LIANE HANSEN, host:
Like everything else, going to the ballpark just ain't what it used to be. Popular music blares constantly. Cameras scan for outlandish fan behavior to highlight on the center field JumboTron. Ticket prices rival orchestra seats for the opera. And then there's the food. WEEKEND EDITION essayist Bonny Wolf has noticed that ballpark food has gone upscale.
`Get your ice cool daiquiris here. Get your grilled panini sandwich. Get your coq au vin.' Well, it hasn't gotten that bad. But a few years ago at a Colorado Rockies game in Denver, somewhere around the fifth inning, venders appeared in the stands selling lattes. Oh, yes, you can still get hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and cotton candy and, of course, beer and soda, but you can also get coconut prawns, microbrews or a Napa Valley chardonnay.
This transformation may have all started when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992. The faux classic, state-of-the-art ballpark had room for kitchens and dining rooms, club seats and luxury suites. An executive chef became nearly as essential a ballpark figure as the groundskeeper. Grills went in alongside steam drawers, and signature sauces were set next to the hotdog relish. The executive chefs try to bring a regional flavor to the fair: cheese steaks in Philadelphia, brats in Milwaukee, clam chowder in Boston, crab cakes in Baltimore, fajitas in Houston, barbecue in Kansas City and, naturally, Rocky Mountain oysters in Denver. Some ballparks cater to special diets. PETA named San Francisco's SBC Field the top vegetarian-friendly ballpark. The Giants served soy dogs, veggie burgers, vegetarian sushi and portabella mushroom sandwiches.
Former ballplayers have become concessionaires. Venerated Oriole first baseman Boog Powell dishes barbecue at Camden Yards. Former Phillies home-run hitter Greg "The Bull" Luzinski offers pork, ribs and chicken in Philadelphia. And one-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Louie Tion(ph) sells his special Cuban sandwich on Yawkey Way bordering Fenway Park. Some stadiums have tampered with traditional offerings and paid the price. At Yankee Stadium last year, Cracker Jacks were replaced with Crunch 'n Munch. That received a Bronx cheer. Cracker Jacks are back in a bag, though, not a box.
The designer chefs should take note. As Humphrey Bogart once said, `A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.'
HANSEN: Washington writer Bonny Wolf is a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan, who married into a Baltimore Orioles family, but now she finds herself drawn to the Washington Nationals. And you can find some ballpark food recipes at our Web site, npr.org.