Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Los Angeles Angels

Angel Stadium is very much like Dodger Stadium in that it was built in the 1960s and is of a semi-circular design. They are sort of like cousins, lot of similarities but still different. It doesn’t help that the ballpark is located near several amusement parks. It detracts from the baseball vibe. The park itself had undergone major renovations since its inception. One that included this fake rocky area with a faux stream running through it. It looks like an incomplete construction site. And, as the fourth oldest ballpark in the MLB it shows its age. The Angels would be better off spending the millions they gave to Albert Pujols and sinking it into a new venue. But they do have the Rally Monkey. A small monkey in an Angel jersey that appears on the scoreboard in the late innings when the Angels are down a few runs. It is supposed to rally the fans and team.

So enough ragging on the ballpark….it gets worse. There is the Angel Dog. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far from the best dog I have had. Here is how it shakes out:

Angel Stadium
Location-in amusement park central. Sort of in a super huge lot.
Access-I am sure there are busses, but I will be damned if I would ride my bicycle there in that vehicle madness. Parking is $10 but can be had for free if you don’t mind walking.
Cleanliness-bathrooms could use a good scrubbing.
Ambiance-not a lot. It would make a nice college football venue though.
GA Ticket Price-$12 was the cheapest. Not great. But not as outrageous as I have seen at some parks. I did get a ticket for $10 with a military discount.
Fans-not a bad crowd for a Monday with school still in session. The crowd was sort of disengaged...until the Rally Monkey showed up.

Angel Dog
Bun-kind of stale.
Taste-the Farmer John frank had a slight sweet taste to it.
Toppings-pitiful, only mustard and relish. No onions, kraut, etc.
Price-$4.50 for an Angel Dog is not too bad, but not great either. Frank was large.
Portability-nice large foil sleeve. Too bad it goes to waste. Not enough toppings available to use all of the room it provides.
It Factor-Angel Dog? Meh.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price4
It Factor2Fans4

My advice is that if you are in Los Angeles for just a few days and have a choice between the two teams, catch a Dodgers game. If you are just in Anaheim for that screaming, snot-laden cash blackhole called Disneyland then drop the family off at the giant mouse’s playground. It would actually make an Angel Dog taste great knowing you were noshing one at the ballpark instead of in line at Space Mountain.
The Rally Monkey

My ballgame was exciting however. Home Runs, triples, wild throws...good pitching until the late innings. I enjoyed the game on the field. And the Angels came back to beat the Indians 6-3. I credit the Rally Monkey.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Los Angeles Dodgers

I have always liked Dodger Stadium and the Dodger Dog. The dog is a tangible and edible link to passion for the team and its notoriety and association with the club make having one a must for Dodger fans or visitors. The ballpark is the third oldest in baseball, has unique scoreboards, is the only stadium to have never changed seating capacity and it oozes baseball ambiance. I feel fortunate to have watched Fernando Valenzuela pitch there. The night I attended was “movie night.” They showed “Field of Dreams” on the scoreboard after the game.  

It does have its detractors. It is in Chavez Ravine, not close to any major urban area in Los Angeles making driving the most convenient way to get there. And with parking at $15 that is close to being a crime. I of course found free parking with the help of ballparksavvy.com. If you are going to a MLB game anytime soon use it and save enough in parking fees for an admission ticket. As an older stadium it has a narrow concourse that makes it crowded to navigate.

Taste-the Farmer John frank has unique taste that many find yummy. I find it...well, unique.
Portability-wrapped in a foil wrapper and twisted at the ends. Easy to transport.
Cost-$5.50 for a dog whose signature look is that the frank is longer than the bun...way longer. I wasn’t fooled, it is still mighty thin. Average bargain.
It Factor-the Dodger Dog carries the team with versions called the Brooklyn Dodger Dog and others.
Toppings-big points for having both brown and yellow mustard, but only relish and onion in addition to that.

Location-even though it is in the middle of the greater Los Angeles area, it is still isolated in Chavez Ravine. Nothing located near it.
Access-while driving is almost necessary, no break is given on parking. And if you park for free it is still a hike. Forget taking a bike.
Cleanliness-the park does good for a 52 year old stadium. But the bathroom floors were wet and some trash in other parts floating around.
GA Ticket Price-$18 for the cheapest ticket is outrageous. I opted to take the military discount for a field level seat for $20. I figured if I was going to be financially molested I might as well enjoy it the best I could.
Ambiance-once you get to the park and slapped with the ticket price it is hard to beat a baseball experience at Dodger Stadium It has history on its side and a great baseball vibe.
Fans-lots of Dodger blue in the stands and a good turnout. Fans lose points on a Dodger tradition...leaving in the seventh inning to beat traffic (hint to fans...if most people leave in the seventh you aren’t beating anything).

