Two things should be made clear from the beginning. First, this post is about ballpark fare generally and not about The Nine best particular ballpark treats. Second, I am a man of simple tastes and should likely admit to being a picky eater. Therefore, certain items will miss this list that will seem implausible to some of you. For that, I merely offer to you that this list is obviously meant to be fun and not to be taken particularly seriously. Should you choose to take it seriously, I am prepared to follow up with a 1,200 word post about why I find nacho cheese to be gross.
Among those items that miss my list are: Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, Roasted Almonds, Brats, Burgers, Cotton Candy, and Nachos. Go ahead, sue me.
Many of the prototypical ballpark snacks are members of the salt family and popcorn is my pick of the litter. It doesn’t live up to the artery clogging euphoria that is movie theater popcorn, but if you’re in the mood to munch on something for a few innings, popcorn is the choice. Peanuts are messy and obnoxious for people sitting around you and lack butter, which is an important component of any guilty pleasure.
Downside: Getting a kernel stuck in your teeth for 6 innings and the drive home.
8. Ice Cream
Perhaps you don’t think about ice cream when you think about stadium food, but it’s a nice cool treat to enjoy during a season that takes place mostly during the summer. The quality of the product varies a great deal across the 30 major league parks, so it’s important to only go for it if you’re not getting melty slop. When it’s good, not much refreshes like two scoops.
Downside: It requires a spoon or a cone, which is either too civilized for the park or too messy.
7. Chicken Fingers
Chicken Fingers are the food of the Gods.
Downside: Requires two hands to eat or one hand and a balancing act on your lap. Potential for spills and drops.
6. French Fries
Fries are a solid gameday food because they are easily to eat and often fit in a cup holder. Also, given that fries are generally considered a side rather than a main dish, it’s a lot easier to justify eating more of them. Plus, anything that brings ketchup to the discussion is a winner.
Downside: Some stadiums skimp on quality and serve freezer aisle fries.
5. Snow Cones
First of all, if you aren’t mixing red and blue in your snow cone to make an awesome purple hybrid, you are not living, my friend. Nothing refreshes like sugar water over ice and it’s super fun to eat. It just takes you back to being a kid and the sweetness gives you that much needed boost for extra innings.
Downside: Snow Cones are becoming rarer and have often been replaced by Lemon Chills.
4. The Local Fare
Most ballparks have an option that is generally unique to its local. AT&T Park has garlic fries, Fenway has seafood. I imagine Target Field serves some sort of mind altering cocktail that keeps people cheering for the Twins. In general, you need to go for this option when you’re visiting. While I’m not a big advocate for trying new things, you can get most of these items anywhere and should consider the unique options when you travel.
Downside: Some of it is icky.
The soft pretzel a perfect snack. It’s easily to eat, results in no mess, and is surprisingly filling and satisfying. It’s somewhat customizable with various mustards, cheeses, and degrees of salt.
Downside: There really isn’t one other than that you can get a quality pretzel a lot of places, so you might not want to waste your appetite on one at the park. That’s crazy. Go get a pretzel, I’ll wait.
I’m confident in telling you that pizza is my favorite food. Pizza is awesome. The only thing keeping it out of the number 1 spot is tradition and the fact that it is a little less manageable than the item above it. But seriously, it’s hard to go wrong with a slice of pizza at any reasonably competent park.
Downside: Occasionally messy depending on style.
1. Hot Dog
Of course. The hot dog is the ballparkiest of the ballpark foods. Easy to eat, fun to top, generally delicious even if it is subpar.
Downside: If you eat three or more, you will wake up that night with a stomach ache. It’s science. Two hot dogs, no problem. Three hot dogs? Near death experience.
What are you favorites at the park? What about favorite specific foods at specific parks? Let us know in the comments.
Now this cannot be thought of as an exhaustive list or a list that perfectly ranks the quality it seeks to. Rather, this is a list of Nine people who make baseball fun, without a particular guarantee about who is left off and who is ahead of who.
However, let’s also think of this list as one that doesn’t include baseball players. This is about people outside of the clubhouses and front offices. In some cases, like in most good stories, they are composite characters. What follows, is The Nine People Who Make Baseball fun.
