Wednesday, April 26, 2017

West Virginia Power: The Cuban Dog

The prodigal son comes home. I grew up in West Virginia, so I was naturally excited about catching the West Virginia Power at their relatively new ballpark in the capital city of Charleston. When I was a kid, they were known as the Charleston Charlies, but it wan't until the 1990s, when they were called the Alley Cats, that I took in a game at old Watt Powell Park. It was a fun experience. But not for my date; she got hit by a foul ball....hard.

Now, in the twenty first century, I FINALLY stepped into Appalachian Power Park. It is a no-frills affair, with nothing really awesome to note. They did do a great job of placing the ballpark. It is downtown and incorporates one of the old warehouses it replaced as part of the stadium. Fans can also see the gold dome of the state capital building over the right field wall. It's one of those parks that doesn't have a huge draw to it, but is on most fans' must visit list.

I attended a noon game that was the first game of a double header to make up for a rain out the night before. It was overcast, misty and cold. But the action on the field was superb. After dealing with what is undoubtedly the most uninformed and glum fan assistance staff, I finally was able to track down the specialty dog offered at Appalachian Power Park. It is the Cuban Dog. Hint for the information booth: it's served at the concession stand right next to you.

Is uses a frank that no one could tell me the brand of, has ham, cheese, brown mustard and sweet pickles. It was mighty tasty and is highly recommended. The prices was fair as well. Had it been warmer, and I didn't need to do jumping jacks to keep from freezing, I would have had two.

Entry price into the ballpark is slightly above most at that level, but not prohibitively expensive. Parking for me was easy; there were about 100 fans at the first game as it was an early Sunday start on a dreary day. But at a regular game, I suspect it can be a bit of a bear to find a spot. I also got to see the “Toast Man.” If you are a fan of minor league baseball, you have to google him. I saw him in action at Watt Powell decades ago, and he is still at it; serving up toast when opposing players strike out.

Lastly, while the girl that accompanied me last time was hit by a ball, I got to leave with one. Balls are regularly fouled behind home plate where it is a short flight to land in the street. Prior to me grabbing it, that baseball found a beautiful black SUV to thump before it rolled down the street. Tip: always park away from the diamond. Extra tip: if you go to a game with me, keep a sharp eye out for balls; my track record for avoiding them ain't so great. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Richmond Flying Squirrels: West Coast Dog

It's nice to visit old friends. And that was exactly how I felt when I drove up to The Diamond. I took in a game here in the 1990s when it sported AAA International League action. Now, it has been downgraded to an AA team, but a team that has perhaps the most awesome name in all of baseball: The Richmond Flying Squirrels. How could you not love that name? I actually bought a hat with the team logo, and getting me to open my wallet for some team apparel means you have one damn impressive mascot.

The Diamond opened in 1985, but has the look and feel of a 70s era utility ballpark, like the ones they used to call cement ashtrays....only half of one. Instead of being circular, it is semi-circular. It has the concrete d├ęcor, crowded and stuffy concourses and crappy scoreboard that most stadiums in the 1970s had. Think Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, but sliced in half. Still, I love the diamond. If you ever want to experience how minor league baseball was before it became in vogue, take in a game in Richmond.

Hot dog wise they do pretty well. There is one stand called The Dog House, that offers a few specialty dogs. I had the West Coast Dog that included a Ballpark brand frank, habinero BBQ sauce, pico de gallo and tortilla strips. I was famished and had it in my hand long enough to snap a picture, then it was gone in about sixty seconds. It was delicious. Not huge, but tasty. They also have a Bacon Me Crazy Dog I was tempted to try.

Now the bad news. My luck with the weather ran out. I have had the good fortune to not have experienced any rain delays or rainouts. After two innings of play a torrential rain rolled in. The pulled out the tarp, and then pulled it back after a lapse in precipitation. Then they rolled it back out. I guess the radar picture didn't look too promising. That's when I called it quits. I had my dog, caught some action in The Diamond, but it was time to head west.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Greensboro Grasshopper: The Mike Pi(a)zza Dog

Wrapping up my tour of Carolina baseball I took in a Greensboro Grasshoppers game. They have a quaint little ballpark downtown that, when surrounding construction is completed, will have a nice view of the tiny Greensboro skyline. Ticket prices are very reasonable, as are concessions. They offer a few ordinary dogs, but the real hot dog excitement takes places just outside of the gate.

