This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.
Throughout the season I highlighted concession items from every Minor League ballpark I visited. Now, for your secondhand gustatory enjoyment, these appetizing entrees have been collected into a series of massive meals. Some of these dishes were included in previous editions of the newsletter, while others are making their Ben’s Biz Beat debut.
Today’s focus will be the final ballpark road trip I undertook this season, in September, which consisted of one team in Tennessee, two in Kentucky, one in Indiana and one in Ohio. The concessions in question were consumed and commented upon by each ballpark’s respective Designated Eater. This individual is recruited prior to the game and tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits.
In each of the following five writeups, please find a link to each team’s corresponding Minor League Ballpark Guide. Perhaps these culinary explorations will inspire your own 2024 road trip!
Team: Nashville Sounds
Ballpark: First Horizon Park (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Caroline Spence
In addition to being an acclaimed recording artist, Caroline Spence is, as of this past September, a Designated Eater. She and her husband Tyler met me at the First Horizon Park Band Box, a food, beverage and, above all, social area.
First up was Totchos -- tater tots topped with smoked chicken, jalapeño queso, sweet corn, pico de gallo and cilantro crema.
Tyler said that he and Caroline are “united in Totchos,” with Caroline adding that crema was in their wedding vows. So, safe to say, they are fans.
Of the next item, Caroline said that it tasted “very fried” (this was a compliment, I think). That item? Empanadas con Carne.
Dessert turned out to be the true star of the show: Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream, created by Sounds food and beverage GM Buddy Richardson.
“It’s awesome,” said Caroline. “Just the littlest bit salty and so nice. I’m so glad to know about this.”
Away from the ballpark, I enjoyed a couple of great meals in Nashville. The afternoon before the game, I met my co-worker Ben Weinrib for a barbecue meal at Bringle’s Smoking Oasis.
The following afternoon, before leaving town, I stopped at Gabby’s Burgers. This place is great. A little hole in the wall, where everyone seems to know everyone and the food is prepared with pride. I go every time I’m in Nashville (the fact that they have gluten-free buns is another selling point).
Gabby’s is across the street from Greer Stadium, the Sounds’ former home. Except, there’s literally no trace of Greer left. I couldn’t find even the faintest basepath outline, or outfield wall fragment.
Gabby’s and Greer and, keeping with the alliterative theme, Grimey’s Records.
Grimey’s was my final stop before leaving Nashville. A truly great record store, housed in a former church, featuring two floors of inventory. Did I buy more records than I was planning to? Yes. Yes, I did.
Team: Bowling Green Hot Rods
Ballpark: Bowling Green Ballpark (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Chris Fickes
At Bowling Green Ballpark, the most distinctive eats can be found within the second-level stadium club. From this slightly elevated locale, Designated Eater Chris Fickes enjoyed a triumvirate of concession items.
Copa Nachos, created in honor of the Hot Rods’ Bólidos de Bowling Green identity, are topped with chicken, cheese, jalapeños, sour cream, corn, black beans and lettuce.
“As they say in baseball, that’s a hit,” said Chris. “Well thought-out, well designed, well consumed.”
The Big South Chicken Sandwich is a fried chicken patty along with lettuce, pimento cheese, fried green tomato and a secret-ingredient “comeback sauce.” Chris deemed it to be very good, despite the fact that the pimento cheese was “not the world’s greatest.”
Finally, the Bacon Jam Burger. It’s topped with bourbon bacon jam, comeback sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.
“Nice and bacon-y,” said Chris. “The way you want it. The way it brings you back for more.”
Team: Louisville Bats
Ballpark: Louisville Slugger Field (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Greg Hotopp
Greg Hotopp, like Chris Fickes the night before, is a rare example of the two-time Designated Eater. Greg was employed in this capacity in Indianapolis in 2014, and now here he was nine years later doing the job in Louisville.
Greg only sampled two Louisville Bats concession items, but oh what concession items they were.
The Fried Bologna Sandwich -- a.k.a. the filet mignon of Louisville Slugger Field -- is a beloved Bats’ staple. Greg reported, “It’s an elevated take on a Southern Classic.”
At the Overlook Grill, located on the outfield concourse, one finds a most formidable item. The Grand Slam, courtesy of local Four Pegs Smokehouse and Bar, costs $25 and consists of pulled pork, brisket, chicken, French fries and pickles.
Greg said that it was, “kind of transcendent. It’s not Arby’s. This is ALL the meats. They have the meats at Four Pegs.”
Unfortunately we did not visit Louisville’s famous Cookie Lady afterwards, which was a real oversight. But should you ever find yourself at Louisville Slugger Field, make sure to sample the homemade goodies on offer from Elizabeth “The Cookie Lady” Kizito.
Team: Indianapolis Indians
Ballpark: Victory Field (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Will Carroll
You might know Will Carroll as “The Injury Expert” but on this September Saturday at Victory Field he had a different title: Designated Eater. The Indians were playing the Toledo Mud Hens, and therefore their Hot Dog of the Homestand was a Holy Toledo! Dog.
The Holy Toledo! Dog, an homage to Toledo hot dog institution Tony Packo’s, is garnished with pulled pork, Tony Packo’s pickles and shredded cheese. Will responded to it with muted positivity, and then we moved on to the tacos.
Two tacos were included in this platter, Shredded Beef and Cauliflower. The former featured kimchi, green onions and black cherry BBQ sauce, while the latter was topped with pickled onions (because they were out of chickpeas) and spicy cilantro sauce. Will said that the black cherry BBQ sauce had a “nice umami,” while the cauliflower had “good crunch.”
But sometimes you just want something simple and reliable. To that end, here’s a simple cheeseburger and fries.
“It’s a legit good burger,” Will said. “They don’t go full Smashburger with the crispy edges, but it’s perfectly cooked, good melt, good ratio of burger to bun. The fries aren’t too shabby either.”
Also not too shabby: the downtown Indianapolis institution that is St. Elmo Steak House. If you’re still hungry after the ballgame, walk over there and enjoy one of their famous shrimp cocktails.
Team: Columbus Clippers
Ballpark: Huntington Park (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Austin Crull
Austin Crull, an Ohio University alumnus who now works for the American Cancer Society, was all business in his role as Columbus Clippers Designated Eater. After stopping at the Mooler -- a walk-in cooler -- for a beer, we headed to Dirty Frank’s for some hot dogs.
Dirty Frank’s is located at the top level of a building in left field. While waiting for the hot dogs, we contemplated this collage of ‘80s All-Stars. Can you name them? (Read until the end for the answer.)
Hot dog number one was the Strikeout Dog, adorned with tater tots, jalapeños, and cheddar cream cheese on a poppy-seed bun.
I’m not sure how far Austin’s taste buds wandered, but he said that, ultimately, “the texture of the tater tots really brings it home.” The next dog, poorly chosen by me due to its similarities to the Strikeout Dog, was Puff the Magic Popper.
Austin liked this one even better, as the bacon bits provided a more satisfying base than the tater tots. After leaving Dirty Frank’s, but before parting ways, Austin grabbed some chicken wings and mac ‘n cheese from Wings and Yuengs (as in Yuengling Beer).
“An enjoyable combo,” concluded Austin, and that’s as good a way as any to sum up the entire premise of this article. Baseball and food is an enjoyable combo, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it throughout (and well beyond) the season.
Oh, and in case you were curious about that ‘80s All-Stars collage, here are the answers.
As always, get in touch about anything at any time: [email protected].
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.