Every once in a while I’ll be at a cookout and someone will offer me a hot dog or a hamburger. I always take the hamburger. People are shocked when I tell them I never eat hot dogs.
My experience eating press box food is the reason.
In 1984 I was a rookie reporter at the NBC affiliate in Roanoke, VA, working for a cheap company. So much so, that some of the reporters had second jobs. I was one of them, moonlighting as the public address announcer for the Salem Redbirds, a Class A minor league team. Talk about a fun job, getting paid to watch baseball!
It didn’t pay much, though. Only 10 bucks a game. But I was told dinner would be served in the press box, so that was a bonus. Getting a free meal was definitely an incentive when you’re clipping coupons.
During the first game, a concession stand worker came by and gave everyone that evening’s dinner: two hot dogs, a soda and a candy bar called a Goo Goo Cluster. The hot dogs were very good and the candy bar was a hit with me; lots of chocolate and nuts.
Game two arrived and I could only wonder what they’d send from the concession stand. The burgers smelled great when I walked by, leaving my mouth watering.
And then the concession stand guy arrived … with two hot dogs, a soda and a Goo Goo Cluster.
Well, maybe they had a lot of hot dogs that didn’t sell, I thought to myself.
I stopped thinking that after the third, fourth and fifth game. Because dinner was the same.
Every. Single. Night.
For an entire baseball season.
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I began to think that applied to dinner as well.
By June I was getting really tired of hot dogs. But when you’re broke you eat the free meal.
By the final month of the season I was only eating the Goo Goo Cluster and trading my hot dogs for a second Goo Goo Cluster.
I have not eaten a hot dog in the 39 years since.
Ten years after my Virginia baseball gig, I was one of the play-by-play guys for the now defunct Mobile BaySharks. On opening night I was told dinner would arrive soon, and suddenly I had flashbacks of those hot dogs in Virginia. Thankfully, the team arranged for a different local restaurant to bring food every night, and those in the press box ate very well.
Of all the press box food I’ve experienced, most has been very good. Auburn definitely had the best menu (sorry, Alabama fans, but this is about food, not football) with a really tasty buffet. When the Cowboys played at Texas Stadium, I was escorted to a private cubicle by a waitress, given an actual menu, and brought a great dinner. She returned at halftime and brought dessert.
But the place serving what I consider to be the worst press box food in professional sports is the Superdome in New Orleans.
You would think a town known for its cuisine would pull out all the stops and let visiting media people experience some fantastic dishes.
You would be wrong.
I arrived for a Saints-Giants game, was given a seat assignment and told lunch would be served at halftime. I couldn’t wait. Would it be crawfish étouffée? Cajun blackened seafood? Shrimp gumbo? Flaming bananas foster for dessert?
The first half ended and I got in line. Turned out I was behind then-Giants General Manager George Young, so I struck up a conversation with him as we moved toward the server. Young was a big guy, so I couldn’t see what he received as he reached the front of the line. Young turned, shook his head, and looked at me. “Seriously? This is it?”
I looked at his plate.
One hot dog.
Not again! The flashbacks returned as the server handed me what was known as a “Dome Dog.” I gave it to another reporter who looked hungry.
On that day, it was true. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
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