Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Arizona Fall League Recap

Just call me the Moses of meat. Like the biblical hero, I wandered the desert for what seems like forever, or at least a week. While the real Moses delivered a people to the promised land, I , as promised, delivered the lowdown on the hot dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Call me conceited, but I think my quest was slightly more noteworthy; at least to baseball fans.

The dude in robe and beard brought forth the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. I bring forth Ten Tidbits from taking in a week of Arizona Fall League action.

  1. The AFL is one of baseball’s best kept secrets; even to those living in the Phoenix area. Only the most ardent fans even know of its existence.
  2. Crowds are small. Really small. You can catch a game in a spring training facility with a crowd of a few hundred.
  3. Most games are noonish, or at least afternoon. A few are in the evening.
  4. Day games are normally nice weather-wise. If you attend a night game dress warmly.
  5. Tickets are only sold an hour before gametime if getting a seat at the ballpark on game day.
  6. Tickets are very reasonable. Eight bucks.
  7. It’s festival seating at every game, meaning your ticket lets you sit in any open seat.
  8. While you get a great break on ticket prices, you do not on concessions.
  9. The AFL has an all-star game mid-season.
  10. Parking is FREE!
  11. The concessions are scaled WAY back. Expect the basics and nothing more.
  12. You will sit next to real baseball fans, the conversation is amazing if baseball is your thing.

Then there are the hot dogs. I truly expected at least some sort of Fall League dog, or a team favorite or two. By and large the hot dogs fell flat. A few ballparks offered up a slight variation on the dogs but most just offered a regular hot dog. The same ballparks during spring training had some awesome eats.

The Nogales Sonoran Dog. Yes, it is that delicious.
But, I get it. It is hard to offer up some crazy, over-the-top dog when you only have 200 fans in the seats. It is a lot of time and expense to please 60 or so fans that would probably buy a monster dog at an AFL game. Still, each team could offer one with little effort, and I detailed a dog for each AFL team in their respective blog. I’ll recap those in the next post.

Hot dog takeaway? For an afternoon game skip the meal at the ballpark and get a wiener at Short Leash Hot Dogs near downtown Phoenix. Ask for their baseball-themed hot dog. If you are going to an evening game, grab a small snack prior to the game and then after hit the Nogales food truck after 7pm at the intersection of 20th and East Indian School Road; best dog in Phoenix. Tell them Moses sent you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Surprise Saguaros

Typically, the Arizona Fall League has six teams that play in six different spring training facilities. This year, the ballpark for the Surprise Saguaros is undergoing renovation (hopefully including a new hot dog stand). Therefore, the Saguaros are playing this AFL season at Salt River at Talking Stick; the same ballpark as the Salt River Rafters.

For those of you devoid of a desert dictionary, a saguaro is that big cactus with the arms (usually two) bent at ninety degree angles. It looks kind of humanlike in some ways. If you are a Dallas Cowboy fan you may not know that is sort of looks like a referee signalling a touchdown. If you are in or have ever been in the French armed forces, you know this as the international sign for surrender.

Normally, I would rate the hot dog here. But it is the same dog as they serve at Salt River, because you see, they are playing at Salt River. So I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say it was a larger hot dog.

But not all is lost for the Saguaros, I have designed a special hot dog for the team that they should adopt for next season:

Cactus Dog
  1. unsteamed bun
  2. Hebrew National frank
  3. sweet relish
  4. grilled green peppers
  5. three small dollops of saguaro cactus jelly

Putting jelly and other weird stuff on hot dogs is all the rage, and of course it could be optional. But if you want to excel in the world of hot dogs, you gotta push the envelope.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Salt River Rafters

While I personally dig Camelback Ranch, all of the Arizona Fall League ballparks are nice. And many believe that Salt River at Talking Stick is the nicest. Hard to argue with them, it really is fantabulous venue. It is also the only professional baseball park built on Indian ground.

Salt River is also the only team that offers up anything close to a monster dog. For nine bucks you can get a footlong, half-pound hot dog. Nothing special other than its size. I have to give them credit though as they seem to be the only ballpark trying to give the fans something to marvel at as they eat it.

Appeal-it sounded like a meat truck compared to its AFL competitors. 3.5
Ingredients-only mustard and relish were available as condiments. Some kraut would have really boosted the score. 2
Uniqueness-normally a lower score, but again, the competition is slim. 3
Monstrosity Factor-normally, I would be unimpressed but it is the biggest dog in the entire AFL. 3.5
Value-at $9 it is pricey. $7 is a better price tag for this dog.
Overall Taste-the ballpark frank was ok. I think it was slightly overcooked. The skin was tough. 3.5
The size of it helped it out weighing in at 19.5 overall. What they really need is a signature sausage at this ballpark.