Even I was surprised by the Dodgers low score. It just goes to show you that it takes a critical eye to truly see something as it is. I would still recommend a Dodger game. Sure, the dog/ballpark rating isn’t that great, but a true fan would want to see a game at Dodger Stadium because...well, it is Dodger Stadium.

Dodger Dog

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price2
It Factor5Fans4

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Arizona Diamondbacks

For several years I had been trying to see a game at Chase Field. Seems the Diamondbacks and I could never get our schedules to merge. And good things are worth waiting for. I had a top-notch experience at Chase Field. The D’Backs were one of the few MLB teams to answer my query about their product, and that is how I met Matt Helmeid, Director of Special Projects and Brand Development. I have connected the dots thus far that when a team has a product they are proud of, they are eager to show it off, and Arizona has a pretty impressive dog/ballpark combo to flaunt. Oh, yeah….it was also zombie night. Weird and cool at the same time.

Chase Field itself reminds me of Minute Maid Park in Houston. It is a rectangular structure with a retractable roof situated downtown. Chase has a better baseball vibe though and doesn’t have the amusement park feel Minute Maid has. Inside it is an impressive array of seats, scoreboards, eateries and intricate architecture. Unlike most retractable roofs, which are made to keep the rain out, the roof at Chase is mainly designed to keep the heat out and the A/C in. In case you haven’t figured it out, the Diamondbacks play in Phoenix.,,also known as hell on steroids from July to late September.

Chase Field Sonoran Dog
Typically, I buy the cheapest ticket available to keep overhead for this adventure down. But the D’Backs take hot dogology seriously and would not have me sitting in the nosebleeds. I ended up on the first base side 7 rows up from the field courtesy of Matt Helmeid. I was also treated to not one, but two of the dogs most of the fans eat: the D’back Dog and Chase’s version of the Sonoran Dog. I rate the D’Back below. The Sonoran had to compete against the standard set by the street vendor of Sonorans (the dogs, not the people) Nogales (see previous post). In my frank (pun intended) opinion Nogales edges out Chase, but barely. And in Chase’s defense they do LOTS of other things besides Sonorans. Still, if you are at the ballpark I HIGHLY recommend the Sonoran. Eat one there AND at Nogales for your own taste test.

The D’Backs Dog:
Bun-fresh and tasty.
Taste-A really outstanding taste, thanks to a plump frank from Ballpark Franks (I love it when a manufacturer of franks knows where his product is going to end up).
Toppings-good selection. Only missing kraut for the full complement of toppings.
Price-at $5.50 I would rate it average, BUT the frank on the D’Back dog is larger than most. Dollar for ounce it is a pretty good bargain.
Portability-the large foil wrapper does a good job of keeping the dog together. NOTE: the Sonoran, which can be a disaster to eat and keep off of you, has a very good set up of a large cardboard boat carrier with a bed of butcher paper that you can wrap it up in. A inventive set up the keeps you from wearing the Sonoran.
D-Bat: Mother of All Corn Dogs
It Factor-Off the charts thanks to the beast called the “D-Bat.” This monstrosity is an 18 inch long corndog. If that alone isn’t enough to have you booking a flight to Phoenix it gets better. The frank is bored out and filled with jalapeno laden cheese and then WRAPPED IN BACON and then deep fried with the corn batter. Some fans in front of me had one and raved about it. It cost $25 but is worth it according to post consumption reviews (angioplasty not included in price). This deep-fried Frankenstein was created by Executive Chef Michael Snoke of Levy Restaurants. Demand for the D-Bat has been so great that Arizona has sold more of them already then they had planned for the entire year. That is success.

