Yet hot dogs continue to dominate ballpark food sales. King Colossal indeed. "You'll find there are still six major food groups," says Thompson of Sportservice. "There's a sausage product—tube steak, as it's called in some places; popcorn; soda or beer; nachos; peanuts; and malts and frozen things."
In this last category is the Dove Bar, which is giving some stiff competition to the frosty malt as the frozen thing of choice in many ballparks. The frosty malt, you might recall, is a cup of chocolate-malt-flavored ice cream that comes with a flimsy three-inch tongue depressor that its manufacturers quaintly call a spoon. If the Dove Bar should displace the frosty malt, it would be the death knell for yet another baseball tradition. As Thompson concedes, "You can't throw the lid of a Dove Bar," Frisbee-like, from the second deck of a stadium.
What price progress?
For the better part of this century, ballpark cuisine comprised the few, unwavering, aforementioned staples. That all changed with the advent of nachos: tortilla chips submerged in something called "cheez," an orange substance with the viscosity and thermal breakdown of 40-weight Pennzoil. People lapped it up, often literally.
Nonexistent in ballparks circa 1980, nachos now account for 8% of all food sales in stadiums served by Sportservice. "Nachos were introduced in the theme restaurants, like Friday's," says Aramark's Kloppenburg. "Then they came to the ballparks."
Things would never be the same. Before the decade was out, the door was thrown open to other arrivistes, including Dove Bars, Dunkin' Donuts and Pizza Hut. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack? "With Cracker Jack, you find young kids don't enjoy it much," says Thompson. "They have gone to the Crunch 'n Munch." In what may be a final act of desperation, some Cracker Jack boxes carry a banner that says FAT FREE, the '90s equivalent of A PRIZE IN EVERY PACKAGE.
According to Sportservice, the number of women attending major league games has tripled, to more than 35%, in the past 10 years, expediting an explosion of light ballpark food, such as salads, pasta and Fat Free Cracker Jack. The age and affluence of baseball fans—most customers at Camden Yards are between 31 and 40 years old, with an annual income of at least $50,000—have also pushed the trend toward yuppier fare, such as boutique beers. 3Com Park serves 20 bottled brands at one stand alone, including Oregon Berry Brew, which tastes like cherry Robitussin but doesn't provide the pleasant buzz you get from the cough syrup.
In addition most stadiums serve some sort of regional cuisine: Cuban sandwiches in Miami, cheese coneys in Cincinnati, clam chowder in Boston, barbecued brisket in Texas, indigenous seafood in Denver and Maryland crab cakes in Baltimore.
Crab cakes were on the menu in Orioles owner Peter Angelos's luxury box at Camden Yards on April 2 when President Clinton threw out the first pitch to open the season. So were fresh fruits, crudités and other foods so extraordinary at a ballpark that the collective spread impressed even the President's jaded entourage. "They were saying they'd never seen anything like it," recalls Michelle Milani, the luxury box attendant that afternoon.
"Uh, Michelle?" asked the President, surveying the spread as the game got under way. "Can I just have...nachos?" A platter was summoned, and Clinton inhaled it as if he were a Hoover upright. "And he had some shelled peanuts," says Milani.