Eating in the Majors: Food and Baseball

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Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball

 [cultural historian Jacques Barzun] 


Can we make that heart, mind, and stomach?
The ceremonial first pitch, the seventh inning stretch, peanuts, beer and hot dogs—food is right up there with the grandest of baseball’s tradition.

Jacques Barzun’s statement is as apt today as it was a half century ago when he first made it. Baseball continues to resonate deeply within us, striking that mystic chord of memory. It has always encapsulated so much of American life and history, from racism to immigration, urbanization, labor disputes, and substance abuse. Baseball’s issues have always been our issues. And so it is now with food.

Plenty of ink has already been spilled covering the newly upscale stadium fare.
It’s been written up in the sports pages and the food sections: the dozens of craft brews (or maybe a split of Laurent-Perrier Champagne) that have replaced watered-down domestic suds; the old, greasy burgers steaming in their buns that have given way to delicate crab cakes bound with a light-as-gossamer whipped lemon mayonnaise; carpaccio drizzled with olive oil and capers instead of chips topped with nacho cheese sauce; even the traditional ballpark frank has been remade with humanely-raised beef and small-batch relishes tucked into a poppy-brioche bun.

Clubhouse culinary traditions.
Fine dining doesn’t fit easily into the baseball players’ lifestyle. Most players spend more than 100 days on the road each year, leaving them little time to sharpen their kitchen skills. After a night game, most restaurants have stopped serving, leaving ballplayers to pick at routine stadium commissary offerings or head to a fast food joint with late night hours. Team cookbooks, full of uninspired sour cream dips and canned-soup casseroles, bear witness to the unevolved ballplayer appetites. Yes, I said team cookbooks. Nearly every major league team has one. They are usually compiled by the players’ wives who collect recipes from players and coaches, their families, and their favorite hometown restaurants. Recent editions are full of dishes from baseball-loving Asian and Latin American cultures, reflecting the globalism of today’s teams, but most players still cite the same fast food and chain restaurants as their favorites.

There have always been exceptions. White Sox dugout aesthete Manny Ramirez has a personal chef. Healthy foods advocate and new Yankee Curtis Granderson is a spokesman for Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, and has been in talks to host a show for the Food Network. MLB even has its first, bona fide foodie—Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier is an accomplished cook who snaps food photos and Yelps for dining options on the road. He writes a food blog, Dining with ‘Dre, where he reviews small, ethnic restaurants around Los Angeles.

Baseball’s evolving culinary tradition should come as no surprise.
Food is just one more over-heated emblem of the contemporary lifestyle for baseball to mirror. A trip to the ballpark overflows with foodie excess: Food Network celebrities preside over club level kitchens; the James Beard award nominations of stadium chefs are tallied as obsessively as ERA stats, and the white-coated butchers on the third base concourse of Yankee Stadium have star power that rivals the players on the field. Given baseball’s history of co-opting the zeitgeist, the convergence of food and baseball was inevitable.

Team Cookbooks
Some MLB teams publish annual editions. Others are still pushing recipe collections from players that are only heard from on Old Timers’ Day. They’re in-print, out-of-print, found on Amazon and Ebay, or only at the stadium gift shop. And they all love puns about bundt cakes, fowl tips, and home plate.

Cooking with the Cardinals, Home Plate Hits Recipes from the Kitchens of the Minnesota Twins Wives, Cincinnati Reds Home Plate Favorites, The Authorized Texas Ranger Cookbook, Cook Like a Pro Texas Rangers Wives Cookbook, GourMets, Giants Appetizers, Cooking At Homeplate with the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres Cookbook,Big League Cookbook Favorite recipes from the distaff side of the Atlanta Braves and Chiefs, From Our Grill to Yours: Kansas City Royals Wives’ Cookbook, From the Mariner’s Galley Cookbook, Starters & Closers(a collection of appetizer and dessert recipes from the Mariners players and staff), Phillies Wives’ Cookbook, Padre Pickins, Chicago Cubs Cookbook: All-Star Recipes from Your Favorite Players


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5 Responses to Eating in the Majors: Food and Baseball

  1. Janice says:

    Whoops. Wrong Rangers?! Thank you for the correction.

  2. Russel says:

    http://www.amazon.com/Authorized-Texas-Ranger-Cookbook/dp/0964161400 is actually recipes from the law enforcement agency, not the baseball team…

  3. Janice says:

    Rick-

    $34.99. Pick a team.

  4. Rick says:

    I cannot believe those toasters are real.

  5. G Martin says:

    A ballgame just isn’t a ballgame without a hot dog and a Coke.

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