Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Off Day: J Dawgs

When you live in one of the most sparsely populated states in the Union it doesn’t take long to build an empire...or become a hot dog legend. Born from the brain of a BYU student, a recent addition to regional favorites is J Dawgs which is now sporting 4 locations in the greater Salt Lake City area. When not taking in the dogs in confines of local baseball diamonds I like to check out local favorites that are either nationally renowned or recommended by the locals. The latter steered me to J Dawgs. Since I was holed up in Park City, UT for a few days last week waiting on the Bees to come to town, I hit one of the popular hot dog joints accompanied by Lori, the matriarch of my hosts the Henson family.





The most striking feature of the J Dawgs location in American Fork is its design and decor. Think urban Scandinavian. It is spartan, clean, functional and designed for efficiency. There are basically two dog choices: all beef or Polish grilled with their specialty criss-cross cut that not only facilitates cooking evenly but act as sort of a tread that helps keep the condiments on the dog.  No specialty dogs. Once your dog is ready you tell the friendly person behind the counter which condiments you want to top your tube. And there is the secretive J Dawg sauce available if you wish to live dangerously.


Lori and I sampled each other’s dogs to get a good feel for the SLC eateries offerings. And we both agreed: good dog at a good price for a good lunch in a good location; but nothing to get your garments in a twist about. I personally liked how the outlet was outfitted.  Without all of the cutsey kitsch that adorns many such places you can tell the place is super clean and sanitary at a glance. And such things are important to me before I consume processed leftover meat parts stuffed into an intestine tube.

While it lacks the wow factor of the over the top selection at a place like Pink’s of Hollywood, or the aurora of history that The Dog House in Albuquerque has, J Dawgs does have what it takes for a recommendation to dine. When in the Salt Lake City area, thou are hereby commanded to take thine wife(ves) for a hot dog at the J Dawg.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Colorado Springs Sky Sox


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At first I thought it was the frigid temperatures was causing hypothermia-induced hallucinations at Security Service Field, but it was actually the scoreboard. Every time a Sky Sox player came to bat and his picture was flashed on the jumbotron I thought he looked familiar. Turns out they are familiar. The Colorado Springs Sky Sox is the next step up from AA Tulsa Drillers, the team where I reside. Seen those guys plenty last year in Drillers uniforms...in much warmer temps.


The ballpark itself is somewhat unimaginative, particularly for a AAA facility. The colored block structure is low slung with an uncovered grandstand. The concourses are tight and crowded and from the outside it reminded me of a corporate headquarters for a mid-sized company. The field is well kept and the park seems in good condition and overall I’d rate it average. If I was factoring in level of play I would say below average. I have been to plenty of AA ballparks nicer than Security Service Field. I did appreciate that the stadium focuses mainly on the game and hasn’t built in amenities found at a playground rather than a baseball diamond. Once the game started it had a decent vibe. Had the park been turned around 180 degrees a nice view of the mountains would be visible over the outfield wall and more closely associate the team with its geography. Instead fans are treated to a view of a suburb. Only a circling Air Force C-130 cargo plane gave any respite to that unwelcome vista.


Dog:
Bun-stale. Not a good way to start. Hard to recover from a stale bun.
Taste-surprisingly good. The bun distracted from it some. Had a hard time finding anyone that could tell me who made the frank. As I suspected it was Hebrew National. They make a distinctively tasty frank.
Topping-they had the standards; mustard, relish and onions...but in packets. Condiment packets are what hot dog aficionados get when they end up in hell.
The Standard Dog
Price-I had the “kids” dog because that is the regular sized dog. $3.75 is not too bad.
Portability-a nice simple sheet of aluminum foil does the job well.
It Factor-the Sky Sox have a few specialty dogs, and they did look good, but pricey.


