| To Dine For: Ranking Spring Training Ballparks Based on the Food They Offer
For many years peanuts and Cracker Jacks werenít just the inspiration for baseballís 7th inning theme song, they were about the best items that a stadium concession stand had to offer.
Wooden seats and stale buns were ingrained into the memories of a generation that grew up before the designated hitter was introduced to the sport.
By the time the 1980s rolled around the stadiums were bigger and so too were the hot dogs, reaching foot long status, but berms, open concourses, fancy scoreboards and fulfilling menus were still a decade away.
Just like their Major League brethren, Spring Training ballparks underwent a renaissance in the 1990s that yielded newer and better ballparks filled with amenities never seen before. As the ballparks became aesthetically pleasing to the eye, concessionaires became tempting to the tummy and nowadays food courts (and beer gardens) have become an important part of the fan experience.
The ballpark staples still exist in ready supply throughout the Cactus and Grapefruit League. But hot dogs, sausages, nachos and peanuts have been joined by much more creative cuisine in Arizona and Florida.
In 2009 I visited each ballpark in both states, where I ate lunch or dinner depending on the time of the game. All 26 ballparks now feature a handful of local restaurants operating out of temporary kiosks set up on the concourse, so each offers up some distinct options.
But just as some ballparks are better than others, so too is the quality and quantity of food found at each. After browsing and sampling their options, Iím now qualified to rank the ballparks based on their appeal to this fanís taste buds.
- Peoria Sports Complex (Mariners & Padres)
There's something for everybody here and when it comes to concessions Peoria is truly Major League. The Power Alley, a spacious and festive area behind the third base grandstand, has a dazzling array of specialty food options. Elsewhere, the Taste of the Cactus League stand behind home plate features sumptuous treats like salmon Caesar salad and Baja fish tacos for the host teams, along with equally impressive dishes from the home cities of other Cactus League teams. A specially priced kids meal (PB&J or hot dog, chips and soda) can be found at the concession stand by the wiffle ball field. Seemingly anything an adult could ever want, from gyros to burritos, can be found in the Power Alley, making Peoria the pride of the Cactus League when it comes to dining.
- Surprise Stadium (Rangers & Royals)
A handful of specialty concession stands can be found on the concourse down the left field line, ensuring fans have plenty of options. The diverse offerings change yearly, but barbeque, funnel cakes, and cheese steaks seem to be a constant.
- Camelback Ranch (Dodgers & White Sox)
There are plenty of concession stands and carts on the concourse that encircles the ballpark. The standard fare is joined by deli sandwiches, sonoran chicken, four types of sausages (Italian, Polish, Jalapeno and the Brat), smoked BBQ and roasted ears of corn. Most disappointing is the absence of Dodger Dogs, although a Chicago Dog is available.
- Goodyear Ballpark (Indians)
The most original choices actually involve an old standby, the hot dog. Visit Hot Dog Nation behind home plate to select from a jumbo, New York, Chicago, Arizona, Cleveland or Cincinnati-style wiener. A Mexican grill is in the third base plaza, a pizza place on the first base plaza, and Philly cheesesteak stands can be found down both outfield lines. Other eating options of interest include a hand carving sandwich station (right field) and BBQ nachos and sandwiches (left field).
- Hohokam Park (Cubs)
The food is pretty good but the problem is that concession stands are behind the grandstand and sold out crowds lead to long lines that will often force you to miss an inning. If you like hot dogs, the Chi-Town Dog (onions, mustard, sport peppers, sweet relish, tomatoes) or the Mesa Dog (chili, cheese, fritos, jalapenos) are worth the wait behind home plate at Hot Dog Nation. But mainly you'll find tried and true menu items (pizza, pulled pork BBQ, nachos), although the trailer in the left field corner serving up Iowa breaded pork tenderloins is original.
- Maryvale Baseball Park (Brewers)
It wouldn't be a Brewers game without Klement's bratwursts. They're available throughout the ballpark, along with Klement's Polish sausage and hot dog. Otherwise, there aren't many specialty food items. Those that do exist can be found at tents set up on the concourse behind home plate, where the most unique offering is the wok fired soba noodles.
- Scottsdale Stadium (Giants)
San Franciscans will recognize and appreciate the garlic fries from Gordon Biersch. Everyone else will notice a pedestrian selection of food, highlighted by the barbeque found among the specialty stands down the left field line.
- Tucson Electric Park (Diamondbacks)
The stadium's concession menus really aren't that creative, but do cover all the American and Mexican staples quite well. Hot dog lovers will appreciate the choice of super dog, Polish dog, bratwurst and Italian sausage. What's unique at TEP are wings and mini donuts, each found among the specialty concession stands set up in the right field corner.
- Hi Corbett Field (Rockies)
The Rockie Dog, smothered in grilled peppers and onions, will make fans feel like they're in Colorado. Separate concessions serve up Mexican food and barbeque, which is better here than at most parks.
- Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels)
Specialty food tents are found on the concourse down the left field line. Unfortunately the choices there and throughout the stadium are fairly routine. The highlight is the supersized Portobello mushroom sandwich that comes from the grills on the concourse that also cook burgers, sausages and hot dogs during the game.
- Phoenix Municipal Stadium (A's)
Your taste buds will scorn the lack of creativity here. The menu is almost exclusively standard stuff. For something different, visit one of the concession stands found on the elevated grassy picnic areas in both outfield corners. Portabella mushroom burgers are featured in left field.
