Note: Nothing pleases a human being more than
having an immovable sense of purpose in life. This author is
convinced that he was put on this earth to travel to baseball stadiums
around the country and determine the quality of the hotdogs served there,
thus providing a desperately needed service to humanity. It is his mission;
it is his quest. And you are quite welcome. You can send money if you like,
but it is not necessary. If even one person does not have to experience a
bad hotdog at a game, it will have all been worth it.
series of reviews have been arranged in chronological order. The
adventurous-hotdog-wanderer (a term which sounds much better in German)
encounters these stadiums in seemingly haphazard sequence and writes about them
as soon as he is able to metaphysically unpack the experience (often a year or
two later). However, it has
come to his attention that many people consider this page a resource for their
own hotdog encounters--in fact, this portion of the website has experienced a
steady stream of inquiry, in contrast to the
rest of these pages, which do, in
fairness, generally deal with unsavory subjects like classical piano music. Thus we provide an index, as our reviews have now swelled to a
small handful. Once a quorum is present; that is, a small sampling from each
division in baseball, league standings will no doubt take their place, according
to best hotdog. Meanwhile, the various divisions in baseball are mixed
haphazardly. I hope purists can stand it.
Bank One Ballpark -- Philadelphia July 4, 2004
|I have been to the epicenter of patriotism. It is
not possible to get any closer to the heart of Uncle Sam than to sit in the
ballpark in Philadelphia on a sunny July 4th afternoon watching baseball and
munching on a hotdog.
Well, alright. My mother wasn't there. And there
wasn't any apple pie for desert, so maybe I'll have to hit the trifecta another
year. But you've gotta admit, this one was in bull's-eye territory.
If you haven't been to the aforementioned
ballyard--have you seen the American flag? Well, it looks very much like that.
Well, not in size, so much, or in shape. But you've never seen so much red,
white, and blue in your life. Rather clever of the ballpark's designers, too.
You see, the Philadelphia Phillies are, for reasons of eye-safety, I'm guessing,
only allowed two basic team colors, and they've chosen red and white. But no
matter, because the fans call each other before the game to make sure that there
will be an even split between those sporting red and those wearing white.
The seats are all blue. Now you see where I'm going
I want you to imagine Baltimore's Camden yards on a potter's
wheel. Two giant hands descend and slowly apply pressure to the sides of the
stadium. What happens? Well, of course the pottery gets taller. Now the potter
is inserting hundreds of little staircases so the patrons can ascend to levels
well above anything the Babylonians ever dreamed of.
If you haven't been to Baltimore's Camden Yards,
imagining any recently built ballpark will do, since they're all modeled on
Camden Yards. Jacobs Field in Cleveland is what happened when a group of
businessman, admiring the finished product in Baltimore, decided they could jam about 5000
luxury skyboxes in there to help pay Albert Belle's salary for a year.
Philadelphia's version is a vision of what a stadium would look like if it were
more of a skyscraper.
I liked the place. And I've been all the way to the
Now the field on the other hand--well, the field,
though a bit roughed up (probably from outdoor concerts) was
in the main a perfectly nice ball diamond- it just happened that, on this particular occasion, there was a bit of a
problem with the outfield wall. Somebody thought that baseball stadiums didn't
look enough like superhighways, so they put up a little transparent guardrail at
the top of the wall. Behind said rail was what I will magnificently describe as
a group of rocks.
Sometime in the second or third inning--my
prodigious memory has denied me access to the actual details--a member of the
Phillies hit what was charitably described as a home run by the second base
umpire. In actuality, the ball hit the top of the railing, bounced straight up,
and was eventually caught by the Baltimore Oriole's center fielder. It should
have been a ground rule double, but by the time the whole mess had been
overturned on appeal (appeal is the technical term for what managers do when
they kick dirt on the umpire) the runners had all returned to the dugout, and in
an effort to achieve world peace, the umpires, instead of returning both of the
players who were on base at the time to the place they would have ended up had
the correct call been made, decided to make up a rule which allowed Philadelphia
to score a run. But it is probably my crass partisanship that causes me to state
that they decided to make up a rule. Of course, strictly speaking, umpires can
no more make up rules than the New York Yankees can blow a playoff series with the
Boston Red Sox.
The run didn't matter, which is why I hereby
magnanimously forgive everyone involved, including the Philadelphia chamber of
commerce which is obviously worried that some of their finest citizens might get
the urge to migrate to Tucson unless they provide free samples behind the
outfield as a warning not to romanticize desert environments. Everyone was just
doing their jobs to the best of their ability, including the Orioles, who handed
the Phillies a loss that afternoon, 9-2.
Oh, and I loved that hotdog. Very beefy.
Jacobs Field -- Cleveland, Ohio June 28, 2004
Despite having spent eight years of my
life in Baltimore, whereby I became a naturalized Oriole's fan, my original
hometown is in the vicinity of Cleveland, so when Kristen suggested we
attend a game against the Orioles while on a trip there, I couldn't say no.
Thus we re-enacted the War Between the States; the Yankee boy with his
loyalties to the Red and Blue, and the Southern Belle fiercely defending her
boys in the Orange and Black.
|If you are in the mood for something with the
consistency of paste, the taste of recycled poster board, and an appearance that
will make you marvel about what they can do with plastics these days, the
hotdogs at Jacobs Field are your item. If you are not so inclined, not to worry.
You can always wash it down afterward with something like the hottest, flattest
soda ("pop" in the Midwest, "coke" in the South) I have ever had the inverse
privilege to consume.
Visitors to Jacobs Field (affectionately known as
"the jake" by Clevelanders--Dick Jacobs, the club owner, felt compelled to write
a memo to the media trying to encourage/demand that this kind of thing be
stopped since the phrase is often used colloquially in reference to a toilet,
but to no noticeable effect) --Visitors to Jacobs Field will bask in the
splendor of the view of the Cleveland skyline, and the relative spaciousness of
the lower levels as they make their plebian way to the fifth (yes) floor in
order to bake in the northern Ohio sun and ponder incredulously just how small
it is possible to manufacture a hotdog which costs $3.75.
Jacobs Field is also known for its massive wall of
luxury sky boxes which contribute to a more gargantuan look than some of its
retro-ballyard brethren and for the healthful effects of the air since
far-sighted legislators have decreed that no smoking is to take place on the
grounds. These same legislators were kind enough to pay for the stadium by
levying a cigarette tax so that smokers wouldn't feel entirely left out of the
loop. I miss Cleveland politics.
Now that the Indians have ceased their dizzily
winning ways and returned to a "rebuilding" period (the last one ran from 1954
through 1994) it is possible to find a seat on short notice, particularly if you
encounter one of those characters who patrol the grounds near the park who, upon
opening their cloaks, seem to have just come from a hostile takeover of
Ticketron. However, legal ticket purchase has its charms and usually, as on this
day, leads us to the dazzling rooftops of Jacobs Field. Cleveland is a city
bedecked with clouds, several of whom have residence permits, but persons who
think that this exempts them from having to wear sunscreen had better beware.
There are colorful characters inside the park as
well, such as the man with the bass drum who comes to every game and sitteth in
the center field bleachers. Verily, if the Indians are lucky enough to get men
on base, the drum starts to pound and the cheering augments accordingly. Folks
love their home town team, and if you brought an infidel with you who dares to
cheer for the opposing side there can be nasty stares from the faithful.
At least my hotdog isn't judgmental. It isn't very
filling, either. Persons who have spent portions of their lives at McDonalds and
who feel subconsciously cheated if their foodstuffs aren't mashed flat and
lukewarm will love the fare in Cleveland where they take the same approach.
If you chose to compound your injury by rooting for
the Baltimore Orioles that afternoon, you would, as a Panglossian byproduct of
acquaintance with suffering, come away with the inevitable pains of having built
a little too much character for one afternoon! Despite my not wearing a
Cleveland Indians jersey that day in what was surely one of the most romantic
gestures ever recorded, the Orioles chose to lose 14-0, something that must
surely be explained, not by an appalling lack of pitching, but by the fact that
before the game members of the Orioles must have been locked in a room somewhere
in the catacombs below the ballpark and forced to consume the local hotdogs.
