Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Mexican Shindog

The Very Large Array (VLA)
It has been a quiet couple of days in the world of the Hot Dog Explorer. After finishing up taking in all 30 MLB venues and making it back to Tulsa I did what any good writer does. I sequestered myself in a cabin in a remote region of the country. Not to write my manifesto and be the next Unabomber but to get a head start on my book “Gone to the Dogs.” As you know that book will be the next baseball literary classic. So don’t miss out on your chance to become part of history, visit my kickstarter page and help bring “Gone to the Dogs” to print.

Have you seen the Jodie Foster movie “Contact?” There is a group of radio astronomy antennas called the Very Large Array (VLA) in the beginning of that movie. My now not so secret location is just up the road from that in very rural New Mexico. A steady diet of 8,000 feet altitude air and New Mexico craft beers has kept the creative juices flowing.

Rock Art by Katy
My gracious hosts are obvious patrons of the arts by allowing me to crank out a few chapters on their property. So to repay their kindness I did what all great hot dog personalities would do...have a hot dog party. I fired up the grill and served up some of the signature dogs I experienced on my nearly 19,000 mile expedition. The chili and coleslaw “Carolina Dog” from my Appalachian stops was represented, as well as the “Southern Comfort Dog” I had in Houston that sports mac & cheese on top of the frank sprinkled with crushed bacon. Available for all to enjoy was a generous supply of Bertman’s mustard which is only available in Cleveland. Since these were people that mattered to me, I used the best nationally available frank that I experienced on my trip...the Hebrew National. No dog should go without one.

Winning Combo: Hebrew National Franks and Toppings
And there was cause for celebration, my kickstarter campaign for “Gone to the Dogs” has surpassed the 50% mark. Only a few weeks to become part of history, visit the link below to participate.

Official Taste Testers

Friday, July 25, 2014

Memphis Red Birds

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

How did you spend National Hot Dog day? I spent mine like every red-blooded American should; downing a dog at the ballpark. Autozone Park, home of the Memphis Red Birds to be exact. It seemed a fitting way to end my expedition. Memphis is the last stop on my planned journey. I have some opportunities to see a few other parks this year, but as far a being part of what has become an 18,836 mile road trip….this is the end. And it was a great place to end it, Autozone Park is often touted as the best minor league ballpark in America. It would be hard to argue against that point. Just a few blocks from the renown blues venue of Beale Street, and nestled between the condos and skyscrapers of downtown memphis, is the awesome red brick park that hosts some hot AAA action.

I really lucked out in Memphis. The Red Birds, if you haven’t figure it out already, are a St Louis Cardinals farm club. After my visit to their AA affiliate in Springfield, Missouri, I am convinced that the Cardinals have the best collection of ballparks in a given farm club system. Their teams also seem to have some steep ticket prices. It was 9 smackers for a GA seat on a grass berm, I guess they have to pay for those sweet stadiums somehow. With the weather threatening rain, grass did not look enticing. Southern hospitality saved me. A gentleman approached me and a group of two other guys and offered us tickets he had that were not being used. Tom likes free tickets. I did mention I was doing this thing a budget didn’t I? Thanks anonymous guy.

Bun-very fresh.
Taste-the Red Birds use a regional frank supplied by King Cotton. Not a bad frank, the taste was just a little odd for my buds.
Toppings-very nice selection, but no kraut.
Price-$5 at a minor league ballpark for a dog is too much. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree here. Their parent club charges a whopping $8.
Portability-for five bucks I want better than a cardboard boat.
It Factor-a little thin but they do have the Memphis BBQ Bacon Dog, and the Big Dog footlong.

Location-right where the action is in downtown Memphis. Be aware that action sometimes involves gun shots.
Access-all modes available.
GA Ticket Price-as previously discussed, big issues with a $9 GA ticket for a minor league game.
Fans-I am sure the Red Birds draw better, but there were serious storms to the north and south of Memphis that night. I imagine many fans thought the game would be cancelled. I am giving the team a break on attendance for that, and the crowd was small. They were, like real Cardinals fans, heavily engaged in the game.
Ambiance-real ballpark feel and look. This is what ballparks should be like. Top score.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability3GA Ticket Price3.5
It Factor4Fans5

You probably have Memphis on your list of probable vacation spots anyway. With the blues and Graceland, why wouldn’t you want to come? The fact that they have an awesome ballpark is icing on  your holiday cake. Despite the hefty price of admittance, I would still recommend catching a game here. It ranks consistently among the best ballparks in America. However, the new Nashville park will give them a run for their money. My advice? Wait until next year (2015) and see both and you make the call as to who has the best park. Just don’t forget to grab a dog while you are there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nashville Sounds

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

I made it, just in a nick of time. While I missed seeing a game in Historic Engel Stadium in Chattanooga by a few years, I was able to see a game in Greer Stadium in Nashville...20 games before it closes permanently. The Nashville Sounds will have new digs beginning in 2015. The new park is supposed to be the best in the minor leagues. If the computer animation I watched is even remotely accurate, it just may be. I know where I will be having a dog in 2015. Not to worry about the Sounds signature, and quirky, guitar-shaped scoreboard. The current one uses bulbs and and the smallish screen is monochrome. The replacement scoreboard in the new park will retain the same shape, but be a large, high definition LED version that will be bursting with color and replays. I can’t wait.

