This week, as Fat
Tuesday feasting yields to Ash Wednesday fasting, let us pause for a moment in
defense of gluttony, because sports and unhealthy ingestibles are nearly
inseparable. (Literally so, if you ever tried to peel that pink rectangle of
gum from a baseball card.)
As the Mardi Gras
of baseball's off-season makes way for the Lent of spring training, Barry Bonds
is calling himself "fat." When Curt Schilling showed up at Red Sox
camp, teammate Mike Timlin told the Boston Herald, "He's a big fat
guy." Bonds and Schilling are future Hall of Famers whose Cooperstown busts
might best be captured by butter sculptors.
After he reported
for spring training 17 1/2 pounds overweight, pitcher Josh Hancock was released
by the Reds--punishment for a glutton--but he quickly signed with a better
team, the Cardinals, who'll let him fly his french-fried freak flag.
superstar striker, Ronaldo, lamented last week that the club's abusive fans
might yet drive him out of Spain ("They call me fat," he said), and the
toast of Super Bowl week--the garlic toast of Super Bowl week--was Jerome
Bettis, a Bus whose single air bag long ago deployed above his beltline.
Since these are
world-class athletes, it's time the rest of us embraced gluttony. (It will take
very long arms.) No fan should have to choose between a cheeseburger and a
bratwurst. And now no fan has to: The Bradley Burger (named for the Milwaukee
Bucks' arena) has a hamburger patty beneath a bratwurst patty beneath American
cheese and caramelized onions.
Every day new
ballpark foods are invented by culinary mad scientists, Dr. Frankensteins of
the frankfurter. The Class A West Michigan Whitecaps last week held their
annual "TestKitchen," in which mad scientists tried to sell the team on
new snack items. (The longtime fan favorite at Whitecaps games is the Swimmin'
Pig, a sauce-smothered pork chop on a bun that inspired the team's mascot: a
pig in a life preserver.) At their test kitchen in Grand Rapids team executives
weighed in, as it were, on sundry new delicacies. "Turns out you can
deep-fry just about anything," says Whitecaps spokesman Brian Oropallo.
"We ate deep-fried brownies, deep-fried chocolate-chip cookie dough, plus
gyros and lots of fried-chicken-flavored things. A stadium is one place you can
eat this stuff and it's O.K." The other place is the movie theater, where
it remains socially acceptable to eat a grocery sack of popcorn under cover of
darkness, a 64-ounce Mountain Dew holstered in the armrest.
Jason (Crazy Legs)
Conti is a self-described "gustatory gladiator" who puts the eat in
athlete as a superstar of competitive eating. Conti, who was a three-sport
letterman at Johns Hopkins, once buried himself inside an eight-foot-tall
plexiglass sarcophagus beneath 60 cubic feet of popcorn and endeavored to eat
his way out. An EMT stood at the ready, which is why Conti wore one red
wristband ("To signal 'Danger,'" he says) and one yellow wristband
("To signal 'More Butter'"). When at last he emerged, buttered but
unbowed, Conti had earned his other nickname, the Houdini of Cuisini.
"When it comes
to food," says Conti, who is 6'3" and lean, "there's a thin line
between joy and disgust." He once ate a different Shea Stadium offering
every inning for nine innings, closing out his perfect game with a knish in the
seventh, an Italian sausage in the eighth and a box of Cracker Jacks in the
ninth. "If eating a hot dog is bad for you but makes you feel good,"
says Conti, "imagine how good you'll feel after eating 20 of them."
best eaters are the leanest and most athletic. World No. 1 Takeru Kobayashi,
who ate 67 hamburgers in eight terrible minutes in November, is 132 pounds of
chiseled muscle. He dominates dinosaurs like Ed (Cookie) Jarvis, who weighs 419
pounds, or more than one pound for each degree of a Lazy Susan.
Eating has never
been more lucrative. Last July there was $40,000 in prize money on the table at
the Alka-Seltzer U.S. Open of Competitive Eating, where nothing stays on the
table for long. ( Kobayashi ate 13 pounds of spaghetti in 14 minutes to win.)
There are two forthcoming books on competitive eating--Ryan Nerz's Eat This
Book and Jason Fagone's Horsemen of the Esophagus--that will no doubt appeal to