Salt River Sausage
  1. potato bun
  2. Klement’s 1 pounds mild Italian sausage
  3. spicy brown mustard
  4. sauerkraut
  5. OPTIONAL: grilled onions

If you are going to go big, go big or go home.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Glendale Desert Dogs

Camelback Ranch is my favorite spring training venue. It has a southwest feel, great architecture, it is away from the hubbub of the city and it has a great view. It is also home to the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. What is not to like about a name like Desert Dogs?

I attended on Veteran’s Day. I was asked if I was a veteran upon entering, and after answering in the affirmative (that’s military jargon for yes) a man who I assume was the facility manager shook my hand, thanked me for my service and then gave me a voucher for a free team hat in the stadium store. These were not cheesy, cheap caps either. They were fitted wool caps sporting a great Desert Dogs logo. Very nice gesture by the Glendale team. Thanks. And I intend to wear it to the rest of the AFL games.

Glendale also gets some credit for being the only team so far to offer what might be considered a specialty hot dog. Camelback Ranch is the spring training facility for the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result the Desert Dogs serve Dodger Dogs, a main staple at Dodger Stadium. I am not a fan of the Farmer John frank, but I give the team credit for keeping the hot dog team-affiliated.

Appeal-my ears perked up at the words “Dodger Dog.” 3.5
Ingredients-by now you know how I feel about the frank. Plus, only mustard and relish were available for toppings. But if you can only have two, mustard and relish is the way to go. 2.5
Uniqueness-I would typically score this lower, but there is not much competition for original dogs. 4
Monstrosity Factor-the Dodger Dog is a footlong, which is bigger than most AFL dogs.  3
Value-at $4.75, and a footlong, this is the Arizona Fall League deal. 4.5
Overall Taste-despite the Farmer John frank, it went down easy. 3
Wow, finally a team to break the 20 barrier by half a point. While I continue to be underwhelmed by the dogs in the AFL, the Dodger Dog takes the lead.

Better would be a Coyote Dog (a desert dog in its own right):
  1. Bun-soft local unsteamed.
  2. Hebrew National frank
  3. pico de gallo
  4. shredded pepper jack cheese
Now that’s a dog that will get you howling at the moon.

Mesa Solar Sox

The Mesa Solar Sox play in the newest ballpark in the Phoenix area: Sloan Park. Having been there in March I was looking forward to returning as it is a truly spectacular venue. I was also sure they would have a Chicago Dog. It is, after all, the spring training home of the those lovable losers the Chicago Cubs. I was wrong.

The Solar Sox do offer a regular hot dog, a Polish dog and a brat so they have a better than average selection. I opted for the brat since the Chicago area is known for them and it was the biggest dog available.

At least Mesa had the foresight to stock up on some sauerkraut for the brat. There were also onions and jalapenos available. While this sounds sparse, it is actually one of the better condiments selection in the Arizona Fall League. What was not enviable at Sloan Park was the service. To date it had the biggest crowd, but it wasn’t huge. It took me TWO INNINGS of standing in line to get a brat. No kidding. TWO INNINGS. I have no idea what the holdup was. Once I was at the counter it took me about two minutes to complete the entire transaction. Unacceptable for any sports venue.

Appeal-a brat seemed nice after a slew of average hot dogs. 3.5
Ingredients-skimpy on the sauerkraut
Value-at $6 it was not a bad deal 3.5
Monstrosity Factor-SLIGHTLY bigger than the average dog. 2.5
Uniqueness-for the AFL it is unique. 3
Overall Taste-not too bad, but I wasn’t running back for another. 3.5
While no dog has broken the 20 barrier yet, a score of 19 puts the Solar Sox on top. What they really need is a real specialty dog. A Chicago dog would be ideal for this ballpark but I concocted the following for the team:

Sun Burst Dog
  1. soft bun brushed with cornmeal
  2. Hebrew National frank
  3. man n cheese topping
  4. crushed red pepper

Because the sun is mainly yellow, and hot. Get it?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Scottsdale Scorpions

If you remember, when I visited all ten Cactus League ballparks for spring training this March, Scottsdale ended up on top. The offered a great dog at a very nice ballpark. Hitting the game on a chilly Tuesday night I had high expectations.

Unfortunately, spring training gets more attention for dog offerings than the Arizona Fall League. I get it. The crowds are sparse and the season is short. But this was the second hot dog in as many ballparks in the AFL that, while decent tasting, was not really much to crow about.

Scottsdale uses a Block and Barrel frank and offered sauerkraut, albeit in small portions. Toss in mustard and jalapenos and you have a decent dog.