On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the food truck Hoppin' Hound Dogs wheels in, parks on the outside concourse and works its wiener magic. It really is magic, read the menu, put money in the window and in a few minutes an awesome hot dog comes out of the window. I think they have elves working inside.

The truck offers some truly unique baseball themed dogs that are not to be missed. All use Smithfield brand franks, but you can upgrade to an Italian sausage or brat for an extra $1.50.

Here is a rundown of their menu items: Connie Mack Attack, Hank Aaron-ing for Spicy, Mike Pi(a)zza Dog, Pete Rose Gambler, This Dog Wille Mays You, Sammy “This Ain't” Sosa, Catfish Hunter Carolina Dog, Big Leaguer. Hoppin' Hound Dogs gets the cleverness award for this year's baseball road trip.

I had the Mike Pi(a)zza Dog ($7.75 with an Italian sausage upgrade). Mainly because I had been craving pizza for some time. It really was delicious. I wish I had the stomach capacity and financial wherewithal to try all of their items. But there is always next year.

Now let's talk dogs. Real dogs. The Grasshoppers have three baseball black labs. Because black labs matter you know. One is retired from diamond duties. The other two perform on field antics such as bringing the umpire a small bucket of baseballs between innings and retrieving bats. The dogs are amazing and a big hit with the fans. Those labs make the game worth going to even in you hate baseball.

So get down to First National Bank Field (yeah, I know. Another stadium named after a bank), grab a dog, eat a dog and pet a dog.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Atlanta Braves: Some Fancy Dog

I take a certain pride in being able to say that I have had a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks. That bit of my soul came to a crashing end at the start of the 2017 season when the Atlanta Braves opened a new ballpark. Never mind that their previous ballpark was only seventeen years old, in great shape, and one of the better baseball venues in the big leagues. No one has been able to explain to me why the Braves thought they needed new digs.

But, I am a complete man once again. I have had a dog in the brand, spanking new SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. During my first season of blogging I rated each ballpark. I had a system, but since I haven't used it in a while I will simply break down the pros and cons of baseball's newest stadium.

It's new. That means everything is shiny, clean and works.
It has an AWESOME scoreboard.
Smaller displays around the park provide the fans with lots of information.
It is very well lit; seeing the action at night is not an issue.
This is a big one: they still offer reasonable priced seats. I paid $8.

It is WAAAYY too slick. They tried too hard to be everything to everyone.
It is a kid zone nightmare. It has a rock climbing wall and zip lines. Really.
Parking is super confusing. It is a hodgepodge of lots all over the place.
The majority of parking must be paid for in advance and get a “permit.”
Did I mention parking is a pain in the ass?
No one working there seems to know where anything is.
It is no where near the city of Atlanta.
Lots of security walking around. I felt like I was in 1965 Poland.

The Tomahawk PorkChop
Then there is the feel of it. The ballpark is part of a larger development called The Battery. When completed, there will be all sorts of boutique shops and restaurants for fans to get raked over the coals at. Right now, most of the storefronts are empty and have this fake paper over the windows that makes the business seem occupied; despite no people. Then there is the old-timey music piped in everywhere. Walking down the street toward the ballpark felt like Disneyland meets Twilight Zone.

Inside the stadium everything is super high tech and also a little to fabricated. The interior is a cross between Disneyland and an Apple store. For fans of baseball, true fans, we like the basics. Keep it simple. The game has survived over 100 years without the fancy gadgetry infused in SunTrust Park.

Then there is the dog. For a special and colossal food item, the Braves offer the Tomahawk PorkChop. A $26 behemoth of sandwich that includes, among other things, an entire deep fried pork chop. But its not a hot dog.

For hot dogs, the Braves outsourced their wieners to a boutique shop called First and Third. They offer fancy gourmet dogs that Paris Hilton would drool over. But I am not Paris Hilton. I want a big ass hot dog that will make me wish I had never met it after devouring it. Instead, I got what I deemed to be the most interesting dog on the menu: Nueske's Jalapeno Cheddar Bacon Brat. I supposed all those ingredients are somewhere in the brat, but I couldn't taste them. The toppings were odd as well. It was meant to be be some fancy palate pleaser, in the end it was bland and pricey at $9.

looks good, tastes bland
The information station at the ballpark had to check to see if they had anything bigger or better, because after spending $9 on the hot dog equivalent of a poodle I was still hungry. On their cheat sheet of stadium amenities they found the Mega Mega Dog. That was what I was talking about. It is supposed to be available at the same stand the Tomahawk PorkChop is made. Only no one there had any idea what it was or ever heard of the Mega Mega dog. Disappointing.