Location-It is downtown. By now you know I believe ballparks should be downtown.
Access-drive, bike, bus, bicycle rickshaw….there are countless options.
Cleanliness-I feel comfortable with the food 5-second rule at this venue.
GA Ticket Price-although my ticket was complimentary, the least expensive I could have gotten that day was $13, a tad pricey.
Ambiance-a great ballpark, but misses the mark just a smidgen with design.
Fans-super friendly, into the game, and they show up. It wasn’t a sell out but a good crowd.
DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price4
It Factor5Fans5

I don’t give ballparks or clubs extra points, but if I did the Diamondbacks would get several because they:
1. Announce and discourage getting in or out of your seat during play. A HUGE pet peeve of mine. Nothing like missing a great play because someone needed to get dippin’ dots RIGHT NOW.
Matt Helmeid & Michael Snoke
2. This is HUGE. Arizona offers a value menu that has food items for as low as $1.50, including hot dogs and $4 for a beer. A travesty in America is that a trip to the ballpark for the middle class is rapidly becoming too expensive to consider. The Diamondbacks are consistently one of the least expensive venues to see a game and are working hard to keep baseball an affordable spectator sport.

Lastly, there were fireworks after the game. Perfect ending to a great game in which the Diamondbacks edged out the Phillies in a nailbiter of a match.

With a combined score of 57.5 Matt, Michael and the rest of the Diamondbacks team provide a hot dog/ballpark experience worthy of emulation and the best score to date.

Did I Mention It Was Zombie Night?

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Friday, April 25, 2014

The Sonoran

Regional dog report:
When in the desert….
I love regional variations of food, and hot dogs are no exception to local influences. While you were working and I was lounging poolside waiting for my next baseball game I checked to see if Phoenix has any local variations of the wiener. Turns out the Sonoran Hot Dog is big in Phoenix. Why? Because Phoenix is in the Sonoran desert you dolt.

The Sonoran Dog originated in Hermosillo, Mexico the capital of Sonora province and has become a popular staple in the southwestern hot dog community. If in Phoenix there is but ONE place to get your Sonoran fix...and shhhh...it’s a secret.
Secret Sonoran Research Center

But I could never keep a secret so here it is. On the corner of 20th and Old Indian School Road is a small shopping plaza. After 7pm the Nogales Food truck sets up shop. The small team stealthily set up a few awning tents, fold up table, grill and wa-la...instant food stop. It is very much on the down low and known to only the locals. It is sort of like a covert NSA operation…..only the Nogales people are not interested if you sleep naked or not.

The Nogales Sonoran-mobile
A Sonoran has beans, onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise (when in Rome), cream sauce, jalapenos salsa, with options of guacamole and other local ingredients including several grated cheeses. All served on a fluffy bun. And the frank is...wait for it….wait for it...WRAPPED IN BACON!
Once you have had a Sonoran you will be ready to give Texas back to Mexico in exchange for just a few more of these delectable dogs.

The Sonoran

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking Dog

Today is the second day of a five-day baseball drought. I am at the mercy of geography, the confines of time and space, and MLB/MiLB schedules. Thanks to Karen in Roswell I managed to fit in an unplanned college game but the prospect of several more days sans hardball has left me feeling depressed. Some disc golf has helped alleviate some of my anguish, but I needed serious help. I needed a dose of The Dog House.

The Dog House was famous before it was famous. It has been serving up dogs for over 60 years. Since it is directly on Route 66 and just a few blocks west of downtown Albuquerque it has earned a reputation of dishing out some high-temperature dogs at discount prices. Just what the doctor ordered.

Casa de Dog
Business was good for The Dog House and then came the smash AMC television series “Breaking Bad.” It was a favorite hangout of the character Jesse Pinkman. The Dog House appears in each of the 5 seasons that BB ran on AMC, and the wild popularity of the pop culture sensation increased the already heavily frequented dog dive’s traffic. Nowadays you may have to wait a bit to plunk down a few bucks for one of their atomic gut bombs. But it’s worth it.

For a true Dog House experience you have to get one with chili. And the joint does New Mexico proud as your tummy rebels after the first bite. The slightly bitter hot aftertaste will have you reaching for a cold Dr Pepper and soon after the Tums. The Dog House is not for those that have a sensitive belly or refined pallet. But it will allow you to taste one of the most unique and vaunted dogs in the country. A dog reveled in the annals of Route 66 lore and forever preserved in television reruns.

Hot Dog Smothered in Nuclear Waste

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lawless Aliens

There is no law west of the Pecos. Even I have seen enough late-night westerns to know that. And that would explain the huge population of aliens I met just west of the river. In Roswell, New Mexico….yes, that Roswell.

I Was Not Alone
No amount of border patrol is going to stop that green invasion. And Roswell, to their credit, has embraced their Twilight Zone-ish reputation to make their own green. There is an infinite number of businesses that link their wares or advertising to that fateful intergalactic car wreck in the 1940s. Even I, a sucker for odd roadside attractions, was lured into the UFO Research Center and Museum. I should probably note here that for one year I was a columnist for UFO Magazine (true story).

