A Patriotic Ode to the Hot Dog

Yesterday, July 4th, the United States of America celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks and mask less and social distance free celebrations galore as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.

While time will tell whether declaring independence from COVID-19 was premature, one cannot argue that we are not in a better position this year than we were at the time a year ago.

The US celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Each year competitive eaters descend upon Coney Island, New York and stuff their faces with as many hot dogs and buns as they can while the world watches on ESPN.

When all of the bun crumbs settled Joey Chestnut, the world record holder with 76 hot dogs and buns consumed, earned his 14th Mustard Belt title in 16 years.

While part of me refuses to accept Joey Chestnut as my hot dog champion ever since the questionable dealings that led to the ousting of Takeru Kobayashi in 2010, I fall well short of driving around town with a “Joey is not my Champion” flag waving from a pickup truck.

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Photo R. Anderson

For starters all of the eligible hot dogs and buns were counted in a free and fair hot dog contest, and second, I don’t own a pickup truck or a flag.

So, while each July 4th I pour a little deli mustard out for Kobayashi, I find no need for a recount from the Cyber Buns.

But I digress, this is not a column about Chestnut and Kobayashi. This is not even a column about the ways Americans flaunt their abundance of riches on the world stage while many other nations beg for life saving vaccines that a wide swath of Americans refuse to take.

Instead, this is a column about my love of eating hot dogs at the Ballpark. Over the course of my life, I have eaten my fair share of dogs from coast to coast. I cannot wait until I return to a Ballpark to consume another cased meat treat.

It is always best to not dig too deeply inside the casing of the hot dog. While I try to eat healthier hot dogs, at some point one has to realize that one does not eat a hot dog as part of a health and wellness plan.

Nope, hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals, yet somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.

Hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals, yet somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.
Photo R. Anderson

Perhaps if more people thought of America like a hot dog there would be less divisions along party lines. I mean if fans of the San Francisco Giants can eat a Dodger Dog in the Ballpark of their most hated rival Los Angeles Dodgers, there really is hope for the rest of society to bond over a coney, or as some people prefer to call them a wiener.

Major League Eating (MLE), has sanctioned the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest since 1997 and while I will never be a member of that sanctioning body, I am nonetheless a Major League eater. At least a Major League Baseball eater.

In addition to eating hot dogs at dozens of Minor League Baseball and Spring Training Ballparks through the years, I have consumed hot dogs at seven MLB Ballparks.

My first professional Ballpark hot dog was an Esskay hot dog at Memorial Stadium for a Baltimore Orioles versus Philadelphia Phillies game. In hindsight, it is fitting that my Ballpark hot dog tradition would start watching a game from the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

As a side note, Esskay hotdogs are so popular in Birdland that they are shipped down from Maryland to the Orioles Spring Training ballpark in Florida each year lest the Orioles fans be forced to consume a different type of hot dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot.
Photo R. Anderson

My other MLB hot dogs were consumed at the home Ballparks of the Rays, Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Angels and Dodgers.

It was during trips to Dodger Stadium that I truly experienced the elevated Ballpark hot dog experience in the form of the famous Dodger Dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot. The Dodger Dog is available steamed, grilled, or fried. And starting in 2021, a plant-based Dodger Dog was even added to the lineup.

Of course, all is not copasetic in the house that Vin Scully built as the long-time meat packing supplier of the Dodger Dog did not have their contract renewed after the 2019 season.

That means that for the first time in nearly 50 years the Dodger Dog will not taste the same. At least the Dodgers got a World Series title in 2020 to soften the blow of losing the Farmer John Dodger Dog.

Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. While I did not contribute to the 2019 numbers, I did eat my fair share of Dodger Dogs during the 2018 season. Sometimes I even ate my Dodger Dog with a fork and knife on a real plate.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not alone in my love of hot dogs. According to hot-dog.org Americans spent more than $7.68 Billion on hot dogs and sausages in US supermarkets in 2020.

Los Angeles was tops on the hot dog and sausage consumption scale, which kind of blows SoCal’s rep of being all about avocado toast and juice cleanses.

Going back to hot-dog.org one learns that Los Angeles residents consume about 30 million pounds of hot dogs annually. Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. Across the major leagues, fans enjoyed 18.3 million hot dogs during the 2019 season.

My memory is a bit foggy from the nitrates to know how many of those 18.3 million hotdogs I consumed in 2019.

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.
Photo R. Anderson

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.

The hot dogs were tasty but they definitely had me yearning for the Ballpark experience. I don’t know when I will see a Ballgame in person again but know that when I do a hot dog will be involved. I am hoping to visit a favorite Ballpark in September. Until then, my occasional hot dog cravings will be satisfied through drive thru windows.

During a trip to Denver’s Coors Field, I became a member of the Mile High Hot Dog Club during a game between the Rockies and Marlins. That’s a thing right?
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British in 1776, but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise, activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about hot dogs is making me hungry.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Social Experiment on Value of Social Distancing to Face Biggest Test as Sports World Watches

Throughout the worldwide timeout brought about by the COVID-19 virus, there have been two main schools of thought related to the value of people social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

One school of thought, let’s call them science, maintains that the best way to mitigate the spread of a virus, that has no cure, and no proven treatment, is to stay six feet apart, wear masks when around other people, wash hands constantly, and avoid touching the mouth and nose area.