Because, after all, that’s what baseball is. Fun.
9. Eric Karabell (ESPN Fantasy Writer, former Baseball Today podcast host)
Here’s what I like about Karabell: He’s not reactive and he loves baseball. So many people who follow and cover sports react to everything as if it dramatically reshapes the landscape of the entire sports world. Karabell says not so fast. He doesn’t accept that one bad game or outing changes a season. He makes for good listening and following because he can walk you down off the edge when things are looking bad and keep you from getting your hopes up when things are great. But on the other side of it, he is such a fan. He openly professes to watching his team when they stink and enjoys going to Fall League games and minor league parks, and once confessed to being disappointed during the postseason because he couldn’t watch ten games at once.
8. The Fan Who Isn’t Quite Up to Date
You all know this guy. The one who still sees baseball through the prism of 2008. Like all of the players he thinks are good are getting old and he’s never heard of anyone under 25. He thinks $10 million is a big salary and can’t fathom why anyone would offer a ten year contract. This person makes baseball fun because you can exploit their ignorance for entertainment. Hey guy, who is better, Jason Heyward or Jason Werth?
7. The Person Who Asks Sportswriters Stupid Questions
I’m not talking about people asking Buster Olney if he thinks the Yankees will trade A-Rod. That’s stupid, but it’s not what I mean. People, mostly on Twitter, routinely ask “experts” to answer factually based questions like “Who is starting tonight?” and “What time does the game start?” Have these people mastered Twitter, but have no concept of Google or MLB.com? How is tweeting at a sportswriter the most effective way to gather that information? These people make baseball fun because they are funny in a sad sort of way.
6. Your Mom
Hear me out. Your mom, while she doesn’t know much about baseball, tries to portray herself as someone who knows things about baseball, leading to endless enjoyment. Specifically, moms can never pronounce/remember players’ names. It has something to do with them only have a little spare time in which to pay attention and their lack of interest in most cases. This is not a comment about women in general or middle-aged women, this is about the stereotypical mom. Below are actual names my mother calls players:
Placido Polanco: “Poblano.” This is a type of chili pepper.
Rick Porcello: “Portabello.” Notice, this isn’t just here replacing a food name for a player name, this is a hybrid of the two.
Al Alburquerque: “New Mexico.”
5. Vin Scully (Dodgers Announcer)
Scully’s pipes are incredible and he’s been working the same glamorous gig for more than a half century. Hiss soothing voice and mix of baseball acumen and catalog of great stories makes him the best announcer who doesn’t work for your team. I love Mario and Rod, but Scully is the best of the best when I take my blinders off. I can’t tell you how often, after a Tigers game ends, I flip on the Dodgers feed to listen to Scully call a Clayton Kershaw start. He’s baseball’s answer to easy listening.
4. The Nine Year Old Kid in All of Us
This is a tweet from WSJ’s Jason Gay, who sums it up nicely:
The kid in all of us makes baseball fun because they enjoy the game with such incredible optimism that can’t be match today, despite my optimistic leanings. I mean seriously, tell nine year old Neil the Tigers are terrible and can’t play worth a damn and he’ll tell you a million reasons why baseball is awesome and he can’t wait to go watch and play. (Full Disclosure: After writing that sentence, it’s entirely possible I am still nine years old. But most of you aren’t.)
3. Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds (MLB Network)
Brian Kenny is MLB Network’s sabermetric mouthpiece and Reynolds is as old school as they come, once saying that the Triple Crown “is the [MVP] trump card.” Kenny draws on analytic thinking and research while Reynolds goes with his gut. If you know something about this site, you might think I’d prefer Kenny (and I do), but they are awesome together. Really awesome. Reynolds has great charisma and knows how to push Kenny’s buttons. At one point during an MLB Tonight episode last season, I literally rolled on the floor (read: couch) laughing at this exchange.
HR: (jokes about Kenny’s use of The Shredder to analyze players)
Kenny: I’ll shred you!
HR: Yeah, yeah whatever, real baseball people don’t care about that stuff.