- Joker Marchant Stadium (Tigers)
Your taste buds will love the Lakeland concession stands. The Little Caesars Pizza stand is a natural fit, given that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch owns the pizza chain. A tuna sandwich and Havana melt panini is on the ballpark menu, in addition to the hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian sausages and grilled chicken sandwiches that are found at the six-sided hut on the first base concourse. In 2009, a stand set up on the third base concourse served up some of the most sumptuous pulled pork, baked beans and potato salad ever found inside a ballpark.
- Osceola County Stadium (Astros)
The food here might very well be the highlight of your visit, as a good selection of grub can be found at various concession stands on the concourse behind the grandstand. In 2009, one vendor sold corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and sweet tea while another offered the choice of gyros or corn dogs. Elsewhere, pulled pork was put on a sandwich, fried chicken on a stick, and steak in a pita. The stadium also sells three styles of hot dog: Texas (chili), Cincinnati (cheese) and Chicago.
- Steinbrenner Field (Yankees)
There are plenty of concessions with plenty of options, so a wider variety of food is available here than at most Spring Training ballparks. Examples include deli sandwiches, deviled crabs and a meatball parmesan sub, which is sold at the same stand where you can get an 18" pizza...for $25!
- Champion Stadium (Braves)
You won't go hungry in a ballpark that is run like a Disney attraction, which it actually is. So there are plenty of options and plenty of concession stands. All of your typical ballpark fare is available and the specialty carts on the first base concourse sell items like gyros and cheesesteaks.
- Tradition Field (Mets)
New York's beloved Nathan's hot dogs are served throughout the ballpark. So are knishes. Specialty stands in 2009 served up such treats as the taco in a helmet, crÍpes and cheese steaks (not the Philly kind - these had cheese poured on top).
- Charlotte Sports Park (Rays)
The Rays outsource two of the ballpark's more popular items from national chains: subs from Quiznos and the Chick-Fil-A sandwich, which isn't available on Sunday since the restaurant is closed that day. BBQ pork sandwiches are available at all concession stands behind the grandstand while a steak and cheese stand is on the boardwalk. Local vendors set up shop under canopies behind both berms, where they have a monopoly on traditional ballpark fare.
- Ed Smith Stadium (Reds)
Two of Cincinnati's favorite delicacies are here. The Big Red Smokey (Polish sausage) is widely available and there's a Skyline Chili stand in right field. The biggest drawback is that lines move slower in Sarasota than elsewhere, but the food is generally worth the extra wait.
- Space Coast Stadium (Nationals)
Items of interest include a grilled chicken Caesar salad, BBQ nachos, chicken stix (teriyaki and mojo chicken skewers) and "baskets" of ballpark favorites that include fries for one low (by ballpark standards) price.
- Bright House Field (Phillies)
It wouldn't be a Phillies game without a cheesesteak and they are available at the concession stand behind home plate. But this ballpark is more known for its suds than grub.
- McKechnie Field (Pirates)
Most concession stands are manned by local restaurants, so pizza, ice cream, pulled pork and Philly cheese steaks have a local flavor.
- Roger Dean Stadium (Cardinals & Marlins)
Each side of the stadium has a concession stand named in honor of one of its two tenants, but the St. Louis Grill and Florida Grill serve up little more than generic ballpark fare, an exception being the Dean Dog, a jumbo hot dog with peppers and onions. The specialty stands behind home plate change yearly. The highlight of 2009 was the BBQ pulled pork and crab cake sliders served at the Island Grill.
- Hammond Stadium (Twins)
The Party Deck grill serves up Conch & Balls (fritters and hush puppies) while the main grandstand concessionaires offer the Eb & Flo's Slaw Dog. But for the most part, there's nothing fancy here except for the abundant choices of beer.
- City of Palms Park (Red Sox)
Sorry, you won't find Fenway Franks here. Actually, you won't find anything that's creative at the Aramark run concession stands, where you'll have to fill up on the usual suspects - hot dogs, sausages, burgers, fries, etc. An outside vendor does sell sushi rolls at a couple of freestanding booths on the concourse, but that is the extent of the ballpark's expanded menu.
- Dunedin Stadium (Blue Jays)
The Bull Pen Cafe, a covered tent area behind home plate, severs up pulled pork and baked beans. Choices everywhere else are limited to normal American fare, which is consumed by the many Canadians in attendance.
- Fort Lauderdale Stadium (Orioles)
Concession stands are scarce and concentrated on the small concourse just inside of the main entrance, which is known as the "Food Court Area." The only option out of the ordinary in 2009 were the arepas, a Latin America specialty made of sweet corn bread and filled with mozzarella. Fans stranded in the bleachers have their own concessions, but the arepas and any other specialty items are not available there. Also, Fort Lauderdale Stadium is the only Spring Training venue that does not serve draft beer.
Just like in any restaurant, the food served at a ballpark can and often will vary from one year to the next. But generally the two Qs of food (quality and quantity) remain consistent, so fans in 2010 now know where to go to fill their appetite for baseball and Americaís other favorite pastime: eating.
went on hiatus from his diet to do the required "research" for this article. In 26 trips to the ballpark during the 2009 Spring Training season he ate only two hot dogs, both at Kissimmee's Osceola County Stadium, where the wieners were free thanks to a promotion. Food elsewhere tallied up to around two hundred bucks and added five pounds to Knight's waistline over the course of a month.
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