Camden Yards -- Baltimore, Maryland September 25, 2004
Baltimore, Maryland seems like
the hotdog capital of the world, to judge by the number of
commercials for the Oriole's most official product, many of which feature
the Oriole's favorite son Cal Ripken Inc. as spokesperson, that radio
listeners have to put up with in a typical inning of their favorite pastime.
Part of me wants to pan their dogs without mercy to avenge my ears and my
sanity. But the hotdogs are not that bad really. Not as good as the ones in
Philly, and way better than the ones in Cleveland, which currently puts them
in 2nd place in the rankings, for those of you scoring at home. If you are
not scoring at home, quit goofing around on company time!
|Those of you laboring under the delusion that
Baltimore is not the center of the baseball universe had better get your
doctrine straight before meeting my wife, Kristen. The woman bleeds orange
and black (I married her anyway). The Orioles, for their part, were so depressed
when their number one fan left town some years ago that they haven't had a
decent season since.
Although the quality on the field may be lacking,
the quality of the field, and of the ballpark experience in general, has
always been high, thanks to the loveliness of Camden Yards, America's first
atmospheric, throwback-to-the-day-when-everything-was-pure ballpark. Now, of
course "everybody is doing it." But Camden Yards was the first to feature a
smaller seating capacity than the thunderous megadomes of the Eighties,
friendlier sightlines through lack of massive poles every six feet to hold up
the third deck, and a portion of the stadium being cut away to feature part of
the civic skyline. Now built to blend harmoniously with and celebrate the
surrounding city instead of trying to swallow it whole, stadiums have become
known as ballparks again, and, except for that thing with the steroids, a few
season-threatening labor disputes, and crybaby owners making the front pages
crank every now and then, baseball has regained its innocence. LA!LA!LA!LA!
Camden Yards dates from 1992 and, with its
characteristic warehouse watching over right field, it is a wonderful place to
view a game, provided it is not August and there is a breeze. Oriole Park and I may have gotten off to a bad start
(my first game was in the aforementioned sweltering August), but
since then I have witnessed many games there, and I could think of nowhere
better to hold the business meeting I had in mind.
My "clients" were Daniel and Margarita, two friends
of mine. The purpose of the meeting was to announce my impending nuptials. Since
the lower bowl of Oriole Park is generally stuffed with business persons
entertaining clients this seemed especially appropriate, even though we were
seated in the upper regions, the only place being available to the people who
are ::gasp!:: there to watch baseball!
I waited until the fourth inning to make my
announcement, giving the Orioles time to show their skills, and, on this
occasion, suggest that they might win the ballgame, which, if I recall correctly,
they did, despite my inattention during the middle innings.
After being congratulated and closing the deal with my potential groomsman, we
went back to the business of the game, in which, I believe, the Orioles staved
off a 9th inning rally (or allowed it to happen, depending on how you wish to
look at it) before closing the door on the hapless Tigers.
But you wanted to get my opinion of the hotdog. It
was in Philadelphia, some months previous, that I suddenly turned to Kristen and
announced that it would henceforth be my passion in life to travel the country
consuming and then reviewing a representative specimen of every major league
hotdog known to exist. She has apparently forgotten this promise because not a
month later she said she'd marry me. But on this afternoon, so far apart, I was
thrown upon my skills as a hotdog aficionado flying solo, and in the company of
two friends who are not hotdog lovers, one of whom was mainly there because she
likes the mascot.
Yes, the Oriole bird is really something. And so was
the hotdog, which was long gone by the fourth inning so I can assure you that
the results of my announcement did not affect my opinion of it. I have also had
the opportunity to test the Oriole dogs under many different conditions so I
think I have a pretty good bead on them. They are not the best, certainly; but
they do offer a couple of things that dogs in other parks only wish they did.
One is the price. I did not buy my hotdog inside the park. There is a street
alongside the park on which vendors ply their trade and hotdogs cost only--and I
realize this is big news in the stadium hotdog world--only a dollar. If you want
chili on your dog I think it is a little extra. This is another great thing. To
my young friends reading this: I have learned as I get older that a number of
things that we thought life guaranteed us are not so, and this includes the
right to get chili on your hotdog. Some stadiums do not bother with this. I do
not know if they bother with it inside, where the price is considerably higher.
I suppose if I wanted to do a purely scientific study I might have to purchase
one. But unless I get a grant from the National Institutes of Health I will not empty my pockets for
such a thing. I recommend getting your hotdog outside the park, where the relish
and the mustard flow and the skies are not cloudy until the 3rd inning.
If you are going to Oriole Park at Camden Yards (the
stadium's full name, which I only use when I am angry with it) you might run
into us. I recommend bringing your sunscreen. The woman yelling is Kristen.
Yankee Stadium--New York City July 4, 2005
|After a couple of summers spent preparing for the undertaking (deep breathing
exercises, yoga, meditation, and consuming sweetened beverages) it was at last
time to visit that northeastern Nineveh* whose symbol is the indomitable New York
Yankees Baseball Club. Yankee stadium has traditionally functioned as a house of
horror for my partner's beloved Orioles; within the great temple that Babe Ruth
built with his bare hands are the bloody remains of many Orioles' losses, some
by umpire, some by a scant resemblance to pitching, others by failure to field
the ball cleanly in the late innings of a close game, some simply because the
Yankees felt like scoring about 20 runs more than the Orioles on a particular
afternoon. But I digress.
You are waiting in feverish anticipation of my thoughts on the hotdog. Wait
no longer. I ordered my hotdog outside the stadium this time. Judging by the
length (they come in foot long and polish sausage styles), I determined that it
was necessary only to order one and I would be satisfied. As it is, I think I am
still paying the final installments on my monthly credit card bill.
The hotdog they serve in New York is a perfect representative of its
environs. It does not sneak up on you. The moment you bite into it it tells you
everything it wants you to know and if you don't like it that's just too bad for
you. It is unabashed. It does not unfold slowly or show you new things by
degrees as you pursue your quizzical art-lover's relationship with its
reconstituted mysteries. It is just there, all of it at once, and with no
reservations that, in deference to your unfamiliarity, it might do better to
introduce itself to you and then wait to practice its magic on your digestive
system once it has gained your confidence. It is spicy, but it did not cause
heartburn. At least, I'm pretty sure it can't be traced back to the hotdog.
The hotdog may be no pilgrimage to Parnassus, but the city of New York
continues to surprise. Its citizens were on their very best behavior that day;
there wasn't a single shouting match to be had anywhere. It was expected that
New Yorkers would not be too threatened by our Baltimore Oriole's jerseys, any
more than Goliath felt the need to hurl oaths at David, preferring instead to
decapitate him amidst jokes and good cheer; but their genial warmth was surely
the result of storing it up for a long time. True, the remarkably friendly
fellow with his three kids all decked in Yankee pinstripes we met on the subway
turned out to actually be from New Jersey (aha! I couldn't help thinking) but
everyone we met turned out to be in a similarly good mood, and, as usual, quick
to help the out-of-towners with an encyclopedic knowledge of the best way to get
someplace (under normal conditions, New Yorkers will tell you where to go
whether you've asked for directions or not).
A festival atmosphere prevailed in the Bronx that day; as if to show that
even New York can provide a foreshadowing of heaven if we would stop visiting
commerce on each other. The sun smiled down
on us, but we did not mind its attentions with the roof to shelter us. It was
our privilege to sit in the very last row, at the top of the stadium, the land
they call row X, just to the right of home plate. It was a rare day, and the
Yankees treated us to a long game to reward us for making the four hour journey.