I doubt Nashville residents can wait either. Their current venue, Greer Stadium, is a weary soldier that has seen its share of games and needs to be put out to pasture. It is mostly a cement and block affair that has a section of bleachers that still has a wooden floor. The seats are faded, the outfield fence is plywood and the foul poles lean a bit. All of this built into a slight slope in the side of a hill in civil war park. Looking out over the field from the cheap seats, I didn’t know whether to be disgusted or amazed. The park is in definite need of replacement, but I have a soft spot for old and worn venues. Baseball at Greer Stadium is like a football game with Tim Tebow at QB. It gets it done, but it ain’t pretty. Oh, and Greer Stadium knows when its time to call it quits.

Dave Keitel
One event that the Sounds put on, the day before I arrived, was a uniquely special idea. People with peanut allergies (and there are more than you think) have a hard time attending baseball games. The peanut shells are everywhere, the peanut dust gets into the air and other peanut-related issues make it nearly impossible for someone with that allergy to enjoy a game. The Sounds power washed their ballpark, took ALL peanuts and peanut-related products completely out of the stadium (even Cracker Jacks) and had a peanut-free night at the ballpark. Brilliant...and very fan oriented.

I was also pleased to be able to speak with the Sounds Manager of Concessions Mr. Dave Keitel. Dave is the kind of guy you want running your eats at the ballpark. At 16 he answered an ad in the newspaper in Iowa and began his career by working in the concession stand at the University of Iowa games. After stints with the Grasshoppers and Red Hawks he is now the go to guy for all things food in the Sounds organization. And, he has one of the best ideas for dog variety is detailed in the Dog section.

Bun-fresh and soft.
Taste-Nashville is one of the few teams to use Sabretts, which is big in the North East, and quite tasty.
Toppings-the Sounds could stand some variety in the condiments department. Local health laws prohibit some items from being open for dishing out onto the dog. Personally, I don’t mind picking a fly or two out of my onions if I can have some.
Price-$3.50 is a decent price for a AAA venue.
Portability-Dave discussed the virtues of the paper boat, keeping from smashing the bun. He makes a valid point, but I am still a wrapper guy.
It Factor-at first glance there are only two choices: dog and meat and three. If you don’t know what a meat and three is you are missing out. Meat and three is a southern thing. If you live in the north, first of all, move. Once below the Mason-Dixon Line you can enjoy this regional dish where you pick one meat (beef, pork, chicken) and three sides (typically vegetable). Dave and the Sounds have transferred that concept to the hot dog where you can pick from a selection of franks and add three from a long list of toppings. You can design your own dog. With the available combos of the meat and three you have dozens of choices. And the If Factor loves choice. Top score.

Location-where downtown meets midtown.
Access-bus, walk, bike, drive.
GA Ticket Price-gee willikers…$11? For a bleacher seat in a ballpark that is well past its prime? The scoreboard isn’t THAT cool.
Cleanliness-with less than 20 games to go, I don’t blame the Sounds for not keeping the park pristine. And the money for the obvious deferred maintenance is best invested into the new facility.
Fans-decent crowd and they really enjoyed the game.
Ambiance-yes, Greer Stadium is a bit of a hole, but it really feels like an old park. I guess because it is an old park.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability3GA Ticket Price3
It Factor5Fans5

If you read this in time, head on down to Greer Stadium and catch a game before you miss out on being able to say you did so. If you can’t make it this year, the new ballpark in downtown Nashville that opens next year will be a must-see on any baseball fan’s list. Nashville is a vacation destination anyway, why not toss in a game or two while visiting the Music City? While there, enjoy some southern cuisine and entertainment while deciding what to put on your meat and three dog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chattanooga Lookouts

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

cannot tell you how many times I have tried to catch a Chattanooga Lookouts game. At least 5 or 6, but every time my schedule of passing through did not merge well with their playing schedule. The nerve of some teams! The first few times I tried the Lookouts were playing in Historic Engel Stadium. With my penchant for old ballparks I really lament not being able to see a game there. You have probably seen it on the big/small screen. It is where most of the baseball action from the film “42,” which chronicles Jackie Robinson’s breach of the color barrier is played/filmed.

The Lookouts have new digs on the banks of the Tennessee River. AT&T Field has a nice red brick facade that gives it the veneer of a real and old-timey park. Inside the structure is mostly cinderblock with the press box and other structures made from corrugated aluminum. While it isnt’ the prettiest of Double A parks I have been in, the team built it with its own money. It was not funded by the taxpayer, and that is something that garners immense respect. I’d rather look at a smallish scoreboard than a drive-in movie sized jumbotron and have my tax dollars go to something more mundane….say road repair? Nicely done Lookouts.

