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Out of the Park: Corn Dogs and Cracker Jack

Yawkey Way, the street just outside Boston's fabled Fenway Park, is hopping. But folks are asking for the mustard, not the score. Who can blame them? They've been bewitched by the smell of sausages and franks permeating the air. Given the aromatic circumstances, it's understandable that Boston Red Sox fans aren't just fanatical, they're famished.

As the locals know, a summer night spent eating junk and watching the Sox at Fenway is magical. It has been satisfying both body and soul since the park's first pitch in April of 1912. Since then, Fenway has seen countless baseball luminaries pass through its hallowed gates. Perhaps just as important, it's been stuffing loyal Sox fans (and even a few Yankee devotees) since the very beginning.

Some of the magic can be created off the ball field and in the living room, although the volume is not quite the same. In the '06 season alone, baseball fans at major league parks will eat enough hot dogs to stretch coast to coast, or 2,800 miles of wieners, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. And that's not taking into account the sausages, caramel popcorn and other treats going down the collective American gullet.

On opening day at Fenway, 5,000 bags of peanuts, 5,000 Italian sausages with peppers and onions, 1,700 gallons of soda, 1,300 bags of popcorn and 500 bags of cotton candy were sold. A baseball game and thousands of pounds of junk food; talk about a win-win.

Unfortunately, America's pastime has become associated with scandal and greed. Plus, the food has gotten fancy: Chinese chicken salad at Fenway, Caesar salad at Angel Stadium, and panini at RFK. It just ain't right.

Baseball is straying so far from its humble roots that the sport is in danger of losing its next generation of customers... I mean, fans. My 10-year-old son's best friend might be called a baseball addict. Over dinner one night this spring, he said he didn't want to go to a game this year. "The players are, like, greedy and unloyal," he complained.

I agreed vigorously, though I failed to mention another concern: the average price of a game for a family of four rings in at an astounding $300 these days -- and that's if you can get your tickets legally.

It's hard to get swept up in the myth and legend of baseball, get rocked by its emotional highs and lows, and delight in overstuffing ourselves with sausage, corn dogs and Cracker Jack caramel popcorn if we can't even afford the cost of a game. If we wanted to recapture the glow of an almost-forgotten past, we'd need to take matters into our own hands.

So we invited the young baseball friend over for a game and served the kids corn dogs and caramel popcorn in their seats -- the ones on our tacky but comfortable couch at home, that is. We could yell at the TV, jump up and down, shake our fists and generally act as if we were actually in the stands, while saving hundreds of dollars. Because like the fans wisely clustered around the sausage carts outside the park while the game rages within, we know that baseball may be good, but baseball eats are great.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

Get more recipe ideas from the Kitchen Windows archive.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Betsy Block