Kenny: They do, come to the SABR conference with me and see managers and GMs there.
HR: Do you wear your Star Wars costume to the convention?
This would be funnier if I had a clip, but trust me, it was hilarious.
2. The Person Who Runs @CantPredictBall
This and its counterpart @CanPredictBall are must follows on Twitter for their awesome and poignant baseball commentary. The premise for the account is that they post things that happen in baseball that are uncommon and strange. What’s even better is their awareness of strangeness which allows them to almost parody themselves by tweeting about things that are unpredictable in a predictable way. Here is an example of their standard tweeting:
And here is that self-awareness (from the World Series this year):
CanPredictBall does the same thing from the opposite perspective. Awesome stuff.
1. Jeff Sullivan (Fangraphs)
A few weeks ago, Sullivan retired from the Mariners blog Lookout Landing, which he created about ten years ago in favor of spending more time working for Fangraphs and working on other things. At that time, I posted his final column and remarked that if I had been born in the American northwest, I would have liked to have been Jeff Sullivan. He is quite simply, the best. The voice he achieves in his writing is among the best I’ve ever read (not just among sportswriters) and he picks up on the best things about baseball. He writes a lot of posts on pitch framing and pace and weird things that happen like Jesus Montero throwing out Mike Trout attempting to steal. If I write anymore, I think my wife will get jealous, but sufficed to say, Sullivan makes baseball fun.
Who makes baseball fun for you? Can your mom pronounce baseball names?
Something I’ve learned over the course of my life is that people love lists and rankings. They can’t get enough of them. If you write a paragraph about a group of good shortstops it will be less popular than a list of the five best shortstops even if the information is identical. Call it a quirk of humanity.
That said, the most highly read piece on this site was my list of the nine best baseball books, so I have some evidence to back this up besides the success of the otherwise useless Bleacher Report. People like lists and people like rankings.
So you’re going to get them. SABR Toothed Tigers is proud to introduce The Nine, a series of rankings, lists, and other things that can be grouped that relate to baseball’s most usable number, 9.
Nine positions, nine innings, nine things on our lists.
This will be a regular Saturday feature for us at STT and we’d love to hear any suggestions you might have about what you’d like to see discussed in our rankings. As I noted above, The Nine Best Baseball Books are already available on this site. Look for The Nine Best Baseball Websites this weekend and notice the new tab on the homepage with links to all of STT’s The Nine‘s
I can’t pretend to have read everything ever written about baseball, but I wish that I could. I love baseball and I love reading. As you might expect given that information, I also love books about baseball. Here are some of my favorites and no fan’s library is complete without them. Feel free to recommend more in the comments section.
[Editor’s Note: You can find a crowd-sourced list of favorite baseball books here]
9. Men at Work by George Will (Amazon)
Will’s book tells the story of the game through discussions of specific players and managers. It’s the ultimate case study of the thinking baseball man. It’s about two decades old at this point, but it’s just as easy to pick up now and feel smell the fresh cut grass in every page.
8. Fantasyland by Sam Walker (Amazon)
This may be the only book about fantasy baseball on this list, but that doesn’t make the story any less real. Walker, a WSJ writer, spent a year chronicling his participation in one of the oldest and most competitive fantasy baseball leagues. It’s a great read and it’s about seven years old at this point, so it’s a quaint version of fantasy sports that doesn’t include Twitter.
7. Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons (Amazon)
Simmons is famous for his work as the Sports Guy and as editor of Grantland, but way back when, he was actually a fan of baseball and his hometown Red Sox. This book is a compilation of columns he wrote about the Sox leading up to their improbable 2004 World Series run. The title says it all, but it’s still a fun read even though the Red Sox have now become as annoying to all baseball fans as the Yankees.
6. 3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger (Amazon)
Bissinger, of Friday Night Lights fame, spend three nights in August trailing around Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa in 2003. I honestly haven’t picked this one up in a long time, but I remember finding it to be a great love letter to baseball.
