The social context of hot dogs at a baseball game.
By Gretchen LaFerriere
For some of us, summertime means baseball season. Going to the ballpark with friends and bonding with strangers over a shared favorite team. The ballpark is also a place where you might try some foods you wouldn’t normally eat if you were watching the game at home or at a local pub…
The concession stand menu has evolved significantly over the years, and yet the hotdog remains a staple. At any other location, a hotdog is just meat trimmings in casing served on a basic bun. But when you’re at the ballpark, the hotdog becomes an edible souvenir. So, no one was more surprised than me when I found myself not only eating a hotdog, but enjoying it.
I had bought tickets for the Reading Phillies game for my son, Parker and I to enjoy together, something my dad did with me when I was young. My son loves baseball, so this was a perfect opportunity to share an experience that I did with my dad, with Parker.
“Tickets please,” the gray-haired gentleman requested while thrusting out an open hand into the air towards me. His urgency could be due to the growing line behind us.
I exchanged our tickets with the gentleman for a game program. The program was filled with baseball players and the position they played, local advertising and a two-page spread with a picture of a hotdog with all the fixings.
As we entered the stadium, our senses were met with familiar smells of salty popcorn, sweet cotton candy and savory hotdogs. The concession stand menus were filled with a plethora of options and yet it seemed like the simple hotdog stand held the largest line.
“Let’s find our seats!” Parker suggested.
We navigated our way through the narrow rows to our seats, the sound of crunchy peanut shells beneath us as we walked and the smell of sunscreen permeated the air as we squeezed passed a family of five trying to be proactive against the rising sun. In the time it took us to find our seats, less than five minutes, we had worked up an appetite. It seemed as if all our neighboring patrons were munching on hotdogs.
I don’t typically eat hotdogs. Except for one time, a long time ago when I was a child with my dad at a baseball game. When I was ten, eating a hotdog seemed like the thing to do while watching a game at the ballpark. But now I am older, wiser and I’d like to think I have a more eclectic pallet than what I had at ten years old. Yet here I sat, a thirty-year-old woman, seriously considering a hotdog as my first choice for lunch.
It could have been the nostalgic feeling that a hotdog represented, being a child sitting at a game with my dad eating hotdogs. Or maybe it was because hotdogs and baseball went together like popcorn and the movies or funnel cake and a carnival. Foods that became a pivotal piece of getting the full experience of enjoying a trip to the movies or the local fair.
As I was trying to ignore the growling noise in my stomach, that seemed to argue my protest for eating a hotdog, a man came running out of right field in an ostrich costume. They called him, The Crazy Hotdog Vendor. The name seemed fitting. This man ran around the park with a sack full of hotdogs wrapped in gold foil, that he threw like a football to the eager fans in the stands.
As the Crazy Hotdog Vendor approached the stands, everyone stood up, getting themselves into a visible position that seemed to consist of them standing on their chair and waving their hands around trying to look desperate enough that the Crazy Hotdog Vendor would take notice of them and throw a hotdog in their direction.
“I’m not standing up,” I thought to myself.
“Come on mommy, stand up!”
There I was, standing, trying to catch one of these football hotdogs, a game I swore to myself I wouldn’t partake in. The Crazy Hotdog Vendor had made his way past the third baseline and was starting his journey back around home base, then first base throwing out hotdog after hotdog. You’d have thought he was tossing autographed collector baseball cards into the stands with how excited everyone got.
He’s thrown out so many hotdogs that I’d lost count. The plump bag he started out with, now looked weightless. “How many hotdogs does he have?” I thought. He answered my silent question when he announced that he was down to his final hotdog.
He teased the crowd with it, waving it around in the air, asking, “who wants it?” Judging by the sound the crowd made, you’d have thought that it was the last hotdog in the entire stadium. He held onto it a little longer, deciding which section would be lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch it.
Then, something strange happened. As I stood there next to my son waiting to know what the future held for that last hotdog, The Crazy Hotdog Vendor seemed to make eye contact with me. Mid stare down, he pulls his arm back and throws it in my direction. It soars through the air like a dart, flying right at me and if I didn’t put my hands up to catch it I was going to get hit in the face with it. I braced myself, hands held up in an unathletic way in front of my face, waiting and praying the golden hotdog would fall into my hands requiring little effort from me.
When I heard clapping around me, and felt nothing between my hands, I assumed I didn’t catch it. But it was worse than I had imagined. He wasn’t making eye contact with me. He was looking at the small child three rows behind us and had made a clean throw right to the little girl’s glove. She couldn’t contain her excitement as she unwrapped her meaty trophy.
Now, not only was I mildly embarrassed that I had an unreciprocated stare down with someone called the Crazy Hotdog Vendor, but I no longer had the ability to fight off the craving I had for a hotdog. I clasped hands with my son and made our way back through the row of people, down the never-ending stairs to the nearest hotdog stand and purchased two hotdogs.
I collected my hotdog like a prize. It sat in my hand and I stared at it like a blank canvas waiting to be painted with condiments.
“Ketchup, lots of ketchup.” I thought.
I don’t eat ketchup, but I also don’t eat hotdogs. Alas, here I was, eating a hotdog smothered in ketchup. After the first bite I was convinced I felt my stomach forgive me for the protest I put it through earlier. I cared more about the second bite than I did about the ketchup I was pretty sure I had smeared on my face. Half way through my hotdog, I felt like a real baseball fan. Because people who love baseball, love hotdogs too, right?
While I regained some self-control, I wiped the ketchup from my mouth. It was obvious that this hotdog was more than just a snack from the concession stand at the baseball game. It was part of the experience of seeing a game live. It held the same weight as the sound of the crack of a bat and feeling your seat rattle from the crowd cheering on your favorite player as he rounds the bases after he just hit a homerun. It’s also the same as deciding to stand up on your chair to partake in a game of, “catch the hot dog” from a guy named The Crazy Hotdog Vendor. Something you wouldn’t normally do if it wasn’t for being surrounded by a thousand other fans doing the exact same thing.
The way we watch a baseball game in person is different than the way we would watch the game from home. Watching a movie at the theater with your family is a different experience than watching that same movie by yourself. A trip to the movie theater might include a splurge on popcorn and a soda, because we believe that’s the only way to enjoy a movie at the theater. But if you’d have watched that same movie at home by yourself, the desire for popcorn and soda might be nonexistent. This could be the same for having a funnel cake or lemonade at a carnival. Two food items that are not healthy choices, but we still decide to treat ourselves while in the moment.
I still consider myself someone who does not like hotdogs. Yet my son enjoys correcting me to let everyone know, that while I do not like hotdogs, I still eat them whenever I go to a baseball game.