The hotdog was gone by the time the game started. It did not overstay its
welcome, although there was a pleasant and authoritative aftertaste. In the
fourth inning I went to purchase some lemonade and our pitcher was so good as to
plunk the Yankee batter so that both managers and all the umpires had something
to talk about for five minutes so that I would not miss any of the game. And all
because I gave New York
a bad review a few months ago.
This royal treatment by the city of New York leaves me slightly sheepish
about letting fly with any criticism. It may be nitpicking, but I think putting
Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York" on endless loop after the game is in poor taste.
(Three or four times through would be enough).
Finally, I should like to apologize to George Steinbrenner, the owner of the
Yankees, and also to Peter Angelos, who owns the Baltimore Orioles. Both of them
were having birthdays on the July 4th holiday, and I neglected to send cards. I
hope they didn't mind splitting the ticket monies instead.
R. F .K. Stadium Washington, D. C. July 23, 2005
failing to order a Fenway Frank when he had the chance, Michael Hammer
caused a ketchup manufacturer in Dubuque to layoff one of his truck drivers,
who would later murder an ant on the sidewalk! Now he is doomed to wander
the earth in search of the perfect hotdog (Michael, not the trucker)
returning to his home ballpark only once in seven years. It is only the love
of a good woman that can save him and break the curse. But through an
accident involving radioactive nachos, she too, must now wander the National
league. If only he could get a job writing blurbs on fast-food containers
and save them both!
Before I begin my review I must
address something which wounds me deeply. It has come to my attention that my
writing style sometimes resembles that of a pretentious 19th century author and
that this in no way ennobles the very important subject of hotdog connoisseurage
(spell check thinks that isn't a word. Very well: connoisseurocity). I shall
call your attention to this unjust criticism so that, in the time-honored
tradition of presenting a speck of one's own criticism in the public view,
I may dispatch of it forthwith by a finely-toned torrent of words. It is all
Actually, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium in
Washington, D. C., comes closest to resembling a 19th century novel of any of
the modern National League ballparks. It is vast, it is ungainly, and toward the
end of the experience you begin to dimly perceive that all of the corridors are
somehow related to one another, though the author of them has ingeniously
saved this revelation for the very end. My greatest acquaintance with these
hallowed hallways came during the sixth inning, when I went in search of a
repast and discovered several long rows of people twisting and twining hither
and of course thither, their distant minions fading into the ineffable shadows
of concessionary existence.
I purchased my hotdog inside the stadium this time
because, although they also sell them outside, there are great big signs posted
at the entrance to the castle to the effect that it is illegal to bring any food
inside. I imagine Peter Angelos may be behind this. He owns the Baltimore
Orioles, thirty miles to the north, and was virulently opposed to his neighbors
to the south setting up shop near enough that they might draw away some of his
pilgrims from the southern reaches. What better way to kill off a team than to
entrap its most trusting fans in a series of silly regulations and bureaucratic
impossibility! It is cheaper than hiring a Minotaur.*
The hotdog itself is hardly worth writing about; it did
not greet my taste buds with anything particularly welcoming, although it was
not particularly awful, either. It closely resembled a hotdog that I could have
bought at the store, 10 to a pack. It was slightly warm, which does not do
honour to its name, though no great injury, either. It was sort of so-so. More
or less. Definitely.
Back we twisted among the crowds and the maze to our
seats high above the carnage happening on the field. Baseball carnage can happen
suddenly and then remain in the psyche the entire game, recalling itself only to
memory. All of the actual scoring occurred in the first inning, when my fiancée was
busy getting her Italian sausage, and then very little happened thereafter,
giving us plenty of time to reflect on the staleness of the nachos and the
watered-downness of the lemonade.
But if you are in a historical mood, R. F. K. offers
one of the few remaining monuments to that period of history when ballparks were
large and round, with pillars and long concrete ramps. It is only a temporary
home for the Nationals; a fashionable brick, retro ballyard is being built and
will be ready in a few years so that all of this Romantic foolishness can be
The Nationals won the game, incidentally. I don't care
much for the name of the team. Washington has had two teams named the Senators
and both were atrocious. I can understand their desire not to repeat their
errors, but the term national suggests to my mind "foreign national" meaning not
actually a citizen of the United States and usually when the term is brought to
our attention it is because they have done something dangerous. The legions of
productive and peaceable ones are never in the news. I also think this is kind
of a copout; given D. C. 's particular characteristics as a town, they could
have come up with something that didn't sound like a generic recapitulation of
the name of the league in which they are playing.
A while back, a satirical article in the paper
suggested a few names for the team. My favorite was "the Washington Gridlock".
Coors Field Denver, Colorado
August 9, 2005
|The ability to review a ballpark hotdog is not one which is given to
everybody. Having the rare taste faculties needed to carefully sort out the
innumerable ingredients masquerading as something else in combination with you
don't want to know what, to be able to decide, on a moment's notice, whether
this hotdog is worth consuming by the masses of persons who are depending on you
to render a virtuoso's judgment because they themselves, poor souls, realize the
inadequacy of their own ability to form an opinion about such an important
matter, and then requiring that those unfathomably fine-tuned impressions be
translated into the finest assortment of adjectives and memorable phraseology
that will give the consumer pleasure all over again and perhaps not fall too
very short of approximating the delectable sensory experience which the hotdog
itself provided, a thrill which is worth the probability that your life will be
shortened as a result of eating it, this is the enormous responsibility of the hotdog critic,
even to the point where he puts his own life on hold while searching for an
elegant manner in which to conclude the sentence in which you are presently entwined.
This brings to mind a passage from Boethius,* in which he declares that there
are three kinds of people having to do with music (stay with me here). The first
category are those who perform it. He decides that this group, because it spends
all its energy on physical labor, is "completely lacking in thought." The second
group, the composers, are similarly suspect, because they use "a natural
instinct" rather than "thought and reason" to write songs. But the third group,
ah, these are the critics. "Because this group is devoted totally to thought and
reason, it can be considered musical." Thus, it is not those who create the
music or those who interpret it (i.e., perform it) who are the musicians, but the ones who sit in judgment over those who do.
Do you see my point? It is not the hotdog manufacturers who are the true
artists, or the vendors who bring them to you (for three easy installments of
$8.95) but those rare individuals who devote their lives to determining whether
that hotdog is worthy of the American consumer. Of course, I flatter you. If you
were really worthy you would not need my learned opinion. It is I alone who have
developed the taste-capacity to sort the truly great from the
not-so-truly-great, and have, impelled by a great duty, spent many hours using
my finely-wrought talent for good. Viva the masses.
A burden of this magnitude, however, can benefit greatly from having a
supportive second; often when you are dueling with a hotdog, many of the details
of mundane life fail to impress themselves on you, and being in the grips of a
creative coma at the wrong time may cause you to lose your bearings on the way
back to row EE seat 605B, or wherever the impudent ticket seller, unaware of
your colossal importance, has chosen to seat you. No matter, hotdog vapors
travel well through the upper atmosphere.
It is well, for these and sundry other reasons, that I was able to attach
myself to my dear wife, who is fully committed to my mission, and was just as
excited as I was about planning our honeymoon so that it allowed for a trip to
the ballpark. It was unfortunate that it chose, from the third inning on, to
indulge in a light rain, and to import some of the frigid Rocky Mountain air
directly to our seats, also singularly unfortunate that our once hometown
Baltimore Orioles were on the Jumbotron as my wife was returning to her seat;
they were getting clobbered again. This always affects her deeply, poor thing.
However, the atmosphere before the game was smashing. The air was still
somewhat warm, the sky clear, and the promise of an attractive new ballpark to
see--having arrived over an hour early we had plenty of time to promenade
blissfully around the park, including a lovely trip to the rock garden out in
left field--all this contributed to a relaxed and happy frame of mind.
I mention all this so that when I tell you in a moment what the hotdog tasted
like you won't think I was influenced in any way by the brilliant sheen of being
on a honeymoon or the pleasant incidences of that moment, and so that, in future
installments, your trust in my integrity will be that much greater.
It was poor. The man who sold it, outside of the stadium, where he had
his own fascinating monopoly (not another cart visible) was well-mannered. And
he gave the hotdog a short recap on the grill before matching it with a bun and
surrendering it to its new owner, so at least it was warm and mediocre. If it
were cold, I would blast it.
Instead, it was merely harmless. But if they think they can fool me with a
plain old grocery store hotdog when we are entitled to expect more they are
dealing with the wrong Doctor of Hotdogology. You don't go
to Major League ballparks to see Uncle Steve try to shag flies with moderate
success; you want to see the best athletes make the most scintillating plays, so
why should it be any different with the concessions; if they are not made of
really fine meat, they should hide this inconvenient fact as best as possible and
at least try to give the appearance of specialness. Employ hickory smoke and
mirrors if necessary. P. T. Barnum could teach the folks at Coors Field a thing
or two about how to do this (if he weren't currently dead).
Of course, I did not buy the inside-the-park $8 extravaganza they call a
Rocky Dog. I am still waiting for my grant from the Hotdog Research Foundation,
and besides, baseball has the element of Democracy, illusory or not, and
culinary greatness should not be reserved for merely the upperclass hotdogs. So
I stand by my decision to again sample the economy size.
The Rockies themselves, apparently living on
ballpark hotdogs alone, were summarily destroyed by the Expos, 14-3.
New York City May 23, 2006
|One of the fun things
about Shea is the airplanes that go by every minute. It is as if you are at
an aquarium for 747s. (right-hand picture--you can barely make one out to
the right of the left light tower) There is also a cheesy "big apple" that
rises over the left-center wall after every Mets homerun (and lights up).
For additional fun, we recommend catching a game during 40mph winds.
There is a very human tendency,
observable in all of us at some time or other, to imagine the glamour and
romance that goes with someone else's calling in life, and to disregard the
possibility that there may be a price to pay for it after all. It is easy to
imagine, when you see someone practicing their craft at a high level, making it
all look so easy, that there might not be much effort involved, even a great
deal of pain. But, I assure those of you, comfortable in your living rooms at
home, perhaps with a favorite beverage by your elbow and your feet propped up as
you stare contentedly into your monitor, that someone has to go forth and do
what is often some very dicey field research in order to bring you the very best
in hotdog criticism, and then take all of that suffering and make entertainment
out of it. This may, indeed, be very close to the definition of great art.
"Well, Sancho" I
said gallantly, "let us return to New York. We shall see, while there, if the
city is still under the strange enchantment which made everyone so nice to us on
our last visit."*
Under the influence of this pleasant
thought, we decided to make the four-hour journey from Baltimore by car up I-95
and into the heart of Queens. Having spontaneously determined that we would not
send Erasmus to college
after all, we were able to spend what would have been the vaunted "college fund"
on the tolls necessary to get us there. I should point out, before you have a
similar experience, that the Lincoln Tunnel and Queens Mid-town tunnel together
cost $10.50; the Varrazono bridge by itself is $9. This led Sancho to much
swearing, but in fact, it is slightly cheaper to go this way since the next
bridge in the series sports the absolutely latest advance in bridge
technology--somehow the architects found a way to make the bridge stay up
without putting tollbooths on it to distribute the weight properly (like
capstones). This makes
it free, and also means that you will pay roughly $20 to get into and out of
Queens, give or take $3.
Occasionally, I have the irksome
impulse to be useful, so I am linking to a
map of the area
around Shea. There are no signs telling you where to go until you don't need
them anymore, practically. You should also know that Shea stadium does not like
to consort with other buildings; until you are right in
front of it, you will think you are going for a drive in a national park. True,
it is near the tennis center, but that building also likes to make pretensions of rurality.
Upon our arrival at Shea, we were
instantly struck by the fact that the weather was behaving rather badly.
Congress has yet to pass a law guaranteeing decent weather at baseball games;
since they have not acted, I am proposing a constitutional amendment to that
The wind was the main thing; twice it
caused me to leave the stands and go in search of hot chocolate and blankets.
Shea having been built before the glorious era of unique civic ornaments that
have sprouted up since the 90s like massive fast-food collectibles (collect all
25 cities!), there were a lot of long ramps involved. Several vendors did not
offer hot chocolate per se, merely the opportunity to read said item on
their overhead menu. This in itself did not warm me, nor did the Mets' onfield
performance, but the exercise I got running up and down 1000 yards of
meticulously manicured asphalt ramp did almost make the hot chocolate
unnecessary. When I returned to my seat, my squire was freezing. I explained my
little adventure, including the fact that the Mets' team shop was out of Mets
blankets, even if they probably cost $400 a square yard.
My squire tried to be positive. "Well,
as they say, 'hotdogs cost extra when there is no one to buy them,' and 'it's a
poor blanket that blows away in the third inning,' and 'the hot chocolate isn't
so hot when there's no chocolate in it.' No amount of proverbs could keep Sancho
warm, so we left after the 7th inning. The Mets miraculously tied up the game in
the 8th, after a lackluster 7 innings, so determined were they to keep playing far into the night and until the temperature got down to zero.
We heard the next three innings on the
radio until we arrived at our overnight lodgings. The Mets were still playing.
About three innings later, they finally decided they had entertained us enough
(by television now) and hit a solo home run to win the game. We had met the
As for the hotdog, it was pretty good,
if much too thick-skinned. Continuing my radical tendencies, I ordered from a
stand (inside) that sold Nathan's brand, even though Hebrew National claims to
be the "official hotdog." It was warm, and spicy, as you would expect from
a New York hotdog, and it filled me up. But it was a distant memory by the 13th
inning. $10 worth of hot chocolate later.
U. S. Cellular Field Chicago,
Illinois June 6, 2007
squirmed and squealed in its apathetic bun, ketchup glistening like beads of
sweat on its frightened brow as this reviewer opened his mouth to reveal a
particularly nasty set of positionally enhanced bicuspids
eager to tear asunder the meticulously crafted factorily precise cohesion of
cereal and meat products that considered itself a hotdog. "Please! Don't eat
me before the third inning!" it bargained, clinging to the only corporeal
form it knew. "Let me see the Sox bat around once." Unmoved, the reviewer
closed in. I am not a Make-a-Wish foundation for hotdogs, he
muttered.. Please!" The dog clearly lacked the cognitive calm necessary to
complete another sentence. It was panicked. "...Noooooo!" it screamed as the
merciless jaws closed around it.
Got your attention?
One must indulge in a bit of picturesque fiction nowadays in order that the
dry facts may go down easier. And the dry fact is that I did not find this
hotdog particularly edifying. It concerns me that in an age of economic
despair, with the noise of distressing foreign events growing increasingly
clamorous, that someone does not take the trouble to ease our burdens by
producing a really fine hotdog. Quite possibly they feel that they are doing
their civic duty if they produce something which large numbers of (captive)
persons will agree to consume, even giving something approaching an hour's
wages to do so. This does not, however, excuse them from the moral
responsibility to satisfy digestorial requisites of a higher order. It may
be capitalism, but it does not sit well with those who feel a higher calling
in life is necessary to its constitution. Critics, whose individuality,
etched sharply into the skyline of humanity, calls forth from deep within
their souls seismic waves of intellectual passion, crying out against the
lazy, the contrived, the obvious--lone wolves who submit themselves to
bitter attack so that humanity may lurch ever forward in its quest for light
and love--they are those who feel a natural enmity with those things whose
existence is based solely on what a
pacified public will accept without bloody revolt. The hotdog was not
abhorrent--it was far worse. It was
But if we can't have bread (the bun didn't finish well either), we can have
circuses. Somewhere in the depths of their aesthetic souls, the White Sox
knew something was wrong. They reached down deep inside, and fetched
out....Cicada night. Oh yes, believer.
