When fans order food at the ballpark, nutrition is often far from the top of their mind. And major league and minor league teams across the country have taken advantage of that fact, developing various concoctions of comfort food and junk food with a creativity not seen this side of state fairs.
There’s the Dilly Dog, offered at Texas Rangers games, which features a hot dog, stuffed inside a dill pickle and deep fried. There’s the funnel cake, topped with barbeque at Houston Astros games, and the Rocky Mountain Oysters sandwich that you can buy while visiting the Colorado Rockies.
Nothing, however, compares to the creation offered up by the Erie SeaWolves, Double-A farm club of the Detroit Tigers.
On June 23, the SeaWolves had a promotion called Sugar Rush Night.
“It was basically an ode to candy,” said the team’s director of food and beverage, Tom Ando. “It was pretty cool. One of the cool things about minor league baseball — kind of why I’ve stuck with it — is that there are a lot of fun promotions, and you get to go crazy with your ideas.”
For Sugar Rush night, the team selected a group of contestants, Willy Wonka style, by using special golden tickets scattered throughout the park.
“Each department gave one out,” Ando said. “Ticketing gave out one ticket printed on gold paper. Retail gave out one baseball that was painted gold. We handed out a hot dog that had a special gold wrapper.”
The fans that were lucky enough to find the golden tickets were taken out onto the field after the game and given a balloon.
“It was kind of like a gender reveal ceremony,” Ando said. “When they popped their balloons, one person’s was filled with gold, and they won $10,000 in tickets and merchandise.”
The team needed a special food item to offer on Sugar Rush Night. That’s where Ando’s sudden rush to fame began.
“Over the last couple years, I’ve enjoyed the theme nights and coming up with specialty food items for them,” he said. For ’70s Night last year, he paid homage to Hamburger Helper, invented in 1971, by topping a hot dog with it. He also created a Fruit Gushers sundae for ’90s night, and a garbage plate with warring food factions for Game of Thrones Night earlier this year.
So, a month before the big night, Ando gathered ingredients and began to experiment with ways to dress up a hot dog for Sugar Rush Night.
“I grabbed a couple things and threw together a dish,” he said. “I put some cotton candy down, then put a hot dog in it.”
The cotton candy served as the bun for the dog. Now all he needed were some condiments. Instead of ketchup, mustard and relish, he tried colorful candies.
“At first, I wanted Pop Rocks, but they wouldn’t stick well,” he said. “Nerds did. So we went with those.”
The result was a horrific-looking, sticky creation known as the Cotton Candy Hot Dog — 311 calories, 41 grams of carbs, 578 milligram of sodium, 13 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol and nearly 30 grams of sugar.
“I tried it real quick and said it was edible. It’s not awful. We can probably get away with selling it,” he said.
A few brave members of the front office agreed to sample it and also declared that it tasted better than it looked.
The rest is viral history.
“We thought maybe we’d get a couple retweets,” Ando said. “But nothing like this. Never Jimmy Fallon.”
Indeed, the hot dog was gross enough to catch the attention of “The Tonight Show” host, who featured it in his monologue, as did just about every radio and TV affiliate around the country.
“There were radio interviews,” Ando said. “We don’t even know who all picked it up. It just depended on what stations people were listening to, because it was on everywhere. We were on Sirius/XM’s The Highway, and we found out about that just because my father-in-law listens to it.”
The clubhouse attendant also gave the dog a try and decided to bring one down to share with the braver players on the team. The video of Tigers’ 2017 first-round draft pick Alex Faedo sampling it kept the story in the news cycle for a bit longer.
“One of the main things when I came here that the team president emphasized was an understanding of how important things like that are in minor league baseball,” Ando said, “and how much exposure you can get from it.”
The hot dog was originally supposed to make a one-night appearance at Erie’s concession stands, but its popularity has extended its life span. Ando estimated that they now sell about 60 on a good night.
Of course, the impact on social media is far more important to the team than the number sold.
“Getting retweeted by Pee-wee Herman?” Ando said. “That was pretty cool.”