I could go on. To sum it up I have to say that the Braves spent the equivalent of the GDP of Venezuela to build an inconvenient baseball disneyland, something real fans can do without. Frankly, after all that time and trouble they went to, I miss Turner Field. 

Charlotte Knights: Ruben Dog

I get to check another ballpark off of my list that I had been trying to nail down for about three years. The Charlotte Knights stadium, home of some pretty hot AAA action. The real name is BB&T Ballpark, but as you all ready know, I visited a BB&T Ballpark just a few days ago. I think this bank is attempting a monopoly on naming stadiums. This version is an extremely nice minor league venue. Despite being dwarfed by its NFL cousin a few blocks away, it seems like a enormous facility. Perhaps after Hickory, most ballparks would feel huge.

Charlotte did it right. The stadium is situated directly downtown with the city skyline dominating over the outfield wall. The food selection is excellent and the park is spotless. The catch? It's pricey. The most I have paid for a minor league ticket all year. I plunked down around $12 for a seat, plus $6 to park. I guess you can mark that under you get what you pay for, because I left impressed.

The Knights' hot dogs could use a little help. They offer a smallish Squire Dog, which I think is a kids hot dog. But like other ballparks, they were clever enough to let Franx handle their specialty dog. They have three. I ended up with a Ruben Dog because it seemed the most exotic. If it is five years before I have another hot dog with mac & cheese on it it will be too soon. Teams need to be more creative.

The Rueben Dog could have been awesome. It was reasonably priced for a specialty dog. Although no one could tell me what sort of frank was on it, it was a natural casing meat and damn tasty. It was piled high with kraut, dressing and cheese but where it failed was the bun. It is served on a pretzel bun. I am of the opinion that even a brick tastes good on a pretzel bun; but it has to be fresh. The bun on the Ruben Dog was stale. When that happens, it ruins the rest of the dog AND it splits open and most of your hot dog's inner workings fall out of the bottom. You end up with a mess you have to eat with your hands and a not so stellar concessions experience. Serve up some fresh buns and you have a winner, otherwise you have disgruntled fans.

Provided they straighten out the bun issues at BB&T in Charlotte, this is a ballpark that is not to be missed. Just bring lots of cash.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hickory Crawdads: Dogzilla

During my road trips, one of my main goals is to visit the most ballparks that I have never caught a game at. The end game is to see a game in every ballpark associated with professional baseball. But, during my trips I am married to team schedules and geography. I would love to see a game in Kannapolis while I am in the Carolinas, but I can't convince the team to change their schedule to accommodate me. So, I found myself, for the fourth time in my life, at L P Frans Stadium in Hickory, North Carolina for a Crawdads game.

Fortunately, I love this park. It is small, usually has smallish crowds and is a well thought out, no frills ballpark. Not to mention the shows. I was treated to a 19-3 spanking of the Crawdads by the West Virginia Power. It was an offensive display that the Crawdads fans found...well, offensive. I typically root for the home team, but since I grew up in West Virginia, I felt obligated to pull for the Power. And it was just cool enough and threatening rain that I was able to wear my WV jacket.

For such a low maintenance ballpark, the Crawdads offer up something awesome called the Dogzilla. It is two large hot dogs covered in chili and slaw, with a side of fries. I did my best, but the hot dogs are catching up with me and I could only eat about a third of it all. Talk about a spanking.

Had I been at my best, I would have been tempted to take on the CLAWossal Challenge. For $25 you get a footlong hot dog, an order of pub chips, a BBQ sandwich, a Carolina burger, a corn dog and three onion rings. Eat it all in one full inning and you get your $25 back PLUS a CLAWossal tee-shirt. It's been done, but rarely. No takers on the night I was there, but it warrants another trip to L P Frans Stadium when I am at my best. And it the Crawdads have another thumping like they did last night, maybe they will let me pitch a few innings. 

Durham Bulls: Cue Dog

While in North Carolina I checked out the ballpark where the movie Bull Durham was filmed. It is still standing, and still home of baseball, albeit college baseball. The Durham Bulls built a new ballpark in the mid 1990s. I took in a game there in the late 90s, catching some innings with a guy a have known since the first grade. So it seemed natural to attend my next Bulls' game with the the same guy. When Bruce and I were at the game in the 90s, he was childless. This time he brought his college-aged daughter. Man, how did that happen? Things in life seem to happen way too quickly. Then next thing you know Chipper Jones will be retiring.

