Today is Opening Day of the 2012 Major League baseball season, and after weeks of pink slime scandals and death by red meat research, it’s a relief to finally focus once again on the national pastime.
By which I mean: ballpark food and drink.
After all, who can sit still for hours at a time, no matter how exciting the game, and not get hungry and thirsty? Part of the pleasure of watching baseball is wolfing down the ballpark food—which, like the teams themselves, varies greatly depending on where you live.
Even better if you show up on the DiamondVision screen with half a hot dog stuffed in your grill.
Having visited every MLB stadium over the years, with the exception of the Astros’ ballpark, new Yankee Stadium and of course the not-yet-christened home of the Miami Marlins, I feel qualified to weigh in on which ones lead their leagues, if not in the standings, certainly in the quality of their culinary concoctions.
On my list, the ballpark itself also has to be something beyond ordinary. Given that requirement, here are my top five Major League ballpark food destinations (with the emphasis on center-of-the-plate proteins, naturally):
5). Progressive Field. Not until the Phillies replaced the horror that was Veterans’ Stadium was there as significant an upgrade for a baseball team as the Cleveland Indians’ downtown ballpark when it opened in 1994. The triple deck design along the first base line evokes such classics as old Yankee Stadium, and along with plenty of sausage and hot dog selections, the glassed-in Terrace Club restaurant overhanging the third base corner offers fans a fantastic view, if not quite as spectacular a menu. But the soft pretzels shaped like the Indians’ script “I” and paired with Ballpark Mustard—the same spicy condiment used by Indians’ concessionaires since Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie roamed the diamond at old League Park back in Babe Ruth’s heyday—are well worth the price of admission.
4). Camden Yards. The Baltimore Orioles’ stadium, with its “retro” design that spawned an entire era of new fan-friendly ballparks, is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Fans probably won’t witness a whole lot of winning baseball there this season, but the food selections—always superb—have expanded to include not only the city’s signature crab cakes and Boog’s Barbecue, made famous by former Oriole All-Star Boog Powell, but also a new Gino’s Burgers and Chicken (named after Baltimore Colts legend Gino Marchetti), a Stuggy’s specialty sausage concession and the new Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant, owned by former Orioles catcher and 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey and featuring such ballpark beverages as Pine Tar Stout, Rick’s Red Ale and Rain Delay IPA.