There is also the lighted, Christmas ornament-looking, baseballs affixed to the exterior that make the venue unique, as well as the fact that is on a sloping hill. This was the first park on my journey that had an escalator just to get you to the main gate/ticket window area. It is in the mountains after all. It is also located in smack dab downtown Chattanooga, making it a very community oriented ballpark. The grandstand is partially roofed to keep the rain off the fans and large rotating fans hang from it to keep a breeze flowing.

Bun-nice and fresh.
Taste-the Tyson frank made a respectable showing.
Toppings-a little thin, and there were those damnable packets of relish.
Price-$3.25 is a decent price for the dog.
Portability-comes in a clear plastic sleeve. Wrapper is better, but the sleeve was ok.
It Factor-not much happening on the specialty dog front in Chattanooga.

Location-downtown. Top score.
Access-all modes and kudos for the ELECTRIC bus.
GA Ticket Price-$5 for the cheap tickets. The way it oughta be.
Cleanliness-not bad, but could use a good sweep and hose down.
Fans-nice crowd considering it looked like rain. They loved the game as well.
Ambiance-nearly perfect, could be my judgement was skewed since I visited Engel Stadium just before. But hey, it’s my blog.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor2Fans5

Even without the Lookouts you would want to stop in Chattanooga, just because it is Chattanooga. And yes, that have that damn choo choo. I was only there a day and got tired of that affiliation...I am sure the residents are fed up with it as well. But the town also has some great Southern League action. As a Dodger affiliate the team is usually stocked with talent and you can have a great outing at the ballpark and enjoy a tasty dog as well. In the area? Stop, play, eat.

Special Feature: How to Get a Foul Ball (filmed at Port St Lucie Mets Ballpark)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Atlanta Braves

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

They say life is a journey and not a destination. If this is true then it is the passengers on your journey that make it special. On Sunday I visited Turner Field which was the 30th and final Major League Baseball park for the season. I have now officially had a dog in all 30 MLB parks. And it was a close call. I met my buddy Troy Clarida at the park. Troy and I were shipmates on the USS Waddell (DDG-24) back in the early 1980s. We were integral parts of one of most fearsome weapons teams to sail the seas. Troy worked on the large calibre 127mm guns and I on the missile systems. Plus we drank a of beer together and ate food we could not identify while gallivanting around the South Pacific. It was a real privilege to down my last MLB dog with an old shipmate...even if he did smuggle in his own gluten-free bun. 

The skies above Turner Field were pretty damn gray when I arrived. There’s some history to this. During the past 3 years I have tried to catch a Braves game with Troy twice...both times we were rained out. It was looking like a third time in a row, just what I didn’t want for my final MLB stop. We were able to snag what the Braves call “Skyline” tickets. They are called such because they are high up and on the side that offers a skyline view of downtown Atlanta. They go on sale 3 hours before game time and cost ONE DOLLAR. Bravo Braves, bravo.

That dollar gave us entrance to the the mainly red brick edifice that bears the name of the former Braves owner and its wide main concourse. Turner Field was one of the earlier “retro parks” and it has a great ambiance, dog selection, location, and pretty much all that I love in a ballpark. So what do you do with a venue like that? Blow it up. Despite Turner Field only being about 15 years old, the team is building a new facility in the burbs that is slated to open in 2017 or so. A shame really, as it is a great park. And after 15 years nearly new. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, by comparison, are both over 100 years old. Who knows what they will do with the “old” park. Can I have it?

Bun-my bun was laden with gluten and delicious.
Killers Tom and Troy, Destroying Dogs
Taste-the National Deli frank was decent, but I have had better.
Toppings-you have to ask for onions as the counter, and they give you PLENTY. Grilled peppers are also available.
Price-$4.25 is not anything to brag about, but nothing to complain about either.
Portability-a nice paper wrapper, complete with the Braves logo.
It Factor-there is a stand it the main food section that offers up a great selection of specialty dogs.

Location-downtown Atlanta.
Access-walk, bike, MARTA, drive...all modes of access available.
Another Ballpark Chaser. Read His Shirt
GA Ticket Price-3 hours before the game there are a limited number of tickets available for ONE STINKING DOLLAR! Braves win that prize.
Cleanliness-nice and clean.
Fans-you mean the fans that made the wave mainstream in baseball and invented the tomahawk chop? Top score.
Ambiance-looks and feels like a baseball venue. I have no idea why the Braves want to replace this gem.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor5Fans5

La Familia Norton
And the rain? It drizzled until about the 5th inning, then it really poured. The tarp came out and I am sure the game was called. It lasted 5 ½ innings, enough to call it an official game. Troy and I dodged a bullet on that one.

After the game I met another old friend. Weary Hot Dog Explorers do get tired of food on the road and in ballparks. Amy and Steve Norton (I know Amy from when I had a real job...which I did at one point in my life) invited me to their home just outside of Atlanta for the two things road trippers cherish the most: a home cooked meal and a shower. Amy served up some fantab lasagna (I had almost forgotten what Italian food tasted like) and I was entertained by the terrific twosome of Claire and Cale (ages 5 and 2 ½). It is encounters with folks like Troy and the Nortons that make the trip bearable at times. Seeing old friends while completing the MLB portion of my quest made the rain seem insignificant.