Me, Katherine the Wunderkind, Bruce
The ballpark in downtown Durham had not changed much since my last visit. It is still the magnificent brick structure it has always been with that bull just above the left field wall that migrated from the old ballpark and is feature prominently in the movie. It is one of my favorite minor league parks. They did it right when the built Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The Cue Dog
Their dogs aren't too shabby either. The offer the Cue Dog (short for Barbecue). It is basically a super large Carolina pulled pork dog. Along with the Brightleaf frank is a generous portion of pulled pork and cole slaw. Nothing too wild, except the size of it. It's a foot long meat torpedo that will sink any appetite.
Little league players with big league appetites

This is one outing that I enjoyed the company much more than the game. There is something to be said about having a monster hot dog and a beer with someone you played little league baseball with. You should call up your old friends and take in a game; today. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Winston-Salem Dash: The Cheesy Pig

The Cheesy Pig
Years ago, I went to a Winston-Salem Warthogs game in Ernie Shore Stadium. Now the city has a new ballpark (since 2008) and a new name: the Dash. The ballpark is a brick and steels structure, has a nice open concourse design with an outfield wall that has more nooks and crannies in it than Keith Richards' face.

Mascot and some handsome guy

Both tickets and parking are pricier than most ballparks in the single A level. Six smackers to park your jalopy and the cheapest seat will be close to ten bucks. As far as the level of play.....let's just say that the Dash had four errors in the first two innings and were trailing 13-0 when I left.

The Cheeseapeno
While the action on the field was bush league, it certainly was not at the concession stand. A sausage stand on the first base side offers some great concoctions. I had the Cheeseapeno Dog, which is a Lowe's (the meat guys, not the home improvement guys) sausage infused with cheese and jalapenos. Then they top it off with grilled peppers and onions. The sausage is spicy, but to really make it a scorcher they offer Texas Pete hot sauce in a pump at the condiments station. It was absolutely delicious and very reasonably priced. I was satisfied and ready to watch the game.

Then I met Kit Edwards. Kit is the hand on the concessions helm at BB&T Ballpark. I was still basking in the glow of the Cheeseapeno Dog when he insisted I try the star of of the Dash's menu, the Cheesy Pig Dog. It has a Smithfield frank which shares the bun with a hearty portion of Carolina pulled pork topped with mac n cheese. It is a dog that will fill you up and leave a smile on your face. He also keeps most ingredients sourced locally, which keeps it fresh, tasty, and provides a sustainable product. After one dog, I managed about three quarters of the Cheesy Pig. Afterward, the paramedics were able to roll me to my seat in a wheelchair after being treated for a food induced coma.

Concessions King Kit Edwards
Kit and his team do an awesome job of offering up some over the top concessions, which is an important factor in making a trip to the ballpark a memorable experience. I, for one, will never remember the name of the starting pitcher or the final score two years from now. But I will remember making a pig of myself with the Cheesy Pig. 

Augusta GreenJackets: Pimento Cheese and Bacon Dog

This was my second trip to Lake Olmsted Stadium. It had so many great attributes. It is situated next to a beautiful lake, it is small and quaint, had mostly covered seating, and reeks of minor league baseball. It's everything a fan could ask; including FREE parking. The last time I was there was in the 1990s, when it was still relatively new. It hasn't changed much, but baseball has. Since it has everything I could want they are vacating it for a brand new and shiny stadium on the river beginning in 2018. How much you want to bet the new ballpark will have a corporate name attached to it and fans will have to pay to park? Sigh.

I was glad I got to catch a game in at Lake Olmstead as it sings its swan song. I'll miss it. The GreenJackets, unexpectedly, also offer two specialty dogs. The Auggie is a meat lovers dream. In addition to the frank it had BBQ pork and cole slaw. I chose the pimento cheese and bacon dog, mainly because it seemed more original. Plus, it is a collusion of two southern comfort foods and as a soutern boy I couldn't resist. I would have eaten both but I am about halfway through my road trip and I am running low on Imodium.