Appeal-really just a hot dog. 2
Ingredients-decent tasting frank, good tasting condiments. 4
Value-at $5 it is not a bad bargain. 4
Monstrosity Factor-get two or listen to your stomach growl in the sixth inning. 2
Uniqueness-basically none. It’s a hot dog. 1
Overall Taste-pretty darn delicious in the end. 4
A score of 17 of 30 puts it one point behind Peoria. Have the mighty fallen? Or is it that Peoria offers chili as an option? In any case, here is a suggestion to spice things up in the meek part of the greater Phoenix area by offering a team specific hot dog:

Scorpion Dog
  1. Hebrew National frank
  2. grilled red peppers
  3. sriracha sauce
  4. OPTIONAL: crushed red pepper
Because scorpions live in the hot desert, their sting is hot and their logo is red. Get it? Hopefully Scottsdale does. I look forward to eating this dog next year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Peoria Javelinas

A Javelina is a small, wild pig like creature, that lives in the desert. I knew you didn’t know that. The only reason I know is that if you leave your tent open while camping in Big Bend National Park they will enter in search of food. Trust me on this.

The Peoria Javelinas play at the Peoria Sports Complex on the west side of Phoenix. You can read my blog from spring training when I visited last March if you want some detail about the ballpark. It is a great facility with ample parking and easy to get to. Not that parking is an issue. This was my first Arizona Fall League game and I found that most games draw a few hundred fans at best. It was so quiet I could hear the umpires talking. Seriously. It was kind of eerie.

That brings us to the concessions confessions. In Peoria you have basically three choices: a regular hot dog, or a regular hot dog with either a jalapeno or cheese infused frank. Farmer John is the frank supplier, they are better known as the manufacturer of the Dodger Dog. For a buck you can get chili on any dog.

Appeal-meh, a hot dog with some extra squeezed in the wiener. I’d rather add it as a topping. 3

Ingredients-few toppings and having it integrated in the meat is not my idea of delicious. 2

Value-$5 for the dog and $1 for chili makes for a $6 hot dog. Not a budget-buster but I have seen better value. 3.5

Monstrosity Factor-I have a feeling this is going to be an issue in the AFL. It was a normal size dog and the lack of extra toppings means you will need at least two. 2

Uniqueness-while I am not a fan of the infused cheese and jalapeno, I had not seen it before at the ballpark. 2.5

Overall Taste-the Farmer John frank tastes better than the Dodger Dog version. In the end it was an OK hot dog.  3

While 18 of 30 seems low, we will have to see how it ranks among other AFL teams. I can tell you now that it looks like the Fall League hot dogs are not going to be on par with either spring training, or regular season major or minor league offerings. It might be a long week for hot dog explorers.
In my life’s mission to help ballparks offer better hot dogs I recommend this specialty dog for the Peoria Javelinas:

The Javelina Little Pig
  1. steamed, locally produced bun
  2. Hebrew National all-beef frank.
  3. pulled pork topping
  4. salsa
  5. OPTIONAL: jalapenos
That is a dog fans could enjoy and make the eating experience at Peoria Sports Complex unique to the Javelinas.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Desert Dogs With Mustard

The World Series is in the can. Congrats to the Royals, a well deserved world championship. Now fans sink into that chasm of despair between now and March known as the off-season. There is a glimmer of interest and hope as the winter meetings are held where blockbuster trades are made and free agents are signed. But otherwise, baseball is over. Or is it?

Look west dear fan. Phoenix to be precise. I present to you the Arizona Fall League. This league was formed to give prospects and younger umpires some extra development after the minor league season ended. There are six teams that play in five of the Cactus League spring training facilities (two teams share a facility).

Team composition is complicated, but basically each MLB team can send a couple of players to the Arizona Fall League (AFL). AFL teams are comprised of prospects from several MLB organizations. There is a east and west division of three teams each. And they are:

Mesa Solar Sox
Salt River Rafters
Scottsdale Scorpions
Glendale Desert Dogs
Peoria Javelinas
Surprise Saguaros

If you read my report of hot dogs during the Cactus League season, you know much about the ballparks already. But which has the best specialty dog? You don’t know? Me neither. But I am going to find out. That’s right, while you drown in your tears of sorrow about the lack of hardball available to watch, I am headed to Phoenix on November 9 to catch a game and down a dog in each of the Arizona Fall League ballparks. Don’t be jealous. Ok, you can be jealous.

Live in the area? Meet me at the ballpark and I will let you buy me a ticket, dog and a beer. Otherwise, stay tuned on reports of dogs and how my tan is coming along.