Ballpark:
Location-sort of in a field sandwiched between the suburbs and a series of strip malls. Not appealing and not near downtown.
Some Ardent Sky Sox Fans
Access-if you live in one of the ‘burbs you might be able to walk, but mostly a drive-to stadium. And I had to pay $5 to park...in a dirt lot. Scandalous.
GA Ticket Price-$10 for a bleacher seat on the third base line is average for AAA. NOTE: aluminum bleachers in cold weather makes for some frosty buns...and I ain’t talkin’ dogs here.
Cleanliness-good, but not perfect like many other parks.
Fans-great crowd, probably 75% full and active. It was military night in a military town (the Air Force Academy is here) so that might have helped.
Ambiance-Security Service Field tries, but misses the mark slightly. I’d still see a game here, I just wouldn’t go out of my way to do it. I like the feel inside, but was put off by the exterior.


DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Bun2Location2
Taste4Access3
Toppings2Cleanliness4
Price4Ambiance4
Portability5GA Ticket Price4
It Factor3Fans5
202242

With an overall score of 42 I wouldn't call in the wrecking ball for the Sky Sox ballpark just yet. The same park in a different location would have gotten a much higher score. The dog is easy to improve by ensuring fans get fresh buns and at a minimum pump condiments. Right now this AAA team is serving up a A dog. While I wouldn’t make a special trip to Colorado Springs for a game, it would make a nice addition to a trip to see a Rockies game.

Selfie With Mascot




Colorado Rockies

If a baseball bat has a sweet spot, then so can the perfect hot dog/baseball experience. And the Colorado Rockies have found it. Sporting a ballpark that, although long in tooth by recent standards, should be the envy of many newer facilities. That, along with a delicious dog at a decent price and the Denver team has gone yard in the overall ratings.


Coors Field was built as one of the first retro park initiatives. Following the success of Camden Yards in Baltimore the red brick wonder has everything a ballpark should and is fleshed out in the ratings below, including both a skyline view of Denver behind home plate and a vista of the actual Rockies over left field. What helps its ambiance rating is what it doesn’t have. Colorado focuses more on being a ballpark than a carnival for kids. There is a small kid’s zone, but they keep it subdued as not to detract from the reason most fans hit the park. When a fan walks up to Coors Field he can feel the baseball vibe.


The dog does its part to boost the Rockies’ ratings. The standard dog is good enough that the entry-level offering is called the “Super Dog.” It sports a salty (read tasty) Hebrew National frank on a soft bun that pleases the gods of processed meat. The specialty dog selection is top shelf with Gold Star supplying a frank made to the Rockies’ specifications. While it doesn’t get the team extra points, it adds the the allure of the dogs that Gold Star is a Denver based company and helps keep the product local.


Dog:
Bun-fresh and steamed.
The Super Dog
Taste-the Hebrew National frank did not disappoint.
Toppings-lacks kraut and jalapenos.
Price-while not the cheapest, $4.75 is not a bad price for a tasty dog at a MLB venue.
Portability-not a wrapper or sleeve, which is preferred, but the cardboard boat was oversized and that helped enormously.
It Factor-the specialty dog line up at Coors Field is damn delicious. With entries like the Denver Dog, Diablo Dog, Santa Fe Dog and others one can find dog for any taste.


Ballpark:
Location-in the LODO district of downtown Denver.
Access-walk, bike, light rail, pedicab...big score.
Cleanliness-excellent job keeping this gem clean.
The Denver Dog
GA Ticket Price-ATTENTION ALL MLB TEAMS….the Rockies charge FOUR DOLLARS for a bleacher seat on the “rock pile.” That’s right...4 smackers for a MLB game. What do they know San Francisco doesn’t?
Ambiance-with the exception of the really historic parks, it doesn’t get much better than Coors Field. It looks, feels, smells, tastes, and emanates baseball.
Fans-not a bad crowd for a Wednesday where the rain was threatening all day. And they were great fans...even the obnoxious Giants fans seated directly behind me. I am all for beer buyers having to get the permission of the fans surrounding them before being allowed to have more than 3 beers.

With an overall score of 58 the Colorado Rockies have the highest score of any of the parks I have visited to date. That includes 10 MLB parks and 11 Minor League venues.


DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Bun5Location5
Taste5Access5
Toppings4Cleanliness5
Price4.5Ambiance5
Portability4.5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor5Fans5
283058


Many thanks to the Rockies who made their Director of Concessions available to me to answer some dog-related questions. He was most gracious in taking time from his busy schedule to help me. And he treated me to a Denver Dog (after I had already had the standard dog. I know...two dogs...back off man, I’m a scientist). The green sauce on the Denver Dog is made by a local sports figure. And it truly was delicious.
Nate Cannon and the Rockies Dog

I usually attend games alone, but on this outing I had the special treat of meeting up with Nate Cannon, Antarctic Explorer extraordinaire. Nate and I spent 13 months together (as co-workers, not a couple) at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Nothing makes life-long friends like being stranded at the bottom of the globe together for over a year. Nate had the Rockies Dog and gave it good marks. Out of respect for me as a Hot Dog Celebrity, Nate refrained from putting ketchup on his dog. Thanks Nate.



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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Salt Lake Bees

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Sunset at Smith's Field
For a 20 year-old stadium Smith’s Field is holding up well. Much like myself, it looks as good today as it did during its inaugural season in 1994. With signature twin towers flanking the entrance, fans are greeted to a wide concourse loaded with baseball fare. And some exciting hardball as well. We were treated to an offensive display that included 8 homers and a total of 24 runs (in which the Bees lost 15-9).




Rockies in the Background
For those not interested in the game, but somehow ended up at that ballpark, you can take in a striking view of the Rocky Mountains over the outfield wall. The area surrounding the outfield berm is also greened with trees and shrubs providing a respite from the heat or sun when needed. Smith’s Field fits in well with Salt Lake City, providing an above average ballpark that sports players bound for Anaheim in the MLB. On this night, we watched the LA Angels David Freese on a rehab assignment. He appears healthy….he smacked one of the 8 dingers.

I was also able to get input on what the games are like from a different perspective. I had a date for the game. Autumn Henson, eldest daughter of the fabulous Henson clan, accompanied me and made me the envy of the rest of the stadium. She found the game fun and the dog good (she is still under the age of 18, so since she is technically not an adult I will cut her immense slack for putting ketchup on her dog).

Dog:
Bun-while fresh, it was cold. Hot dogs are supposed to be at least warm. This doesn’t help.
Autumn's and My Dog (mine DOES NOT have ketchup)
Taste-the Weinerschnitzel frank was tasty and earns an above average score.
Price-$3.75 for the regular dog is a good deal by AAA standards.
Toppings-If you want to be a AAA team you have to put out AAA condiments. Where was the kraut or the jalapenos?
Portability-cardboard boats are challenge enough. SLC provides a heavy paper boat. Virtually useless in getting the dog to the seat intact.
It Factor-the Bees do have a Southwest Dog and a few other specialty dogs. Better than a lot of parks but not enough draw for top score.

Ballpark:
Location-near downtown.
Access-one could bike, drive, take light rail or in some cases walk.
Cleanliness-top score.
GA Ticket Price-$10 would be ok for a seat with a back, or at least a bleacher. For a grass berm seat it is overpriced.
Fans-friendly, but they obviously had something better to do this night. The excess in home runs helped fuel the excitement. The ballpark was about 20% full. Yes, it was a Monday, school is still in and it isn’t exactly summer in Salt Lake City yet and the score takes this into account. Still, the Bees were coming off of a road trip. People of Salt Lake City...get to the ballpark!
Ambiance-while a clean and modern facility, Smith’s Field didn’t have a particular baseball vibe to it. Its design is also a tad unimaginative, caught somewhere in between wanting to be a retro stadium and modern ballpark. An overall score or 45 is respectable and worthy of a dog at the park if in SLC.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Bun2Location5
Taste4Access5
Toppings3Cleanliness5
Price5Ambiance3
Portability2GA Ticket Price4
It Factor3Fans4
192645


Autumn Henson and I on the Berm

During the few days I was waiting for the Bees to come back from their road trip I was able to see some of the surrounding area of Salt Lake City. While SLC may not have earned a top score in the hot dog/baseball experience, take a breath and look around...you live in Salt Lake City...and for that you are truly lucky.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Off Day: Salt Lake City

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Sure baseball fans love hot dogs. But how much do we love them?

