Last night, with a light breeze lifting the warm summer air and the smell of dust and leather in the air, Chef Matt and I sat behind home plate at the new Target Field, taking in one of the greatest pleasures of summer: an outdoor baseball game.
Mostly, I love how baseball appeals to all of our senses. If you're a baseball fan, the wonder of the experience lies in the crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, the feel of a glove that has been broken in just right, the sight of a deep outfield diving catch, and of course, the taste of baseball fare that has been a part of the sport since the great Babe Ruth became a legend.
Whether sitting on coarse wooden bleachers or almost-cushy stadium chairs, I never feel quite settled in to the game until I have a hot dog in hand, a stripe of ketchup on one side and mustard on the other.
There is something particularly wonderful about baseball hot dogs; when I bite into a fat juicy dog, I feel transported back to a time when all stadiums were open-air and Hank Aaron was home-running into history. I will always choose a hot dog over any of the dozens of new options at ballparks; a Cuban sandwich just does not exude "baseball" in the same way.
The other thing I cannot leave the ballpark without is a chocolate malt, served with the flat wooden spoon that threatens tiny slivers with every bite. The first game I can remember attending was the summer of 1984, Cubs vs. Expos at the incomparable Wrigley Field. The Cubs won, and I ate a chocolate malt. It was a fine moment for a little girl, to stare in awe at the wall of ivy and hand-operated scoreboard while digging in her own personal malt, that perplexing but perfect combination of chocolate and malt -- not quite ice cream, but better.
The delightful thing about traditional baseball food is that the basics have remained largely unchanged for decades, much as the game itself is remarkably the same as it was in the era of heroes. True, there are now bright lights for night games, and beer is eight dollars a glass, but if I want peanuts and crackerjack, those foods immortalized in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," I can get them.
The Twins lost last night, but I left the ballpark as giddy as always, excited by the bats, the grass, the gloves, the impossible plays made to look effortless, and by the stadium fare that gives me a thrill now as much as it did as a five-year-old girl. And that is the magic of baseball.