Impressions of a Ballpark Hunter: Gluttony and Indigestion in West Michigan

Marc Viquez

When attending a minor league baseball game, many are in attendance enjoying the summertime weather, catching up with friends and co-workers or watching the parent club’s top prospect get their spikes dirty down on the farm; however, when one is visiting Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Mich. (home of the West Michigan Whitecaps) it may be something entirely different that entices the common fan to the ballpark.

The real attraction could be the cuisine that ranges from the norm (hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and soda) to the abnormal (Irish Nachos, fried pickle spears and cheesecake, and swimming pig sandwiches), but the star of the show is the five pound Fifth Third Burger-it has become so popular that it dons the cover of this year’s media guide.

The behemoth sandwich features five burger patties, chili, cheese sauce, Frito chips, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. The 4,800 calorie burger is intended to feed a family of four, but there have been a bevy of competitive eaters who ascend upon the stadium to devour it all by themselves; if they succeed, they receive a t-shirt, a picture on the Wall of Fame and a grand dose of heartache to last several days for their reward. There have been 476 individuals who have come to slay the beast, with a respectable 64% who can say that they finished the whole thing.

Whitecaps Director of Food and Beverage Matt Timon was among the mad geniuses who came up with the idea during a brainstorming session between Caps and Fifth Third Bank marketing executives. The burger gained such a national following, that the team rolled out two more heavy hitting sandwiches this season: The Declaration of Independence and the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich. They were chosen out of ten other menu item candidates, beating out the likes of the Twinkie Cheese Dog, Chili Mac Tacos and Chocolate Covered Bacon.

“It’s one the best parts of the jobs,” Timon added. “It is something that is pretty important to us and to get a good reputation for it is pretty nice. We hang our hat on it; it’s always good to be the best at what you do.”

The Declaration of Independence is a much smaller sandwich than the Fifth Third Burger, but seems to weigh equally as much; the foot long hot dog is soaked with cheese steak, grilled peppers and onions and melted cheese. The Yooper is a regional dish from the state’s Upper Peninsula that features a flatten sausage patty smothered in cheese, pizza sauce, peppers and onions on a bun.

The team also sells shredded pickles AKA Shreddies by the jar for folks to take home, elephant ears, Chicago style hot dogs and chocolate covered cheesecake, but as of right now, there are no plans for future food concoctions, but then again it is still the summer time.

“You start in the off season, work all year, hope it sells and that people like it,” Timon added. “The Fifth Third Burger has been the biggest one in recent years and it is what we are most proud of; you just hope that fans like it as much as when you come up with the idea in the first place.”

The Whitecaps are not alone in their gastronomic push of ballpark food: The Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League feature donut burgers and deep fried sliders, the Springfield Cardinals of the Texas League offer a hot dog on a pretzel style bun, and I have seen more and more walking nachos, deep fried (add food here) and all you can eat sections at various ballparks across the country the last few seasons.

The Fifth Third Burger or any of its contemporaries may not suppress the likes of the hot dog, peanut and nacho, but may create a buzz for the fastidious individual who finds baseball a bore and not worth their time, however, it also might entice the avid baseball fan the opportunity to get away a few times a year to gorge themselves rotten and lax any ideas of a nutritional diet; in extremely small intakes, an item from the menu board at Fifth Third Ballpark would be ample.

There is an incipient movement for ballparks to feature bizarre and high caloric foods for mere show and tell; they are not for people with either small appetites or who treat their bodies like a temple, but if one of these food items creates a national buzz or brings in a ballpark hunter like myself into the town, then the Timon and the rest of the Whitecaps front office can be seen as sagacious people adding a little more vim to the ballpark experience.

It is to be expected that every other stadium will have their version of the Fifth Third Burger and some maybe better than others, but we will just have to remain somewhat patient to see what deep fried, 1,000 calorie per serving and gooey mess these mad scientists of the minor leagues devise for the pursuing seasons: get your napkins ready.

Marc Viquez is a contributing author for Ballpark Business (www.ballparkbiz.com). A fan of baseball for most of his life, Marc has been traveling around the country writing about minor league baseball since 2001 for various websites and print publications. When he is not searching down a ballpark, he can be found teaching middle school in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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