Ball Food or Mall Food?


Take me out to the ballgame,

Take me out with the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,

I don't care if I never get back.


No one sings "buy me some sushi and Krispy Kremes" during the seventh-inning stretch. And you can't shell Wetzel's Pretzels and fling them underfoot, just as you can't slather your King Taco with mustard and relish (at least, you shouldn't).

But go to any major league park today and witness what has become of the National Pastime: the malling of the concession stand. There's Wetzel's Pretzels, Subway Sandwiches and Domino's pizza at Dodger Stadium. Edison Field in Anaheim has its Carl's Jr. lineup, Panda Bowls and Panda Egg Rolls. Baseball is being watered down.

Food at a stadium is all about tradition. It's the pungent smell of diced onions from the condiment table, it's the taste of a warm, foamy beer slopping from your cup. It's sticky fingers from Cracker Jack, it's a stomachache from too many Dodger Dogs.

Now you can sit in a private stadium club with your back to the game sipping a martini, or step outside your luxury box and flag a roving dessert cart piled high with home-plate-sized brownies. Dodger Stadium has even signed up Wolfgang Puck to help plan the menus, no doubt relying on his many days downing dogs and doing the wave with the bleacher bums. What happened to just enjoying something that gave you heartburn?

If the stadiums could make the new food taste good, maybe we could allow it, just the way we did the designated hitter. But the fun of a Krispy Kreme doughnut is getting it warm, right from the store, not cool in a box of six. And a Western Bacon Cheeseburger off the stadium's Carl's Jr. grill just doesn't taste as good as one from the restaurant--especially when you have to pay almost twice as much.

Worse yet is the food that doesn't fit at a place where the crack of a bat can send you jumping from your seat. How do you slurp spaghetti as you sit watching the Angels? And would your neighbor be happy if, instead of peanut shells, you dropped sushi on his seat? And what about downing a Carvel frozen yogurt oh-so-delicately as Shawn Green sends a long ball over the fence? Do you wave your cup of pink yogurt and yell?

Baseball used to be one of the better deals in town. A seat in the blues, a dog and some nuts, and life was good for less than $20. Now, $20 will barely get you a dinky Domino's pizza and two beers. And it's a good thing you can listen to Vin on the radio, because you won't have money left for admission.

It wasn't always this way. As a kid I whined for ice cream malts and Cracker Jack--there wasn't much else--and either could be had for under a buck. I was happy for an afternoon. But as baseball's appeal has dwindled, thanks to strikes, faster sports such as basketball and disappointing local teams, food is being used to pull fans in. As soon as you push through the turnstile on the loge level at Dodger Stadium--before the smell of onions entices your nostrils--the little signs overhead tout Wetzel's Pretzels, Subway and Krispy Kreme stands.

Then right there in the seats comes the guy with his big red bag shouting "Get your Domino's pizza here!" Thank goodness the peanut guy is still flinging his bags. Let's just hope the pizza guy doesn't get into the act.

It's one thing if the food is regional; that makes some sense. Safeco Field in Seattle has grilled salmon sandwiches, Fenway Park in Boston clam chowder. Rocky Mountain Oysters were the talk of Coors Field in Denver when they were first sold, while Cubs fans can always look forward to a Polish sausage at Wrigley Field.

I confess that for a time I was addicted to the cinnamon rolls at the Place Formerly Known as Anaheim Stadium. In the early '90s, this nonregional food--which can be found in malls--was worth two trips per game: You bought one roll before taking your seats, then one on the way out to have for breakfast the next day. (I confess, mine never made it out of the car.)

But then Disney bought the Angels and changed the stadium's name, the team's uniforms and--worst of all--the cinnamon rolls. The stand was moved from behind home plate to the outfield, and the rolls were no longer the dense, sweet dough kind; they'd become puffy and fat, sickening. Just like at the mall.

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