In retrospect, I should have chosen the Auggie Dog. The PC&B Dog has great potential but needs a few refinements. First the frank. An upgrade to a Hebrew National frank would do wonders for the overall taste. The pimento is a little overpowering so a 50% reduction in that topping would help. The pimento is also slightly cool, that robs the finished product of heat and hot dogs need to be served hot. My recommendation: charge fifty cents more for the dog, change the frank to a Hebrew National, cut the pimento in half, add one more slice of bacon and microwave it for twenty seconds before serving. Presto! A great specialty dog. All that being said, Augusta deserves kudos for serving up not one but two over the top dogs. Considering the size of the ballpark and concessions kitchen, it is miraculous they can offer even one. And, many teams in single A and with comparable ballparks only offer a bland regular hot dog.

So, by the powers vested in my by the baseball gods, I hereby command you to head down to Lake Olmstead Stadium and soak in the awesome baseballness of this minor league gem before the GreenJackets head for fancier digs. At least it won't be razed. A college team will take over the facility once the GreenJackets are gone.

And while you are there, arrive early and play the disc golf course across the street at Lake Olmstead Park. It is world class and was home of the 2006 Disc Golf World Championship. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Myrtle Beach Pelicans: The Big Daddy/Chicago Dog

The Big Daddy
My timing still seems to be off. After fighting the horrendous traffic in the touristy town of Myrtle Beach, I finally pulled into (huh?) Field. The good news is they offer FREE parking. Bad news is it was opening night, meaning I could only get a standing room only ticket. The good news is it only cost me five bucks. The bad news is it started to sprinkle right at game time. The good news is I hunted down the what I thought was their only big dog, a very tasty Chicago Dog. The bad news is, after eating the loaded Chicago Dog, I found the actual big dog that offer: the Big Daddy. More bad news: I decided to eat them both.

Chicago Dog
First the Chicago Dog. If you want a real Chicago you need to use what Chicago uses, a Vienna Beef frank. The bad news is they don't use Vienna Beef. The good news is they use Hebrew National instead, and you know how I love Hebrew National hot dogs. In reality, using a HN frank makes the Chicago Dog taste better. Factor in that the Windy City Wieners stand really loads up that dog and you have a real treat. And it only costs five dollars. It SHOULD be the only hot dog you need all night. I have eaten a lot of Chicago Dogs in my day, this one might have been the best. HIGHLY recommended.

Then I found the OTHER specialty dog stand. The Big Daddy Dog was supposed to be so big it could satisfy Rick Reuschel. Despite being full, I had to have it. I do it for you, you know.

The Big Daddy is supposed to be a giant brat covered in grilled onions and peppers. It was all that, only not giant-sized. It ended up being comparable to a normal sized hot dog but with lots of peppers and onion. It wasn't bad, but not great either. Lesson: if at the Myrtle Beach Pelicans game, get a Chicago Dog. They are a Cubs affiliate after all.

The game? I lasted about an inning. It was threatening rain, it was super crowded and I needed some Rolaids.

The ballpark isn't the greatest. It has a very nice front facade, but the interior is just ho-hum. The neatest part is the seats are from the the Atlanta Braves old digs of Fulton County Stadium.

If this ballpark was situated further inland, away from the crazy tourist traffic, I would say put this stadium on your baseball road trip list. But, factoring in that the ballpark itself is lackluster, not historic and driving around Myrtle Beach will make you reach for a strychnine cocktail, I'd skip it. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kinston Down East Wood Duck: The Red Hot

With all of the shiny new ballparks with corporate related names that I have been visiting lately, it was nice to hit an old historic diamond that has changed little over the years. And it was an extra treat to catch an 11:00 am start. Although it has received a few updates, Grainger Stadium remains relatively like it was when it opened in 1949. It has a covered grandstand that is protected by a large, overhanging roof and a few seats on the first base side along with a set of bleachers on the third base side. The best part about going old school? You don't have all of that fancy equipment to maintain and you can pass on the saving to fans. Parking was FREE and a bleacher seat set me back all of three bucks. I'll take that over a high definition scoreboard and fancy eats any day. One caveat: I will personally donate money to help fund a new sound system. You have to be first in something, and Kinston ranks first on the list of worst sound systems in baseball. Then there is their name: the Down East Wood Ducks. Huh?

They say timing is everything, and mine was really bad during my visit. I am very much married to team schedules and geography when planning my baseball road trips and this day at Grainger Stadium saw me catching a game on kids day. I have nothing against kids; until you pack busloads of them in a ballpark. After changing seats in search of kidless solitude, I finally left in the fifth inning. No ballgame, no matter how cheap, is worth that kind of torture.

