Rethinking Baseball Stadium Food

Last week, the concessions team at Chase Field in Phoenix -- home of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- unveiled their latest over-the-top culinary creation to members of the media. Called the D-Bat Dog, it's a one-and-a-half-foot long corn dog stuffed with cheddar cheese, jalapenos and bacon. It also comes with fries, because of course it has to. The whole thing will run you $25 at the cash register. It is insane.

Now, this is nothing new. As you'll recall, I have a little bit of experience with over-the-top hot dogs over at Dodger Stadium. Jam-packing in as much food as possible for the masses of fans at baseball games has become part of the tradition.

And it needs to stop.

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My own personal greatest eating experience at a ballpark took place at Safeco Field in Seattle back in 2006 or so. I was in the mood for something that wasn't super greasy or fried. It didn't have to be healthy, just out of the standard burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dog,s and fries options that are the traditional menu of every stadium. I spent an entire inning trolling the concourse with no luck, until I saw a small sign with an arrow pointing down a somewhat desolate hall for something called "The Ichiroll."

I took a turn, and it changed my baseball stadium eating life.

Named for their greatest player and biggest fan crush, Japanese import Ichiro Suzuki, the Ichiroll was a pretty basic spicy tuna roll, but with an extra helping of wasabi to give it an extra kick. Best of all, it was prepped right there by actual sushi chefs. The cost was in the normal range of ballpark food -- which is to say, super-expensive for no really good reason -- but it was sushi. I was eating sushi at a baseball game! The novelty alone was worth a little extra cash.

Now, this isn't to say sushi should become the normal food at ballparks around the country. But having the option of sushi, or handmade burritos, or Thai food, shouldn't be all that uncommon at this point. Perhaps it's a bit extreme to suggest ballparks offer an Ethiopian-style veggie combo plate on injera, but if they did, I'd certainly line up for it. A man can only eat so many hot dogs.

This isn't about offering more choices just for their own sake, but instead about the food mirroring what's happening on the field. See, baseball is no longer just "America's pastime." It's now a global game. Every team has a player that's been born outside of the U.S., whether it's Japan, Korea, or Central America. This year's Opening Day took place in Australia. Last year, the Chicago White Sox pitcher Andre Rienzo became the first Brazilian-born player to make it to the majors. The game is trying to expand around the world, but the food hasn't followed suit.

Rather than simply going the traditionally American way of coming up with new food creations -- wherein the rule is bigger equals better -- it's time to expand the offerings in a more horizontal way. Instead of just piling bacon onto more bacon onto whatever item's being sold, develop entirely new ethnically diverse offerings. Instead of stretching hot dogs longer, maybe add some space for (gasp!) healthy options like salads or veggie dogs. Do we really need a hot dog stand every few feet? Convert half of those into more unique offerings and no one would notice.

Heck, you could even make it a promotional thing: Ask a foreign-born player on each MLB team what their personal favorite dish from home is, set up a specialty booth, cook it up, and sell it to fans. At the very least, fans will try it for the novelty. And if it doesn't take, ask another player and give their dish a try.

Which is all to say: The current landscape of baseball food is stagnant. When the "bold new offerings" are simply trying to stuff as much nonsense as you can onto/into something, there's a problem. It's time to offer more than just peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

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