5. Perfect by James Buckley (Amazon)
This book is great for a couple reasons. First, it’s the story of every perfect game in baseball history, which should be enough for you to buy it immediately. But it’s also the story of every perfect game that almost was. There’s an entire chapter devoted to pitchers who made it 8 2/3 innings before giving up a hit or a walk to the final batter. The other great thing about this book is that I read it a couple years (2008?) after Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004. Within the following four years, there would be like six more perfect games. I read this entire book and now it’s 33% longer!
Editor’s Note: Wait to buy this one until the three(!) 2012 perfect games are included.
4. Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Amazon)
This is probably the most famous book on the list. It’s become a target in the last few years, especially after the Hollywood adaptation. But the book itself is brilliant and wildly misunderstood by people who obviously didn’t read it. Moneyball is about the cash strapped A’s and their quest to exploit market inefficiency in order to win an unfair game. A lot of people turned this into a stats v. scouts book, and it absolutely wasn’t. This was a book about a team that folded statistical analysis into their player evaluation model because scouts were missing something. Scouts don’t miss these things as much anymore. The A’s spend more on their scouts than they did when the book was written because they do value that perspective. They just needed to find out what everyone else was undervaluing so that they could win without big dollar sign
3. 56 by Kostya Kennedy (Amazon)
56 is a really simple concept. It’s the story of the greatest athletic achievement in sports history. It’s the story of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak in 1941. The book is a lot of fun and folds in a lot of great baseball history and its connection to the history of the nation. Kennedy also does a great job interspersing short analysis and commentary between chapters of the narrative to help you think about the streak from a modern point of view.
2. Heart of the Game by S.L. Price (Amazon)
This is the heartbreaking story of Mike Coolbaugh and the line drive that ended his life. He was coaching first base at a minor league game when a foul ball caught him in the neck and the book tells his story and the story of the man who hit the baseball. It’s a story about trying to make it in a tough game and also about coping with tragedy and loss. It’s a heavy read, but it’s as brilliant as it is sad.
1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Amazon)
Fielding is the only work of fiction on this list, but it has a well-earned spot at the top of this list. Harbach’s first novel is a bit soapy at times, but that doesn’t detract from its wonderful treatment of a college baseball team at a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. The story itself is great, but the way Harbach handles baseball tells you he’s not only a fantastic writer, but a true fan. The occasional uncomfortable sex scene is not nearly enough to make you want to put down one of the most compelling arrangements of sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever read.
If you’re looking for a good baseball themed gift today and apparel isn’t an option, I recommend The Hardball Times Annual 2013 put out by THT and Fangraphs. I’m reading it this weekend and it’s a must read for anyone who’s missing baseball.
Baseball, as it’s said, is our national pastime. It’s part of the story of America. Its history is our history. And to that end, baseball permeates beyond the lines and into our culture. From time to time here at STT, we’ll cover baseball as a social phenomenon through television, movies, music, and literature.
To leadoff the series, I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite baseball quotations.
“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time.”
-Jim Bouton, Ball Four (1970)
Ball Four is best known for its description of the less than glamorous side of our athletic heroes, but this line should be viewed apart from that controversy.
Bouton’s words here best capture the romanticism of the game. You quite literally grip a baseball, but the game grips you. It holds onto you. A baseball season is frequently Oscar worthy drama and Emmy worthy comedy. The characters are vivid, but also mysterious. It’s like a really long episode of Homeland.
For six months we’re hopeful, optimistic, joyful, and in love. We’re scared and beaten, depressed and anxious.
We just can’t look away.
There’s so much packed into a single game. A single inning. A single pitch.
For true fans, there isn’t anything quite like the fraction of a second between the pitcher letting go of the pitch until the batter makes contact, or doesn’t. Everything hangs in the balance. We subconsciously lean forward like we’re willing our guy to win the battle. Our reward is a satisfying “pop” or an endorphin generating “crack.”
The game has a hold over you, one that you can never really shake. It’s a microcosm of our lives. Of everything. A million tiny moments building to one amazing finish. It’s a story of coming of age and a story of growing old. It’s about love and heartbreak, pride and disappointment.
It’s just, gripping. It’s a game about everything, and we just can’t look away.