An Entire Street of UFO-themed Businesses
But I had my own serendipitous encounter while in Roswell. After taking in the UFO museum and then crushed to find out that one of my favorite indy coffee places in all of ‘merica had shut down since my last visit 3 or 4 years ago, I was forced into the corporate confines of a Starbuck’s (don’t start…I tried). I wanted to spend a day or two in Roswell to take in the oddity of it all and do some hiking so I looked for a place to crash on the Couchsurfing website. Of the few hosts in the Roswell area one had a ton of positive recommendations and was of all things…..a sports writer. Eureka. I requested a spot on her sofa.

Within 20 minutes Karen called me to say not only could I crash on her couch, but that she was working at the moment announcing a college BASEBALL GAME. Wait….it gets weirder. The game was literally a long foul ball from where I was sitting at the Starbuck’s. She invited me to hang in the press box with her until the doubleheader was over.

For the next 6 hours I got to take in an unexpected treat of college-level baseball as New Mexico Military Institute took on West Texas College. Even better, also in the press box was NMMI’s Sports Information Director Geoff Gunn. He put me to work taking action photos of the team on the field during the game. Geoff even bought me dinner, which I fetched from Sonic. To keep it pure to the mission I chose Sonic’s much vaunted Chicago style dog. While I didn’t rate it, the dog was kind of soggy and so-so, but  the baseball was fantab. It really was a spectacular day.

Geoff and Karen in Their Natural Habitat

Karen has a place on the west edge of Roswell and currently hosts two help-Xers (people who stay at your place in exchange for assistance with chores, repairs, etc.) and has chickens, llamas and a few cats. All underneath a blanket of nighttime stars that seem deeper and brighter in New Mexico.

I felt extremely fortunate to have met Karen, we seemed to be cut from some of the same cloth. She likes adventure, travel, sports and writing. And was one hell of a good host. Thanks Karen for turning a ho-hum day into another hardball-infused experience.

Got Some Great Hiking In

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Midland Rock Hounds

It was a beautiful, breezy west Texas night at Security Bank Ballpark, the perfect setting for some Texas League action. Along with some fine dining on the dog. If you look at a map you will notice that Midland is somewhat out in the middle of the oil patch and in the heart of the “real” Texas. The Rock Hounds were hosting San Antonio, a venue I visited early in my trip. After a bit of a yawn fest in Frisco, this game did not disappoint with the hitting, errors, pitching and talent evenly matched. It took 11 innings, but the Rock Hounds finally sent the Missions to the locker room by edging them 4-3.

The Midland staff was very accommodating with my quest for the perfect dog and I met up with the club’s Assistant General Manager Jeff VonHolle in section 19, a mere 4 rows up from the action. Jeff, who with over 20 years of service with the Rock Hounds performs a myriad of functions for the club, is also the person that secures the supply of hot dogs. His ballpark sold approximately 67,000 gluten free, all-beef dog from Block and Barrel last year. He was also kind enough to treat me to a specialty dog offered at Security Bank Ballpark...the bacon dog. Yes, bacon on my hot dog. It was like Christmas.

Bun-fresh and steamed.
Taste-I really wasn’t expecting much after a week at mostly minor league parks but this dog was particularly tasty.
Portability-comes in foil sleeve to keep all of the goodies on the dog and off of the concourse.
Price-at $3.25 it is the most affordable dog to date.
Toppings-a good selection to compliment the fank.
It Factor-the Rock Hounds do offer a bacon dog and Chicago style version. More variety would be better.

A semicircular structure that is par for the course in AA parks. Built of pale red and light brown brick and low-slung. Security Bank Park sports a modest scoreboard and an outfield wall with a quirky sinusoidal curve in it.
Location-not near downtown, it is in a sports complex area.
Security Bank Ballpark
Access-driving seems to be the only real option for getting the ballpark. However parking is plentiful and free.
Cleanliness-a nifty stadium that is spotless.
Ambiance-Pretty typical AA venue. It has a baseball vibe to it but nothing to set it apart from the other parks of similar design.
GA Ticket-A grass berm is available but only after the seats have sold out. $9 for an actual seat close to the field was a good bargain.
Fans-it was early in season and the park was only about 25% full. The fans that were there were behind the Rock Hounds and  you could tell it.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor3Fans4

With an overall score of 51 Midland should be on your list of ballparks to grab a dog and experience baseball...Texas style.

Host and Rocky Rock Hound