion. What’s that you say? Your SO doesn’t like baseball? Dump them, they are a loser. I would never trust anyone that didn’t like baseball, you shouldn’t either.

Planning costs is what I can really help you with, and probably your most pressing question is “can I afford it?” If a pauper like me can catch 65 games, you can too. But you have to be ready to rough it. Let’s take a look at what it COULD HAVE cost me:

Average cost of a MLB ticket times 30 games-$27.73 X 30 = $831.90
Average cost of a MiLB ticket times 35 games-$7.09 X 35 = $248.15
50 nights in a hotel (every other night)-50 X 83.06 = $4,153
Average cost for parking at a MLB game-30 X $15.09 = $452.70
Average cost for parking at a MiLB game-35 X $4.60 = $161
My cost for gas for nearly 19,000 miles-$2,431.37
My cost for a coffee/wifi habit-$366.02
My cost for food-$394.09
My cost for beer-$20.09
My cost for hot dogs-$210.25
My cost for tolls-$78.65
My cost for other transportation (bus, train)-$90

What it COULD HAVE cost me-$9,437.22
What did it REALLY cost me-$5,696.40 (that is adding 10% for missed items)

I saved $3,740.82 which for me is a boatload of money. How did I slice off all that fat?
  1. BIGGEST tip. Sleep in your car. Yes, it is a major inconvenience, but it will make or break the affordability of the trip. You get used to it, trust me.
  2. Get general admission tickets. So you won’t be able to see the player’s boogers in their noses. The view from up top is not so bad, and it saves you a bundle. In some cases you can get into an MLB game for under $5.
  3. Never pay for parking unless you have no choice. I used to find where I could park for free. Sure, I had to walk over a mile on occasion, but it saved me hundreds. Plus, you need the exercise fatso.

Now, things I COULD HAVE DONE MYSELF to save even more.

  1. I would have shaved $1,000 off of my expenses if I had spent EVERY night in my car or couch surfed. As it was I spent 12 nights in a motel. Don’t hate me because I am weak.
  2. That Starbuck’s habit had meaning. I used their wifi to update my blog, used their restroom to shave and other bathroom stuff and whiled away HOURS in there checking schedules etc. But, in retrospect, I could have grabbed a cup of coffee from McDonalds and used more public libraries to cut that cost in half.
  3. My GPS has an “avoid toll roads” option. Sometimes I did, but doing it always would have saved me clost to $100. I thought that is what gasoline tax is for anyway.
  4. The food cost was kept pretty low, perhaps I could have saved a bit on that but I was pretty frugal when it came to groceries.
  5. Things I had little or no control over the cost were gasoline (it is what it is, and getting a more fuel efficient car was not an option), hot dogs (it was for research after all) and beer (it was 20 bucks total man, lay off).
  6. The other transport costs were busses and trains to and from Toronto and New York City. While pricey, they actually saved me money (ever try to park in NYC?).

So I would venture to say you could have a hot dog in all 30 MLB ballparks for about $4,000. That is subtracting the approximate cost of the Minor League games I attended. I could do the exact math but I am way too lazy for that.

Here is a pie chart that displays my actual cost by percentage. As you can see, if you have a really fuel efficient vehicle it can save you a bundle. My RAV4 probably average about 25 MPG.

Life really is short, and you will never regret stuffing your face with a loaded dog while sitting in the bleachers and watching the national pastime. Think of the stories you will have to tell. The clock is ticking and the time is now.

So, what are your plans for next summer?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Minor Dog Details

Now that you know who wins the crown for the best overall baseball/hot dog experience in Major League Baseball, you are probably wondering how the Minor Leagues fared. The answer is below in the overall MiLB rankings. As you know each MLB has 3 Minor League teams, one at each level in A, AA and AAA. That is 90 Minor League baseball teams, and that does not include the Short Season Leagues or the Independent Leagues. While I made it to 100% of the MLB ballparks, I only made it to 35 of the MiLB parks.

I was both impressed and disappointed in the hot dogs at the Minor League level. Some teams really went all out and serve up some creative and tasty puppies, while others were horrid. Many were mediocre. Running a MiLB team is tough business, but if there is one thing I do know is that the money in baseball is not in tickets, it is in concessions. If you dish out a good dog, the fans will eat one

My dirty little secret is that while I love MLB games, I feel much more connected at the MiLB venues. You sit closer, everything is less expensive and your chances of getting a foul ball are much better. I had two close calls with foul balls in over 20 years of MLB games, but I never got one. I snagged 5 foul balls at MiLB parks this year alone. All were on the bounce or rollers because….ok, I am too much of a pussy to catch one barehanded.

Congrats to the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Charleston Riverdogs for tieing for the top spot of the MiLB teams I did have the pleasure to visit. Both are South Atlantic League teams, a single A league, so the must take their dogs seriously in the SAL. Coincidentally, both are fabulous cities to visit as well.

Know of a Minor League ballpark I need to visit in 2015? Let me know and I’ll get it on my schedule for next year

Sand GnatsA29.527.557
River DogsA27.529.557
Mud HensAAA27.52956.5
Springfld CardsAA272956
Red BirdsAAA23.528.552
PB CardinalsA2624.550.5
SJ GiantsA262450
PSL MetsA24.52549.5
River CatsAAA212748
Rough RidersAA252247
MissionsAA 241842
Sky SoxAAA202242

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Regional Dog Fight: Cubs vs White Sox

This wiener wrestling match pits the teams of the Windy City against each other in what would first appear as a mismatch. Think baseball and an image of Wrigley Field is in there somewhere, think hot dog and the Chicago Dog gets top billing. It’s old versus new as the Cubs of Wrigley taken on the south side White Sox from US Cellular Field. That is sort of like putting Andre the Giant in a midget match...or is it? Is there a David and Goliath story in the making?