The other school of thought, let’s call them Sweden, believes that the virus that has killed over 109,000 Americans, and over 330,000 people worldwide, will go away on its own, and that people should just roll the dice and go about their lives as if a huge global pandemic was not hanging over their heads in an effort to establish herd immunity equipped with the knowledge that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

There are of course nuggets of truth to each side’s position, since no one really knows for sure how this brand-new virus will finally ramp down. Team science is right in saying that smaller gatherings of people mean less opportunities to spread the virus. At the same time, team Sweden is also right in saying that one cannot stay isolated forever.

While the two camps differ on the value of social distancing as a whole, one thing that both sides should be able to agree on, is that minority populations, elderly populations, and populations with underlying health conditions should take extra precautions related to how they respond to the threat of COVID-19.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to, sort of like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.

To a certain degree, each and every one of us is free to decide which camp we want to belong to when it comes to social distancing, or not social distancing during the time of COVID-19, just like the people of Los Angeles have the choice between rooting for the Angels, or the Dodgers. One team wins a lot, has a storied history, and has their own unique hot dog. The other team is the Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

Starting today, the two COVID-19 camps are likely to see which approach to social distancing was the right call. The data points come courtesy of 14 days of coast to coast protests acting as a major case study in what happens when thousands of people occupy the same space for extended periods of time in the midst of a pandemic.

Although many people have been seen wearing masks during television coverage of the protests, there are also many people who are not wearing masks. Additionally, with additional law enforcement and media members on the street in close proximity many cities are facing the equivalent of filling several Ballparks multiple times each day.

The widely agreed upon incubation period for COVID-19 is around two weeks. So, with today marking the 14th day since the protests began, any wide-spread outbreaks of the virus should start to materialize any day now, and will last for up to two weeks after the last protest. There are very few historical data points for what happens when one protests during a global pandemic, so a lot of new ground is being plowed on both the social justice front as well as on a medical front.

This is where the world of sports will be sure to take notice as they try to determine when, and how to reintroduce players onto the field, and fans into the stands. If team science is right, the numbers of infections will spike as a result of the proximity of protesters, and a lack of adherence to social distancing guidelines. This would show to the sports leagues around the world that the risk of bringing fans into the stands is still very high.

If team Sweden is right, cases will not spike and calls to open everything up the way they were before the middle of March 2020 will grow louder. Of course, the wrinkle to solely relying on visible symptoms of COVID-19 in determining a path forward is that many of the cases of COVID-19 do not lend themselves to outward signs of symptoms. So, even if there is a widespread outbreak, it would likely not be revealed unless people partaking in the protests were tested for the virus.

With several professional and collegiate sports teams reporting COVID-19 cases after players have started returning to practice, it becomes clear that there is risk even without fans in the stands.

Scott Dixon, shown following the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston, won the first race of the delayed 2020 IndyCar season at Texas Motor Speedway. Although fans were not at the race in Texas, series officials have said that fans will be in attendance when the crown jewel Indy 500 is run even if that means delaying the race beyond the current August time frame.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire of professional sports leagues to pack as many fans into the stands as quickly as possible is both a financial need, as well as a psychological need.

Although the Indy Car Series returned to action for the first time in 2020 this past weekend with a fan free race at Texas Motor Speedway, series officials went on record as saying that the Indianapolis 500, which has been moved from May to August, would be delayed again in the event that fans cannot attend an August race.

The message being sent is loud and clear, the Indy 500 will not happen without butts in the seats, even if that means there is no Indy 500 this year.

While the Indy 500 is a significant race, allowing some races to be held without fans in order to generate revenue, but saying that the INDY 500 is too important of a race to run without fans seems like an insult to the other races on the schedule.

That would be like Major League Baseball saying that the Yankees are too important to the history of the game to play in an empty Ballpark, so fans can pile into Yankee Stadium, but the other 29 Ballparks need to remain empty.

The Indy 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, and with room for over 400,000 spectators, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often recognized as the largest sports venue in the world. It is hard to imagine any scenario where 400,000 people are going to be allowed to congregate anywhere, anytime soon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even at 25 percent capacity, an Indy 500 with 100,000 people seems like a bit of a stretch and would be something that would certainly make team science cringe. On the other hand, team Sweden would likely say, “och förarna startar dina motorer,” or roughly translated as “drivers start your engines.”

That is why the infection rates coming out of the weeks of protest will be so crucial in planning the next front in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.

Sports and science are both driven by statistics. The near-term future of professional and collegiate sports is very likely to be determined by what the rate of infection looks like over the coming weeks. It is a case study that no one could have envisioned at the start of the pandemic when the world of sports shut down one league at a time. Now that it has happened, the numbers cannot be ignored, just as the issues behind what led to the protests will also need to be addressed in the sports world, as well as the world as a whole.

COVID-19, as well as the protests for social justice that are occurring in the middle of a pandemic will both shape the direction of the world both in the short-term, as well as the long-term. There is no question that history is being written. Time will tell what those history books end up saying when all is said and done.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about team Sweden has me wanting to build an armoire using a tiny wrench that can also double as a meatball skewer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson