Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Ode to Ballpark Food

     There's something special about baseball.  From the very first time that you smell that leather glove or feel the sting of that bat.  The way your hand slides nicely into that fine piece of leather, but your index finger finds its way outside of the glove as if called by an irresistible force of some kind.  The way the glove pops when the baseball hits it, and the feeling of hitting that heavenly sphere just right on the sweet spot and watching it travel.  Baseball brings together fathers and sons in a shared love that lasts a lifetime.  In fact my son Jesse thought so much about me the other day that he was quoted as saying, "Mom, if Dad gets thrown in jail will you bail him."  This is surely due to our baseball bond, and I can't remember exactly what I was doing at the time to cause my sole male heir to have a fear of my freedom being taken away.  It must have made an impression whatever it was.  If you've ever played the game you know these things, but I came here today to talk about food.  Not just any food mind you, but ballpark food.  That's right, the good stuff.  Cholesterol raising, heart stopping, pleasure bringing, totally awesome eating ballpark food!  I've been on a quest of late.  A quest of eating as much food at ballparks as humanly possible.  At least until my heart explodes.  I've had plenty of opportunities to do just that recently by watching good ole #7 (Jesse) and the rest of those fine young ball players that play for Birmingham Baseball Academy!  I've not only gotten to eat a lot of food, but I've gotten to watch a lot of good baseball.  So play ball, and let's eat!

     Growing up I spent a lot of time at the ballpark, and this was mainly due to my father's heavy involvement at the park.  I learned how to line off a field when many kids were learning how to ride a bike.  My father even had a field named after him, and I always thought that we were rich because there was a "Perry Field."  We weren't, but my father did have the keys to the kingdom so to speak.  The keys to the concession stand to be more specific, and the concession stand was like the Taj Mahal to young Chris Perry let me tell you.  A land filled with all the Astro Pops you could eat.  At your own risk of course, because those things would pull the teeth right out of your head.  Chips, candy, nacho cheese, and many other goodies were there for the taking!  Only problem was, daddy wouldn't let me take any of it.  This was torture at its most brutal.  I had some good times related to the concession stand though- A foul ball would get you a free coke, and a "suicide" was the poison I would always pick.  A suicide, for those who don't know, is a mixture of all the fountain drinks available.  Coke, Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Grape, Orange, and whatever else they had.  Put that together with French Fries, and a Corn Dog soaked in mustard and ketchup and you've got a party.  Hamburgers with diced onions were also a favorite, although they didn't do a whole lot for your breath.  One of my favorite snacks from back in the day was one I cannot find today.  I've looked and looked with no success.  I can't recall the name, but it was little sweet-tart like candies shaped like pieces of garbage all contained inside a little plastic garbage can.  Ahhhh, memories!  Here's to A.T. Holt Park, which, by the way, is now a Target parking lot, for all those fantastic memories!  Byrd Field, Kessler Field, Morris Field, King Field, and of course Perry Field.  Not to mention the swimming pool we used to sneak into under cover of darkness, but that is a story for another time!

     These days you have BBQ nachos, many varieties of chicken fingers, wraps, cheese sticks with marinara sauce, shaved ice, and it wouldn't surprise me to find a lobster bisque with red wine on the menu at some parks.  I actually saw pickle juice flavored snow cone/dhaved ice things the other day.  Who in the world would eat that?  I'm like the Bizarre Foods guy of ballparks.  I will eat just about anything, and have on several occasions.  I'm not sure if the food is better today, but there are quite a few more options that's for sure!  The food is good for the most part, but I've had a chicken finger or two that tasted like an old tire.  Which reminds me of the time I ate escargot at the Olive Garden years ago, and the stuff seemed to get bigger in my mouth as I chewed it.  Hamburgers are also not created equal, and I prefer to watch the meat being cooked before I consume it or at least know that it was just prepared.  When they have to get the burger out of a container of some kind, I know it was made earlier.  That doesn't mean it's not a good hamburger, but sometimes when stuff sits around for a while it loses some of its mojo.  Have you ever tried to eat french fries that were let's say not so fresh?  Yep, kinda tastes like salty potato bubblegum.  I'll pass, although I like salt, potatoes, and bubble gum.  Speaking of bubble gum, how many flavors of bubble gum do we really need?  Is Cherry Passionfruit/Kiwi Cola really necessary?  Also, bubble gum was never intended to be consumed from a tube of any kind, it's like bubble gum toothpaste.  Give me plain ole Double Bubble single wrapped or Big League Chew.  It also appears that candy has left sweetness behind to opt for more sour fare.  Now, I love some sour stuff, and I often get some of those sour straw things when the games get interesting.  I don't have any vices left these days, so sour straws will have to do.  However, some of these sour things are dangerous.  Really dangerous.  Pucker factor of about a thousand, and then some.  I got into some sour stuff the other day that literally took my breath and made my eyes water.  It was tons of fun.  I would much rather have some Fun Dip.  Personally, I always liked the white stick candy thing more than the Fun Dip, and I hoped that one day you could just buy a package full of white candy stick things. Sometimes dreams don't come true.

     I have to give a shout out here in the last paragraph to some of the best park food I have ever consumed in my many years of travelling from park to park.  First off, if you want good food every single time, and are looking for an outstanding culinary experience while watching youth sports, look no further than Morris, Alabama.  The concession stand at Morris Youth Association is second to none, and it is always a pleasure eating the food.  Probably my favorite single concession stand dish of all time is the "Shaggy Special" at Mt. Olive Ballpark.  I got through many a baseball tournament surviving strictly on Shaggy Specials.  The Shaggy Special consisted of deep fried chicken fingers and french fries covered in nacho cheese.  Heart attack on a plate, or technically a paper boat, but many ballpark memories have been made by yours truly with nacho cheese on my chin.  I can't lie, it's true.  Speaking of chicken fingers, recently I had some seriously good chicken fingers two weekends straight in Montevallo at Stephens Park.  These were good chicken fingers and I would highly recommend them.  Fries were some count too.  However, if I only had one more trip to a concession stand and could choose whichever one that I wanted.  No contest, I would go way back in time and get my free coke after a Reds vs. Chargers game somewhere around 1980 at Byrd Field in old school Fultondale, Alabama.  This choice would be made not because of some great food item, although they had plenty, but because of all the faces I would see there that I haven't seen in a long time.  My father coached me that year, and he along with many other special people in my past are no longer with us.  He never got to see Jesse hit a triple or make one of his patented dynamic infield plays, at least not here on earth.  He probably had a better seat, and he's sitting right next to my mother and cheering just like they used to for me.  I betcha they're eating a Shaggy Special too!  You don't have to worry about cholesterol where they are.