If you've never been to a minor league ballpark, with its myriad attendant
promotions--sausage races about the 3rd inning, bowling for pizza coupons in
the fourth with giant inflatable rubber balls and pins--there is still a
chance that you may be
assaulted by such practices in some of our major
league ballyards. Such was this celebration of our septidecca-annual
brethren's descent on mankind. It included horrendously distorted cicada
noise on the public address system, and a giant dancing cicada mascot
before, during, and after the game (if you include my nightmares).
Still, if you've never seen a giant cicada doing "Y-M-C-A!" you are no doubt
kicking yourself for not having been on the south side of Chicago one night
in June. You will have to wait 17 years for an encore (and probably at a
different ballpark with a different corporate logo on the front--corporate
America doesn't like you to get too settled in). On the other hand, you can
hear that perennial hit, "the monster mash" on the internet right now,
surely. You'll have to imagine the choreography but the distortion can be
achieved by getting cheap speakers and turning them way up. If you feed them
directly into your ears until you lose coherence, you will begin to imagine
many things. You may even be able to feel the cicadian rhythms
This last piece is among the auditory hallucinations that still visit me at
night sometimes. Do you see the kind of things I go through to get my
readers the truth?
Of course, whenever such impressions get too overwhelming, I can always
picture to myself a long, relaxing stretch of I-57, the most deliciously
boring stretch of highway ever conceived, east of Iowa. It was necessary to
brave two and one-half hours of this modern hymn to concrete in order to
find ourselves at the southernmost transit station for the journey into the
interior. Thus we had the opportunity to experience Chicago's public
transportation, which seems mostly to be in working order, except for the
parts I would rather not talk about, and to revel in the orange barrels in
bloom along the highway. If you are planning a trip in 2008, you should know
that Chicago is under construction (not just parts of it). You might need to
detour through Milwaukee.
Busch Stadium, St. Louis August 5, 2008
|From time to time I get barraged by a long line of people all dying
to know what it is like to review hotdogs for a living, and whether I
might share my insights with them so that they, too, might be better
equipped to render their own well-informed, or at least immovable
opinion on whether a particular specimen is worthy of their neighbor's
consideration. Perhaps they are looking for a few useful catch-phrases
to drop at the next barbeque in order to seem more astute than their
associates in matters of high cuisine. Maybe they are afraid of being
engaged in a conversation when the subject matter inevitably turns to
hotdogs, America's next dietary craze, and looking stupid when they have
nothing to say about them and there is no time to punch up wikipedia on
their cell phones for
Ever since mankind discovered that mass popularity could be relied on to
generate wealth for people who know how to call it forth, there has been
a trend toward making everything which was once limited to guilds or
practicing professionals the hobby of everyone. This helps the
professionals because it stimulates interest in their area of expertise,
and it helps the general consumer with his self-esteem since it
essentially places him on a par with someone who, by years of
application and expense, would in dark ages past have been considered
much more qualified to practice his art. But most of all it creates
dollars for those who are wise enough in the ways of the world to sell a
few harmless trade secrets for three easy installments of $9.95, while
keeping the more important ones to themselves so that they are not
rendered completely unnecessary by the rush of commerce.
It is in this spirit that I am offering not only to take my many fan's
eager expectations seriously (thus risking even greater mobs at my next
appearance) but to devote this entire column to a brief introduction to
the art of knowledgeable consumption of the great American hotdog. This
is only a first lesson: it will take years to become a recognized master
of hotdogology, should your native talent combined with hard work ever
carry you there. But it will be enough to amuse you at the ballpark, and
possibly the other fans in row triple-z:
The first thing that you must steadfastly ignore about your hotdog is
its color. Most ballpark dogs are a deep red, but this is the result of
several drops of food coloring. The actual ingredients in a hotdog:
dried up cereals, rat intestines, pig's noses, ground up mufflers, bits
of IPODs, government tracking devices and the like, are all different
colors, and mostly in disgusting shades of revolting hues. The
manufacturers like to pull the mélange all together with a harmonious
bright red. By the way, I hope I didn't spoil your dinner. I could have
recited the list of ingredients in French if it would make you feel
better, but we are reviewing American hotdogs, and as boorish as it
seems, we must use the English language to describe them.
Another thing you only want to give passing interest to is the size of
the dog. We professionals have been trained to believe that excellence
only exists in small quantities, but some of the larger dogs are
actually better. They are also more visible on the bun. Generally you
should not go for a hotdog that costs less then $5.95 if you want to be
able to see your hotdog.
The bun is sometimes roasted along with the hotdog, which renders it dry
and crusty. Merchants who do not take the trouble to keep their buns
separate from their dogs until the final steps of preparation are
beneath our consideration. It is possible that this is not even Kosher,
but my Jewish friends do not seem to mind. Then again, they are not very
The true connoisseur is only interested in the taste of the hotdog, and
is not swayed by such factors as its appearance, the surrounding bun,
variety and quality of condiments, temperature of the dog at the time of
consumption, or the air in the stadium, or the row in which you'll be
sitting. These are all colorful observations, and make
eye-catching journalism, but are designed to throw the inexperienced off
the scent. I sense hangdog looks in some of my readers. Don't worry
about it. You didn't know any better. Now you do.
Of course, hotdogs, particularly hotdogs with chili and a side of
nachos, have their own special risks. There are some who simplemindedly
brand any hotdog a success which does not require a trip to the bathroom
before the fourth inning. Others have quite the opposite opinion. Again,
this is not one of the true measures of the greatness of a hotdog,
though it does provide drama. It is also a rule of thumb designed for
amateurs. I will share how the professionals do it.
This is a controversial standard among those in the know. It is an
equation which involves the simpatico between the hotdog and your
digestive system. Borrowing a term from football, it is known as the
"passer rating." (I'll leave that to your imagination.) It is commonly
measured as the square of the distance between your esophagus and your
stomach minus the square root of the home team's pitch count all over
the weight of the hotdog times the number of burps in a five minute
period raised to the 6th power plus the arctangent of the radius of the
hotdog at its widest point, minus the square of the distance between you
and the nearest bathroom if there is chili involved and adding the Euler
number if there is not.
I seem to be losing some of my duller students, so I will wrap up this
installment and give you a chance to rest your heads. We'll continue
this next time.
Kaufman Stadium, Kansas City August 6, 2008
|Kaufman Stadium is one of the most beautiful ballyards in all of
baseball, but if you are a true connoisseur of the hotdog, you will not
notice anything that is not part of the makeup of your hotdog. It is
said that Mozart did not bother with the scenery on his long trips
across Europe; if you want to be a hotdog judging prodigy you should do
the same. Life has its charms for the rabble, but the true artist knows
how to keep his focus on the single object which he was designed to
notice, and then devote his genius to the contemplation of that alone. It is only
in that way that the adoring throngs will one day contemplate him.
I suppose I must devote a few words to the immense ketchup controversy
that periodically rocks the world of hotdog criticism. There are many
who devoutly maintain (and by devoutly I mean you will not want to be in
a room where knives are present when getting into an argument with any
of them) that it is completely bourgeoisie to sprinkle condiments of any
kind, particularly ketchup, on a hotdog, as it completely masks the
essence of the dog itself. As I happen to be endowed with the gift of
begin able to discern the hotdog's true character with or without
ketchup, as if my taste buds were in stereo, or more correctly, able to
follow all of the voices in a 6-part fugue, it is not of great concern
to me if you smother your dog in ketchup. However, I realize some of you
may not be able to handle this subtlety. Perhaps you would do better to
leave some of your dog vacant so you can determine in absolute and cruel
honesty whether this changes your opinion of the delicacy pinioned by
So while for me everything is permissible, it may cause you to falter.
If you wish to isolate the flavor by other means, inclusive of the
eternal quest of man to bring out the inner spirit of the entree by
introducing exotic supporting elements, you have my permission to try. I
am not aware if at present it is legal to bring Tarragon into a
ballpark. Frankly, I think Oregano is going too far. If you find
yourself taking recourse to curry powder checked with nutmeg or holding
forth on the virtues of Allspice, you may need clinical help and should
check yourself into such a facility immediately.