There are 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) ballparks. Those ballparks will server over 21 MILLION hot dogs this year. That DOES NOT include brats, sausages and other tubular meat (add another 5.5 MILLION for that). And it DOES NOT include dogs served at Minor League ballparks. Each MLB team has an A, AA and AAA team so that is another 90 ballparks, Add in the short-season rookies leagues, independent leagues and you get the picture. The dog and the ball go hand in mitt.

The Los Angeles Dodgers fans will eat the most hot dogs this year by wolfing down over 3 MILLION dogs.

Not to mention there are speciality hot dog stands all over the United States.  Do you know of any? I reviewed the Dog House in Albuquerque and Pink’s in Hollywood. If you know of any over the top hot dog venues that are stalwart’s of the world of the processed meat culture and they are located in or near a town with a MLB team I would like to test it out. Comment or e-mail if you know of one.

ATTENTION MILWAUKEE FANS: I am looking for a Brewers tailgate gathering to attend before Brewers game. The date is not yet set for my east coast swing but I will be in Milwaukee sometime in June. Likely mid or later June. For those not in the know if you walk through the parking lot before a Brewers game you would swear you were headed to a college football game. They do tailgating right and the smell of roasting brats teases the taste buds as you make your way to the stadium entrance.


Tomorrow (Monday) I attend a Salt Lake City (where I am holed up with the fabulous Henson family) Bees game followed by a Colorado Rockies game and finally a Colorado Springs Sky Sox game. That will complete my west coast swing and after a few weeks break in Tulsa I will knock out a few mid-western parks and then embark on the east coast portion of the adventure.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seattle Mariners

The weather sucks in Seattle. Except when Tom is there. The city noted for its gray skies and abundance of precipitation was sunny the last time I was there during a port visit while I was stationed on board the USS Wadsworth (FFG-9) in the mid 90s. I saw a Mariners game then too, albeit in the King Dome. Today it was over 80F, very unusual for Seattle this time of year. The great weather allowed Safeco Field to keep the retractable roof open. I give myself credit for the good weather.


Safeco Field is an absolute gem of a ballpark. It can truly claim baseball cathedral status. Built of two-toned brick comingled with a sprawling web of green steel girders gives it a majestic feel. Tall, wide concourses add to the spaciousness of the park as does the fact it dwarfs most buildings nearby. All this nestled into a spectacular city that is surrounded by stunning natural beauty (the mountains, not me).  With the accolades heaped upon Safeco Field one would think it would be contender for the top spot of the hot dog/baseball experience. The ballpark is nearly perfect, but the dog lets the team down with a ho-hum score for an overall of 45. Why?


Dog:
Mariner Dog
Bun-stale. You can’t have a great dog with a stale bun. And you know what happens when you heap toppings on top of a frank in a stale bun? It splits on the bottom and become two separate pieces of bread. Try keeping your dog together in that scenario. Instant mess.
Taste-the Cloverdale frank did a decent job, but it can’t pull in top score.
Toppings-not a bad selection, but not a great one either.
Price-the Mariner Dog (there is a smaller, cheaper option but it is more of a kid’s dog) costs $6.75. Overpriced.
Portability-the cardboard boat did not help with the bun issue. Not sure anything would have saved that mess but a wrapper would have been better.
It Factor-Naming the regular hot dog after the team is not very original unless it brings something special to the plate. For a MARINER DOG I would have expected seaweed or something. They place a lot of the It Factor on the brat lineup.


Ballpark:
Location-downtown in the South Downtown (SODO) district. BINGO!
Safeco Field
Access-I had to keep myself from being prejudiced here since I had to fork over $20 to park. It was a day game so the parking meters were in effect and any sweet free spots were taken. Night games would be easier to score free parking. One can walk from downtown, bus, bike, drive, etc. Easy access.
Cleanliness-neat as a pin.
GA Ticket Price-$15 at the window (or $10 from a scalper. Guess which I chose.) Pricey for bleachers AND my seat was directly underneath the scoreboard. I am now permanently disabled from craning over to see the scoreboard.
Ambiance-better than SF due to less distractions, but there are still a few. It reminds me a lot of SF’s park but with less glitter. Meaning I like it better.
Fans-over 20,000 fans for a 1240 pm start is not bad. I hear some people actually work. Not overly friendly but they were really pulling for the Mariners.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Bun2Location5
Taste4Access5
Toppings4Cleanliness5
Price3Ambiance4
Portability3GA Ticket Price3
It Factor3Fans4
192645