As you might expect in an old school ballpark, the concessions are old school as well. There is a hot dog, chili dog and a red hot. I was told the red hot was spicy, so naturally I tempted fate and chose that dog. At $4.50 the price was ok but not a bargain. It was a good tasting dog, and probably the freshest bun I have had on this trip. However, the frank was far from spicy. Those dreaded packets of mustard and relish are all the acceptable condiments available, although the concessionaires will put onions on it if asked. All of the franks are made by Texas Chili.

Kinston is a super small town for a minor league venue. That makes it a unique experience. Throw in a historic ballpark and very affordable entry and you end up with a must stop on your baseball adventure. Although I do recommend checking the Wood Ducks schedule to ensure you skip kids day, and bring some ear plugs to mute out that horrid sound system. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Columbia Fireflies: Vidalian Dog

Yet another minor league club acknowledges the fact that hot dogs can be exciting. The Columbia Fireflies put on the dog big time during my visit. Firstly, it was two dollar hot dog night. Secondly, all of their dog's use Nathan's Famous franks, which is my second favorite brand (right behind Hebrew National), and lastly they have a stand the allows fans to explore the outer edges of the hot dog spectrum.

Tucked into the the far third base side concourse, closer to the outfield, is the Foul Ball Franks stand. There, fans can sink their choppers into a Taco Dog, Drunken Chili Cheese Dog, Frito Dog or the Famously Hot Dog. All come in a regular size for $5 or footlong versions for $7. I chose the Vidalian (like the Vidalia onions) Dog. It is a dog covered in french cut fried onions and BBQ sauce. It left me satisfied, although not full, and breath that kept other fans at a distance. Bravo to the Fireflies for keeping concessions edgy.

The ballpark itself is called Spirit Communications Park, at least until they find another sponsors in the future. Did I mention I hate corporate sponsor ballpark names (like 98.6% of other baseball fans)? It is a slick newer park with a nice layout including my favorite which are open concourses that keep fans engaged when they sprint off for some food or drink. If the two-buck dogs didn't pack in the fans, it was one of their players. Former NFL quarterback and celebrity phenomenon Tim Tebow plays for the team. While he continuously improves, and I am pulling for him, I predict he will have a future in the broadcast booth and not on an MLB diamond. Still not a bad gig.

The fireflies mascot is a....wait for it....firefly. Not too imaginative. But his name, Mason (as in mason jar, like you collect fireflies in) is the essence of cleverness.

Parking was five bucks in an unpaved section, and tickets are another five for the grass berm or nine smackers for a cheap actual seat. The price of the specialty dogs is a bargain, and the overall cost of a Fireflies game is very reasonable.

Forget Tebow, get on down to the ballpark with the corporate name if you are in Columbia and scarf a dog or two. Try the Famously Hot Dog and let me know if it leaves blisters on your tongue.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Greenville Drive: Mac & Cheese Dog

After two disappointing hot dog ventures to minor league ballparks, I finally get an infusion of hot dog enthusiasm by the way of the Greenville Drive. Even though this small South Carolina city host a mere single A team, they go major league when it comes to hot dogs.

You can get the typical fare on a bun: regular and chili cheese (also known as the Drive Dog), but proving that a little imagination can turn a simple concessions offering into a party for your palate, the Drive also offer the “Hot Dog of the Month.” The monthly lineup includes hot dogs named: bacon cheddar ranch, Chicago, smokehouse, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Hot Tot and the mac & cheese.

I was really up for tasting a Hot Tot dog that includes tater tots, but alas, it was Mac & Cheese month. I have had several mac & cheese dogs at numerous venues, and have even made some of my own. They are difficult to get just right. If the mac & cheese is too cheesy the topping is overly messy and never stays on the bun. Greenville gets it right. Their mac is just cheesy enough and the cheese is a not as moist, which means it does a better job than most at staying on the hot dog instead of ending up on your seat, shirt and surrounding fans. It was also quite tasty. Many times the mac & cheese can overpower the rest of the dog but the Greenville version is nearly perfect. All versions of their hot dogs used Carolina Pride franks.

The real lesson here is simple. The dog of the month is just their regular dog with some unique and fun toppings, and at $5.50 a fair bargain. That means other teams can offer at least a few exciting dogs to spice up their menu. Out of ideas? Toss on some Frank's hot sauce and jalapenos and call it a “flamethrower dog.” Baseball food does not have to be boring, and the Greenville Drive have figured that out.