So what are we looking for in a hotdog? Taste, of course. And you can
unpack the experience in three general categories. The first is impact.
How does the hotdog introduce itself to you? Does it come up and
politely say 'hello?' Does it pounce on you all at once, obnoxious and
overbearing? Does it make you wish you had never been born with such a
fine set of taste buds? You can get some sense of the nearest mortal man
has come to putting this phenomenon into words in my
article from Yankee Stadium.
The second stage is the staying power of the dog. As you chew it, does
it seem to change? Did it put on a miraculous show for you at first but
has since lost its appeal? When it was dating you it was filled with
mysterious realms but now that it is too late to do anything but spit it
out of your mouth (which, unlike those boorish wine connoisseurs, a
hotdog artist would never do) it turns out that all you really admired
was its temperature?
Of course, if the flavor is consistent throughout, it will remain so,
several burps later, perhaps for several innings after you have
sentenced it to the confines of your stomach. In this case, the dog
"finishes well." If it finishes too well, you may notice nervous ushers
who are afraid you will be able to peel the stadium paint off with your
breath. I assure you, in 99.9% of all case, this is from the nachos. You
can save much anxiety if you put off buying them until the 8th inning.
So long as you refuse to simply "taste the hot" you are headed on a
remarkable journey which, like the best hotdogs, will only unravel its
mysteries by degrees and will reward further and constant study. However, you should not make the rookie mistake of
assuming it should all happen at once. Even less should you labour under
the delusion that you will be able to put such an experience into
adequate verbiage. Obsessed readers will have noted that many of my
reviews appear during the offseason (the date at the top is the date of
the hotdog encounter itself, not the posting of the review). This is because,
in many cases, my subconscious needs many months to plumb the depths of
the English language in search of the perfect phraseology, the
appropriate number of syllables in a line, the proper scansion, and a
few stylistic traits of cryptic adumbration which later writers can
argue over in their papers on my work. Please be aware that this is an
entirely separate topic, and I will hold forth on same in a few months.
Or years. Really, it can't be rushed.
The Ballpark at Arlington -- June 26, 2009
|In mimetic adulation of the gargantuan wonder that blushingly refers
to itself as a 'Jumbo Dog' (with admirable modesty) I have chosen to
write a novel in place of the customary short review, which I have
deemed, under the circumstances, to be wholly inadequate. Brace
While rapt in awe of the beauty of this Texas ballpark, another of my
handful of favorites, it occurred to me how lucky my sense organs have
been these past few months. The view from the 85th row of the upper deck
is really stunning, particularly with the ballpark specialty arches and
gates dead ahead. However, if you look down upon the sea of humanity
that swelters in the 96 degree heat
you begin to feel that eternal human sense of existential agony, that
awareness of the trivial nature of our amusements, and the
insignificance of our achievements. Particularly if the home pitcher
walks the first two batters.
Not having a dog in this fight allows me to concentrate on the
essentials, which include the iced lemonade and the un-iced lemonade. A
comparison study reveals that they are really both fine specimens of
mindless, nutritionless filler. The hotdog remains to be purchased.
During one of my meditations on the nature of things, I noticed that
they were playing a game of baseball down below. I noticed that one team
was clobbering the other team. This seemed very rude, especially as the
clobberees where the invited guests. However, I had a thought. When this
is all over, the home team will only get one win, which is a single
stroke on a piece of paper, and they will do this again tomorrow. Does
it make any difference who is getting the better of whom? In the wake of
a high of 104 this seemed like great wisdom.
I shall call myself the Teacher and shall give my self to speculations
will I wait a few innings for my hotdog. The first inning is taking
quite a long time, however. The pitcher is getting tired, and the hotdog
It is hot.
It was 96 degrees at 7pm, which was game time. During the years of our
great undertaking, we have battled fog, rain, wind, sunburn, something
approaching a pleasant ballgame, the joys of poorly designed traffic
grids, and now, heat that promises to make it down to 91 by the end of
the game. It is too bad I did not bring a jacket.
Baseball is suffering. The cause of suffering is societally sanctioned
entertainment. The cause of societally sanctioned entertainment is the
meandering, purposeless nature of mankind. The way to endow life with
meaning and purpose is to blog about it afterward.
Verily, one of the wondrous things about the human race is the ability
to empathize across time and space. Perhaps in a thousand years some
poor shlob will take pity on the discomfort of a June evening in 2009 of
an anonymous soul. It is a mystery why, and to what purpose. But it may
yet happen. Of course, in a thousand years, supposing the human race to
continue its consumption of stadium hotdogs, there is no telling what
sort of mutations may have been introduced.
The hotdog still waits.
It is the second inning. Who knew it would follow upon the heels of the
first? For baseball is a great usurper of time. There is no guarantee
that three outs will ever be recorded. There is no sense of the
inevitable. A game could go on forever. But once again, our reckless
experiment with the progress of time has ended. Time wins again. It is
the second inning.
The hotdog has arrived. (take that, Beckett!) It is very satisfying,
replete with the fat, meaty flavor I am genetically programmed to
desire. I shall not foment action against the state this day.
There will be fireworks
at the conclusion of game
there will be fireworks
I relish mustard, even when it is chili. It adds to the weight of the
hotdog. If I mailed it to Attica, what would be the price of the
postage? What would they do when it got there?
I told him I would like a hotdog. I categorically refused to refer to it
by its given name which is an abomination to stomachs everywhere. He
handed it to me, that which had become of my $4.50, and said with a
straight face, "here is your jumbo dog." A colony of ants could have
finished it in an inning. But custom leads me to believe he intended
relatively large land mammals, bipeds like myself, with or without
glasses, to consider that here was an item of larger than normal size.
Since there was no product with which to compare it, non-jumbo items
having been banished from the menu, it was in fact enormous with respect
to the other non-existent meat-like products available. He therefore was
telling the truth. In an advertising sort of way. If that kind of thing
works on St. Peter none of us have anything to worry about.
I have to rush this manuscript to my editor. It is quite bulky. I hope
he does not ask me to cut anything. I have grown rather fond of my own
verbiage. One must if one is going to fight through the mass of people
insisting on experiencing hotdogs for themselves without having an
experienced guide to show their palettes what they are tasting. It was a
long first inning, but a moderately long game. The fireworks were
splendiferous. Can't wait to experience the traffic.
I should go now.
Miller Park -- August something, 2009
|It is a truism, none the less true for its ubiquity, that genius
cannot be rushed. It requires time to turn over an astonishing idea in
its head, to see it from all sides, to play with it, to transform it
into something wonderful when it was a garden variety idea that the
common man would have thrown away moments earlier, and would have been
right to do so. It is this struggle in the darkness, this 'birth hour of
a new clarity' that gives one man the right to assemble words to which
his fellow citizens pay homage centuries hence when the immediate
context has vanished in the day's trivia, and the repast in question
resides at a garbage dump in Oxyrinchus.
A lesser reviewer, under the burden of this obligation, would have
forgotten completely what the hotdog even lasted like by the time he
wrote the review. But fear not. I have a memory for things large and
small like an elephant nursing a grudge. Sometimes a certain smell out
of my distant past will waft into my consciousness years later. It is
that way with tastes, with sounds, with sights--even things I was
thinking at the time that had no particular connection to the matter at
hand or the sensory stimuli to which I was subject. Does that happen to
you? It can be a burden, though it is sometimes refreshing to be
muddling along, captive to matters of mundanity when suddenly up wafts
the smell of a waffle you enjoyed as a child years ago, or the voice of
an old friend you haven't seen in ages, saying something completely
trivial, but nonetheless part of your life's narrative, and connected to
a time in which nothing monstrously bad happened to you and therefore
engenders feelings of nostalgia and warmth. Or you remember that you
forgot to pick up buns at the grocery store on a particular trip
fourteen years ago and had to go back which was a waste of 20 perfectly
good minutes and now you are beating yourself up over it, which is a
waste of another perfectly good 20 minutes. It is a strange
thing--passing strange. I think that every so often the brain must
rehearse its catalogue of experiential data in order to write it to a
new location: defragmenting, perhaps. Or it is simply trying to keep
itself in shape, and can't keep its recall circuitry in order unless it
conducts random tests every once in a while. Perhaps I should
demonstrate. There are variously random thoughts expressing themselves
even now in distant locations of my brain. Normally I assign them to
background clutter--you can't hear them whilst I am writing a review
because I generally assemble my word-minions only from the raw materials
which have been assigned grade 1 status, that is, the louder parts.
These generally have more to do with the subject at hand as the result
of a discipline sub-routine which keeps the brain-as-such, manifest in
the Thoughts Expressed, from wandering off into remote fragments, as is
common among many people who refer to it as 'chit-chat' and insist on
exercising their 'skill' in it at parties. In reality, a simple
download ('patch' or 'update') to keep the speaker's thoughts connected
to one another in some usefully recognizable pattern would take care of
the problem. I assume one will be available in a few years from
Microsoft. Imagine the increase in productivity that would cause. At any
rate, let us turn off this filter for a few moments and see to what
horrors of random opinions we are subject:
Have you noticed the rise in
gas prices? This is certainly a professional concern, since it may, in
the future, be rather difficult to attend games in remote cities. Also,
the hotdog manufacturers may have difficulty in bringing their wares to
the locale in a timely manner, unless they have armed their product with
a preservative similar to that in a Twinkie. In which case, the
cockroaches will have quite a feast after the nuclear Armageddon.
It is also a concern of mine that there is too much violence on
television. At least, I imagine there still is--I've stopped watching.
Don't tell anyone. I don't want to get turned in. But a study I read
years ago reported that the average child had witnessed 800 billion
murders by the age of two. Or something like that. That can't be
Something else that is not healthy is the way large corporations will
not take responsibility for anything unless forced. When someone making
750 gazillion dollars a second in corporate profits can't take thirty
seconds of those profits to buy a fleet of undersea robots that can put
a cap on a massive oil spill within the first 24 hours instead of making
everything up as they go along as if it had never occurred to anybody
that something could go wrong with their perfectly harmless product's
perfectly harmless method of acquisition, or
the single badly designed capping mechanism for which there was no
backup--something is very badly wrong. I was at a gas station the summer
it happened, and I happened to notice a sign on a pump. It said "You
must clean up your own spill." I am not making this up. I thought that
it was very interesting that this philosophy applied to the average
citizen, but not to the company as a whole, though they did eventually
clean some of it up--once it became clear that they would not be allowed
not to, which is the way a two-year old thinks, and also a roomful of
corporate executives. I think the word I am searching for in regard to that sign
is 'hypocrites.' I am not sure what it means but I do like the way it is
Well, that was interesting. Perhaps we can at least restrain our
thoughts to those related to Baseball:
The interesting thing about being a baseball fan is that you are under
obligation to give grief to everyone who is not a fan of your particular
team; nevertheless, no one (much) is ever done serious harm over the
matter. It is as if, deep down, everyone feels that it is not really of
ultimate importance which team with which one associates oneself, as
long as he or she has an adequate vent for their passion. If this
approach were taken in other areas the history of the world would be
quite different. It is possible that this laissez faire approach is not
really the result of baseball at all but came about simply because a
society's needs were being met and everyone recognized that some things
are worth arguing about but not to the extent of making your point
through the introduction of bodily harm. On the other hand, even before
the introduction of labor saving devices of the last half-century (like
spam, for example), it seems that people have always had a certain
amount of time on their hands, for example during the Reformation, when
a certain league had only two teams, and the cross-town rivalries often
involved much bloodshed. Now it is only the occasional football match
that engenders such Malthusian thinning of the population.
It could be that no one is really worried anymore that sitting in the
same row with a Yankees fan will perhaps expose one to Plague, where
that was once a possibility. I have also noticed that wearing an Orioles
jersey to the House de Steinbrenner will mostly garner looks of pity
rather than the playful death threats reserved for Redsox fans. Most
fans in New York are eager to show that their civilizedness makes them
above overt displays of hostility to fans of teams that could not in a
million years pose a serious threat in the League Standings. I still
stand by my three--now four--favorite teams (having moved thrice
explains the first three; the last is an old standby): the Cleveland
Indians, the Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago Cubs, and whoever is playing
Wrigley Field--July 17, 2010
|I've been to the
It is an apt term. The seats are rather cramped, and arranged in
squadrons of about 40 columns before you get to an aisle and can begin
your trek across to wherever you are sitting. On the other hand, the
people are certainly friendly. Kristen and I got a standing ovation from
at least two dozen people when we showed up to take our seats. I had not
realized my status as a hotdog reviewer had earned me such celebrity.
Now I hope the tabloids aren't too nasty. I can take it, but our cat is
The dog on display at Wrigley is quite an item. I do not look to it for
virtuosity, or mystique, or some revelation of new splendours in hotdog
manufacturing. But it is a sincere repast. It is authentic. It is
honest. And it did not need, or aspire, to be anything else. There is
nothing else like it. I have never had a more self-aware hotdog in my
life. I have been considering it for an award.
It is difficult to judge a hotdog like that. It is the kind that have
caused competitions to erupt in controversy, judges to walk out,
editorials to fulminate, and competitors and public alike to complain
bitterly. There are two equally vehement schools of thought. One is that
an item which does not have the requisite chops, which stands out
because it is not trying to impress, nor does it try to compete on
grounds of showmanship, is simply too plain to have the temerity to
sully the good name of international competition. Here unpretentiousness
is not a virtue, it is a sign of contempt.
The other school is of the opinion that such an entry is a rarity, a
burst of refreshing sunlight (without the 98 degree heat) and therefore,
stands out among all of its competitors and leads the way like a giant
among carpenter ants. I am mainly of this opinion. In honor of
Ernie Banks, I ordered two.
I have given it the second prize, which is what judges always do when a
contestant shows too much individuality to suit some of them. The wild
enthusiasm of the rest keep the entrant from going home prizeless but it
is only a certain conformity that propels him into the top position. You
are thinking this is autobiographical; it is, to a point. However, I did
accidentally win the first prize on a few occasions, and vowed to do
better next time.
As for the Cubs, they provided us with the ultimate Cubs experience.
Leading 1 to nothing in the 9th inning, a throw to the plate for the
final out was dropped by the catcher; then the visitors managed to score
three more times, while the Greek chorus at Wrigley grew silent in
It is important at such
times to have a hotdog that believes in itself. The Cubs believe in
themselves too, in a way. They believe they will lose. The fans also
believe they will lose, perpetual denial notwithstanding. It is a
strange thing to believe, when they are up by several runs, that they
will not pull it out, and to see them (not) do it. You cannot be too
cynical for the Cubs. More recently, Kristen put the game on television
in the ninth inning with a seven run lead. I said, "I can't watch." She
was incredulous, pointing to the size of their lead.
Now I feel like such a nabob of negativity. The Cubs did actually win
that one. By one run, I think. The fact that they only gave up six runs
in the ninth inning instead of seven could be looked at as a study in
economical badness, or it could just be that the bullpen is a little
Cub fans are born to suffer as the sparks fly upward, but at least they
have an excellent cuisine to look forward to while they watch their
world implode nine innings at a time. Anyhow, World Championships only
come along every 110 years or so, but the hotdogs at Wrigley are
plentiful. It is a mystery how something so ubiquitous could be so good.