The ballpark did not disappoint. The dog did. I love daytime baseball, they way it was meant to be played. And playing it in a classy venue like Safeco only makes it better. My tip would be to skip the dog and try the brat while taking in a Mariners game.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

San Francisco Giants

If you build it, they will come. And so it seems at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The night I attended was the four hundred and something consecutive sold out game.

My memories of baseball in Frisco (yes, I know residents of SF hate it when people say Frisco. I use it just to tick them off) were mainly of the cold. I last saw a Giants home game in old Candlestick Park. A vaunted venue known for making Mark Twain’s famous quote a reality. He said: “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” All I have to say is thank the gods for the heat island effect. The Giant’s new downtown ballpark was unusually warm on Monday night, and if that is an effect of global warming I am yanking my catalytic converter off my car tomorrow.



I was also super excited to finally see the ballpark so many fans rave about. And frankly, it is a sight to behold. A beautiful red brick affair that sits right on the bay, so close that home runs over the right field wall often land in the bay, as did two of them at my game. High angled decks ensure a good view for all fans and the wide concourses are easy to navigate. Getting there is a breeze with so many options, and the entire facility is extremely well designed. It is a hybrid of old-style ballpark with many angles in the outfield wall along with brick and iron construction. In reality, there are only two detractors from AT&T Park: price and distractions. I sold my Toyota and bought a Yugo for the rest of my trip so I could afford a general admission seat with the difference. I won’t have AC or reliable transportation for the rest of my trip, but hey, I got to see a Giants game.

The other negative consists of a huge disney-like playground for kids in the outfield that has a large coca-cola bottle and baseball mitt in it. It was only missing people in animal costumes. And there is a mini Fisherman’s Wharf in the same area that further detracts from the baseball vibe. The real Fisherman’s Wharf is walkable from the ballpark so why bother? I think this is a case of AT&T trying to be all things to all people. How about just trying to be a great baseball venue? It could be done.

That aside, I really liked the park. Clean, pretty good baseball feel, and great fans. Yeah, I know...Giants fans, but fans nonetheless.

Dog:
Bun-fresh, not steamed. Still soft.
Taste-Alpine meats make the frank and while not the best I have had it still ranks pretty high according to my taste buds.
Toppings-fabulous. I was asked if I wanted grilled onions and kraut before it was handed to me. Yes, please. Add PUMP BROWN MUSTARD and SF gets top score.
Price-Considering the ticket price I was amazed that the dog was affordable (for the size and toppings) at $5.25.
Portability-hard to keep all those grilled onions on the dog in a cardboard boat. A wrapper would be better.
It Factor-SF does have some specialty dogs available. The Super Dog and a few others. For being such a foodie town I expected more.


Ballpark:
Location-it doesn’t get any better than being downtown AND on the bay.
Access-walk, bike, BART, bus, cable car, taxi, unicycle….SF scores big.
GA Ticket-after being revived by the paramedics I forked over $23 for a GA ticket. And you ask why I sleep in my car?
Cleanliness-outstanding.
Fans-a sellout crowd that was really cheering on the team. Great fanbase in SF. Even if they are Giants fans.
Ambiance-AT&T would get top score if it were not for all the ancillary, amusement-style distractions.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Bun5Location5
Taste5Access5
Toppings5Cleanliness5
Price5Ambiance4
Portability3GA Ticket Price2
It Factor4Fans5
272653


Unlike it’s ugly cousin across the bay in Oakland, San Francisco has an absolutely beautiful ballpark. Combine that with a damn tasty dog and you have winner combo. If headed to the bay area I would recommend planning the trip when the Giants were in town and catching a game.

Oh-the game. Giants beat the Braves 4-2. Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum racked up 11 strikeouts.