The ballpark itself is a gem. It is a newish facility situated on the west end of downtown. Officially, it is called Fluor Field at the West End. But that is as annoying as someone who uses two surnames. Just call it Fluor Field and be done with it. Across the street is the home that Shoeless Joe Jackson passed away in, along with a museum in his honor. The cool part is is the Greenville version of Fenway Park's green monster in left field; complete with manual scoreboard. Fitting since the Drive are a Red Sox affiliate. If you are lucky, a Norfolk Southern train will cruise by the tracks just beyond the right field wall, blaring its horn much to the annoyance of the outfielders.

Greenville is a must see stop on any baseball road trip. It is $9 for the cheapest actual seat ($7 for the berm) and $5 to park. Arrive early and tour Greenville's picturesque downtown. Then, enjoy a dog of the month at Fluor Field. If you are fortunate enough to get a Hot Tot Dog, let me know how it is. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Gwinnett Braves: Regular Hot Dog

I finally chased down the opportunity to take in a Gwinnett Braves game, called the G-Braves in local lingo. The stadium, Cool Ray Field, is actually in Lawrenceville, a far, far suburb of Atlanta.

The ballpark is unique, it is relatively new and has no clearly defined front like most venues. There is a main entrance, it just doesn't look like one. It is pretty typical on the inside, with it's most unusual feature being the condos just beyond the outfield concourse. Residents there can float in their pool and watch the game. I plan on getting one of the units as soon as you guys buy 500,000 copies of my book. You are buying my book aren't you? In case you forgot, it is Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog. It's available on Amazon, and dare I mention that it is never too early to begin thinking of what you are going to get the baseball fan in your life for Christmas.

Braves mascot Chopper
On to the dog. There is the simple hot dog, and a chili cheese version of the same. The G-Braves use a Ballpark Frank brand wiener which I consider a decent choice, but not a top-tier pick. The bun was fresh and the condiments were pretty sparse. Only pump mustard and relish. A few other toppings were available at the condiments station, but none that belong on a hot dog. I also chose the regular dog over the chili and cheese version. One, because I hate that sports arena nacho cheese stuff (which I wonder if there is any real cheese in) and two, I have a whole lot of hot dogs to eat in the near future. I'd like to finish the trip without having to buy new pants.

I paid nine bucks for the cheapest actual seat in the ballpark. Slightly cheaper versions are available if you want to sit on the grass berm. Parking is five clams. Attendance was shockingly low for this early in the season on a Sunday afternoon in great weather. Particularly with the MLB Braves sucking so bad that some of the players you witness at a G-Braves game will certainly be on the big club roster in the very near future.

Wrapping it up: not a bad tasting but mundane dog, decent price seats, nice but kind of odd looking ballpark. I'd recommend a game. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Port Charlotte Stone Crabs: Jumbo Hot Dog

IT'S BASEBALL SEASON!!! And that means it is time for a baseball road trip. I am starting early this year because....well, no reason really, it just turned out that way. I missed spring training this year but am making up for it with a whirlwind tour of the southeast. If you live in the area, let me know if you are up for a game and I will send you my schedule. Hell, I'll even let you buy me a hot dog. Also, if you have any local hot dog hot spots you can recommend, get in touch.

I start this year in Florida. I was in the Sunshine State celebrating my dad's 80th birthday. So naturally, I took him to the opening day game for the local Port Charlotte Stone Crabs. They play in the spring training facility for the Tampa Bay Rays, so I was expecting some really cool hot dogs to be offered. 

I was disappointed in the choices. It was a regular dog or a jumbo dog. The good news is they use a Kayem brand dog, which is a pretty good choice. And the jumbo version is a quarter pound feast that fills you up and goes down easy. Condiment choices were also sparse. I know it is hard for single A teams to sport a monster dog, but something unique to the team or area always makes a meal at the ballpark special. Stone Crabs, if you are listening, I can help.

The ballpark is clean and spacious, it doesn't have an open concourse so you miss some of the action while in the concessions line. And the parking lot is not paved. The best seats set you back $9.50 and it is $4 to park making an outing at Port Charlotte Sports Park affordable. 

Not a memorable game, except that I was able to catch it with my pops. And a day at the ballpark with my dad is special no matter the action on the field.