Great American Ballpark--August 27, 2010
|When an alien civilization sifts through the debris of our own
several millenia from now, they will be curious to know the relationship
between the various temples we have constructed to our various gods: the
large, oval-shaped ones, with retractable roofs to allow communication
with the heavens, or to deny it; the smaller, oddly shaped ones, in
which there is evidence that the citizenry gathered far more
often--perhaps, they will posit, this was a lesser god with more need to
be loved--or reminded. The smaller temples with the wooden floors might
or might not belong to the same gods; perhaps they are rich deities who
have summer and winter homes. There will be vigorous debate over this.
Unless self-congratulation is unknown to them, it will perhaps feel good
not to be bound by superstitions such as these.
The meals eaten in such houses of worship will undoubtedly merit further
study. Did they share in the widespread belief that they were somehow
consuming their god, and if so, what kind of god was it? It is not too
far-fetched to suggest that at least one specimen will survive from
antiquity and be sent to a lab for analysis. What was it about the
intestines of lower farm animals that gave the believer added strength
and power? And what about the nachos? And the beer?
The people of Cincinnati made a grievous error some years ago; they
built a highway alongside the Ohio river: clearly, some civic soothsayer
said, a football stadium needs to be built there instead. And so they
diverted the freeway, and averted the wrath of the greater god.
Perhaps, some might say, this was not really for the greater god after
all. Fanatics who attend the smaller, irregularly-shaped temples do it
more often; if devotion is anything, it would appear that this god has
the advantage. It is peculiar to speculate that this would give, by
sheer weight of occurrences, a preference to a rite in which members do
not attempt to knock each other silly, advancing their empire through
violence and territorialism. A strange victory for peaceful annihilation.
No wonder their kind died out.
But on this day, several thousand years ago, a diminutive being can be
seen jostling his way through the crowd, purchasing a hotdog, and
attending a single iteration of the vast tradition that has brought hope
to so many, who believe that the time is near when dominance shall be
theirs: the magic "next year." The nourishment was known as a "Great
American" dog, befitting its tenant, the "Great American Ballpark." I am
not sure how doctrinally pure one must be not to be relegated to the
outer courts: I have never called Sean Hannity's show, and I was let in
anyhow. I suppose this makes me a "great American."
The people of Cincinnati probably have better things to do than spend
their energy on hotdog excellence--still, the product was better than
several this consumer has consumed. It may not have been the consummate
hotdog experience, but it was above average, which in this league is a
rare thing. So many ballparks do not stoop to match price with quality,
as if such culinary exquisiteness can be bought--far be it from us to do
such a thing! Instead, the price you pay for a hotdog is marvelously
independent of whether the manufacturer has gone to the trouble of
ensuring a wonderful eating experience. Perhaps, they might reason, if
reason at all, that we are paying for the atmosphere. The owners of the
ballyards might similarly reason that you are paying for the snacks,
rather than a reasonable chance that the team will win. It is a
wonderful bit of circular reasoning. But whilst the various merchants
are passing the bucks around, the odds of both of them seeming to relate
in some way to the quality of the experience do increase if you come to
I do not wish to accuse anybody of anything, much less that the good
people of Cincinnati have decided that quality and money are somehow
related. I should say rather that the hotdog here is a wonderful
exercise in the unfettered free market--but it was still pretty good.
Perhaps, as it bore the title Great American Hotdog, it could not help
being exceptional. However, lest it get too large for itself, it was not
as good as the cuisine experienced in New York or Chicago. It must also
be admitted that this hotdog was more expensive than the item billed
officially as just a hotdog, as if merely being a hotdog was not worthy
of such heights. I was not aware America had a caste system. Was the
generic brand similarly delightful? There are, Virginia, things that
cannot be known in this world. At least, if one is in limited possession
of funds. Perhaps that is why we need persons of less limited means to
guide us, who have experience in all things, regardless of number of
I no longer remember if the Reds put up many zeros. But I am not allowed
to tell you anyway, without "express written permission" from
Major League Baseball. I have not asked for it, and it was not among the
spam in my inbox this past week that I noticed. It did not influence my
endorsement of this hotdog in any way, since it was consumed entirely
before the game began. I also managed to ingest most of it before taking
a seat so as to insure the proprietor's treatment of my hindquarters
would not be a subconscious factor in the review process. This is
standard, and comes about as a natural corollary to choosing to sit as
far away as possible from the gate at which you enter. See, my
methodology is sound.
I also wish you similar excellence in your culinary endeavors. Before
the autumnal winds sweep across our land, bringing coldness and darkness
and silence, and even football and a few viruses, may you follow in the
steps I have trod and find yourself similarly engaging with the Great
American experience--with our without condiments, as needed by your
amateur ability, as a handicap is in golf--and may you lean back,
satisfied with the memory, as the taste lingers on your breath, with
your eyes closed, enjoying the sun streaming down in golden showers upon
your face, as you listen to the sounds of the crowd, and the crack of
the bat, and may you not be summarily beaned by a foul ball whilst you
are in a state of such exposed rapture. See, the lesser god can get
angry sometimes. Do pay better attention to his ritual. That is what all
of those signs are for.
Oakland Coliseum--April 15th, 2013
|The greater part of
baseball's appeal is fantasy, and that fantasy includes idyllic weather.
Our experience is seldom ideal. We have had to brave 40 mile an hour
winds (don't laugh, European readers; think how much worse they would be
if we used the metric system). We have had games near freezing, in which
I spent large portions of the game trying to see if hot chocolate was
available. And Kristen has had to see her home town boys get slaughtered
by this writer's home town boys, 14 to nothing. And that was in the
Such privations, of course, build character, of which I am the proud
possessor of great quantities. I could sell you some; surely I don't
need it all. particularly after our game in Oakland, where one of the
ugliest, and last surviving stadiums, in baseball, from the era where all
the seats are behind poles and the public address systems came from
McDonald's drive-throughs yoked together in gangs of ten, is tenanted by
one of the perennially worst teams in baseball, whose old jerseys have
been found to cause eye damage, and where, when the home team is up to
bat it is far more dangerous to sit in foul territory, but if you want
to stay safe you will have to vacate the bleachers every half inning.
This makes the hotdog a likely candidate for mediocrity, where
mediocrity is defined as having very few positive qualities of any kind.
I was only mildly disappointed in this regard; the concessioner's staple
ingredient was unable to manage entirely the level of unrivaled malaise
which one would expect if thematic unity was desired; still, I could
have gotten an identical one at my local grocer and saved the price of
the wrapper they obviously have to import from somewhere in a remote
part of the Himalayas which completely justifies the price.
I could tell you what happened at the game, but then I would have to sue
you on behalf of Major League Baseball. Suffice it to say that it had
all of the thrill of watching the ancient pyramids being built in slow
motion by bureaucratically inclined slugs.
I will tell you, however, that the best way to see a game is to start in
San Francisco on a windy day, and sample the historical progression of
transportation technology by taking the bus to the streetcar to the
subway (but, alas, skipping the cable car, unless you'd like to head in
the wrong direction), traveling under the bay to Oakland, and walking to
the stadium from the raised rail platform which is conveniently placed
there for tourists and the occasional local fanatic to disembark. This
is much quicker than the 1.5 mile trip I recently plugged into the trip
planner of our bus service website at home and found that it would
involve 100 minutes and four bus changes, before walking a third of the
distance. The trip from San Francisco to Oakland, if you are staying in
the heart of the city, may take you about an hour, door to door. You
should add 5 minutes to the return trip for every beer you've had at the
Also, if you are looking for a quiet evening together with a romantic
partner in a secluded spot away from the jostle of the crowd, an
A's-Astros game is sure to win her heart. You will have to huddle up for
warmth, and the shared experience of surviving three hours of
purposeless movements in a characterless piece of concrete just might
cement your relationship (sorry).
No I'm not.
©2005-2013 Michael Hammer
These reviews are furnished solely for the private dining
pleasure of my readers. Any recycling of amalgamated adjectives,
clauses, or finely wrought sentences without the express permission of the
author is strictly prohibited.