The White Sox have the Comiskey Dog, which is really a Chicago Style Dog that puts them on par with the Cubbies. The Bopaks frank is not as tasty as the Vienna Beef wiener in Wrigley but close. The Sox also slather on grilled onions and kraut, just like the Cubs. Where the south side gang whips their opponent in the dog department is availability of toppings and cost. If you dress your dog with the condiments at Wrigley, you dog is going to feel somewhat naked. The price differential is huge, $3.75 as US Cellular vs $5.50 at Wrigley.

Then there is the ballpark. I went into this thinking no one could beat out Wrigley Field. I was wrong. Wrigley blows any ballpark away in the ambiance section, but that is like relying on your good looks and personality to get a job as a nuclear physicist. The fans were more exuberant in the Cubs camp as well. What sinks the Cubbies ship is price, I had to pay $32 for general admission ticket in the bleachers. No joke. A GA ticket at US Cellular is $7, and $5 on the day I went. Wrigley is also a good bit less clean, but since it is 100 years old, I cut it a break and only docked it one point. Bottom line is the White Sox ballpark beat the vaunted Wrigley Field by 2.5 points.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price1
It Factor5Fans5

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor5Fans4

The lesson for all MLB teams here: team, history, ambiance, fan base, etc. do not amount to a hill of beans if I have to take out a second mortgage to see a game and eat a dog at your ballpark. A reasonably priced GA ticket and hot dog would have seen the Cubs edge out the White Sox, but when money is the focus of your operation, it costs you in the long run. White Sox by 4.5 points. The Cubbies should be embarrassed. Harry Carey would not approve.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Regional Dog Fight: Dodgers vs Angels

The last regional dog fight pitted the New York teams against each other for a very close shootout. Today, we move the match to the west coast where the Dodgers and Angels mix it up for the hot dog/baseball experience crown of Los Angeles. It is kind of like the fight in New York, only with better weather.

Unlike New York, both of the LA teams sport older stadiums, but it is the hot dog that gives the Dodgers the overall win. Both ballparks scored 21 while the Dodgers were saved by the Dodger Dog that score 2 points better than its competitor, the Angel Dog. The Dodgers could have blown the Angels away. I personally feel a ballgame in Dodger Stadium’s blue edifice is much more pleasant than its counterpart in Anaheim. The problem is the Dodgers think you should pay for that edge, and pay a lot. The Angles, while by no means cheap, are more reasonable.

The deciding factor was the Dodger Dog’s “It Factor.” While it doesn’t necessarily taste any better than the Angel Dog, it has a reputation so well known that it has been in movies and emulated by other ballparks. Love it or hate it, the Dodger Dog has a gleaming star on the Hot Dog Walk of Fame

Total Dog/Game
GA Ticket Price
It Factor

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price4
It Factor2Fans4

I will say this in the Angels defense, they have the Rally Monkey. And any team that has a monkey is worth seeing.
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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wiener Winner

Everyone loves hot dogs. Well, except those vegetarian freaks, but they make veggie dogs for that so they can join the fun. Speaking of which, did you ever wonder what they do with the plastic shopping bags you take back to the grocery store to recycle? They make veggie dogs with them.

Now that baseball and grilling season is winding down, people ask me how to make their next deal on the grill better. How to serve up a better hot dog. Frankly, the frank makes a huge difference. A good frank will make a great hot dog and a mediocre frank can be carried by a great selection of toppings. A killer combo is a fresh bun, great tasting frank and a good array of toppings to complement the meat.

If you are looking to recreate a great tasting hot dog like you would have at the ballpark you should start with a frank served at the ballparks. Since I tested all of them, here is how your world renowned Hot Dot Explorer ranks the franks you would find at the stadium so you can cook one up at home.

First Place

If you read my blog you know I rave about the all-beef Hebrew National frank. Simply stated, I think it is the best tasting dog you can buy of any nationally available brand. It has the perfect combination of saltiness and flavor. Plus, it is kosher. A little known fact is that most people buy kosher product not for religous reasons, but for the sanitary conditions in which kosher products are made. If you have issues with the meat production ick-factor, kosher helps alleviate that. And it will taste great on the bun.

Runners Up

Nathan’s Famous is a New York staple and they do make a delicious dog. Many of the East Coast teams use Nathan’s franks. They are slightly fatty which causes them to burst with flavor.

Esskay is also a ballpark standard in many cities. While not available in every supermarket, you can’t go wrong by slapping an Esskay frank on your bun.

Regional Favorites

Nolan Ryan served up some heat from the mound in his day. Today he serves up some tasty beef, including an all-beef frank used primarily in the Texas area. If you are in the Longhorn State check out a dog with a Nolan Ryan frank.

Winter’s is a Detroit based meat manufacturer and give the Toledo Mud Hens and Detroit Tigers some serious flavor to their dog lineup. Mainly available in the greater Detroit area, and mainly delicious.

Bonus Video
If you feel uneasy about how hot dogs are made this video will help take the mystery out of the process and put your mind at ease. Sirloin it is not, but still the same cow. It is quite interesting and worth a watch.