STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If you think this is an era of scaled down expectations you may want to visit the ballpark of the West Michigan Whitecaps. It's a minor league baseball team that sold more than 100 mega-sized burgers on opening night.
The monster is called the Fifth Third burger. It's made with five patties plus chili, American cheese, nacho cheese, tortilla chips, salsa, lettuce, tomato and sour cream — all piled on an eight-inch bun. I'm just reading the menu here. It weighs more than four pounds and some fans took on the entire burger by themselves. Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer reports.
DUSTIN DWYER: The Fifth Third burger gets its name, of course, because it has five one-third pound patties of beef. But we're also standing in Fifth Third Ballpark, which is named after Fifth Third Bank, based in Cincinnati.
Now, Fifth Third is a bank that has had some severe financial losses because of the downturn in the housing market. It bet big on houses in Michigan and in Florida, where there've been a lot of foreclosures. And Fifth Third has gotten $3.4 billion from the federal government to stay afloat. So, this burger - the Fifth Third burger could also be called the bailout burger.
Mr. RAY BOZE: It hurts, it hurts.
DWYER: That's Ray Boze. I talked to him just after he finished an entire Fifth Third burger on his own. It's the caloric equivalent of nine Big Macs - nine. Boze started eating before the first pitch, and he didn't finish that last excruciating bite until the ninth inning.
Mr. BOZE: But I'm glad I did it. And I'll never do it again.
DWYER: Boze was one of more than a dozen people who ate the entire burger on opening night. The burger has become the star of the West Michigan Whitecaps operation. It's gotten worldwide attention.
Mickey Graham is head of marketing for the Whitecaps.
Mr. MICKEY GRAHAM (Head of marketing, West Michigan Whitecaps): It's been a whirlwind for us, for media. For an organization like us that's had to scrap and claw to get our name out there, I mean, it's been crazy to get all this international attention.
DWYER: Graham says the Whitecaps have a history of offering some oddball menu items at their concession stands - giant turkey legs and fried Twinkies to name a few.
The massive Fifth Third burger comes at a time when Americans are being told it's time to scale back to smaller vehicles, smaller mortgage payments, smaller meals and smaller expectations.
This is a burger that's so big it has to be served in a pizza box with an open top. And people love it.
Mr. GRAHAM: You turn on the news and everything, and some people don't like what they're hearing, but people still want to talk about fun things that are happening in life. And, so, I think that's one of the reasons why this has caught on.
DWYER: The Fifth Third burger is also not just about excessive consumption: The Whitecaps are marketing the burger as a family meal. It comes sliced into four pieces. For $20, it's a relatively cheap dinner at the ballpark.
Marnie Joostberns bought a burger to share with her nephews Noah and Nate Junker.
Ms. MARNIE JOOSTBERNS: This was Nate's big thing. They talked about this in current events class — the Fifth Third burger.
DWYER: Really? They talked about this at school?
Ms. JOOSTBERNS: Yeah.
Mr. NATE JUNKER: Yeah. It was on the news. And my teacher, Mr. Buseys, and um… So I'm like as soon as my aunt Marnie came over I'm like we have to get the burger.
DWYER: What did your teacher tell you about the burger? How is this a current event?
Mr. JUNKER: He just said it was huge and it was like four pounds. So it was pretty cool. I'm just glad to eat it. It's actually pretty good.
DWYER: Yeah, you're covered in it now.
Mr. JUNKER: Yes. It's very messy.
DWYER: So you can see the Fifth Third burger as a symbol of American excess, or you can see it as just a fun time at the ballpark. But it's certainly uniquely American. And the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression can't stop that.
For NPR News, I'm Dustin Dwyer at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan.
INSKEEP: And if you're hungry for a big burger this morning go to npr.org to watch a video of the Fifth Third burger being prepared.
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