A Nut-Free Night

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever get back…” – Jack Norworth, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, 1908

Everyone knows the lyrics to this popular tune that is performed during the seventh inning stretch at every baseball stadium around the country. What we don’t consider is the fact that the two popular snacks in the song have prevented many fans from ever attending a game in person.

According to The Peanut Institute, approximately 1% of people are allergic to peanuts. These allergies can range from mild to severe. Some allergies can be so severe that if even a trace amount of peanut is ingested it can cause a reaction.

Tree nut allergies are also one of the most common food allergies. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. As with a peanut allergy, reactions can range from mild to life-threatening.

This is unfortunate for any baseball fan who may have an allergy as peanuts and cracker jacks – which contain nuts – are a staple food option at most ballparks. Another popular game snack that appears in more ballparks each summer would be cinnamon roasted nuts such as almonds cashews, and pecans. One of the best smells at FirstEnergy Stadium is the smell of a fresh batch of cinnamon roasted almonds being mixed at the Nuts for You stand in the plaza.

As with everything they do, the Fightin Phils take all of their fans into consideration when making plans for each season and those fans with nut allergies are not forgotten. Each summer one game is a pre-determined Allergy Awareness and Nut-Free Night.

While having an allergy awareness night may not seem like a big deal to some, to those fans who are unable to attend a game under the normal circumstances it means a lot. There is also a lot of preparation that goes into making sure the night is a success and a great outing for everyone. Prior to the game, every seat in the stadium is given a cleaning to remove any residue that may have been left from the day before. Two sections are given an extra scrub down and designated as “Allergy-Awareness Seating” for those folks who may have severe allergies and want to be extra cautious. While the cleaning is taking place, every package of peanuts and cracker jacks is removed from all of the concession stands that sell them on a normal night. Any other snacks that may contain nuts, such as cookies or the Choco Tacos we sell in the upstairs ice cream stand, are also removed and not offered that night. The snacks are removed and are not offered during the game, hence the name Nut-Free Night. While you get the occasional fan who grumbles about not being able to buy a bag of peanuts, normally all of the fans are good-natured about it and very few complaints are heard.

Another change that occurs is the removal of the Nuts for You stand. Since there may be fans who are allergic to tree nuts and not necessarily peanuts, it is important to make sure they can also enjoy the game. Since Nuts for You sells both almonds and cashews the stand is shut down for the night and the movable stand is moved out of the plaza to avoid the possibility of any type of reaction to the nuts.

While I have been fortunate enough to have not had to be concerned with an allergy to foods such as peanuts or tree nuts, I have known people who have dealt with this issue since they were young. Over the years of working at the stadium, I have answered numerous questions about whether the ice cream contains nuts, are the fries cooked in peanut oil, and are there nuts in the Dippin’ Dots. While the answer to all three of these questions is no, I have asked in the past how severe the allergy was because in the case of the ice cream and Dippin’ Dots, both come with warnings that they are packaged in factories that do use nuts in some products. In most cases the parent says their child will be fine while in others we have dealt with some disappointed children who quickly learn that they will not be getting the dish of chocolate ice cream they have been waiting for all game.

I think the fact the Fightin Phils have truly taken into consideration all of their fans and have worked so hard to give everyone a fun night at the ballpark just goes to show that the organization is more than just a baseball team; they truly care about the community. If you or a baseball fan you know would love to get to a game this summer, but suffer from nut allergies, I encourage you to visit the Fightin’s website and learn more about Allergy Awareness Night. The 2017 Allergy Awareness Night game is scheduled for Thursday, July 13.

Confessional: Have you ever dealt with allergies that have kept you from doing something you enjoy? If not, what is one food item that you would miss if you were allergic?

Baseball for Breakfast

Almost everyone has heard the saying “Breakfast of Champions.” While it started out as a slogan for Wheaties cereal in the 1960s, nowadays the saying generally applies to any bowl of cereal or a hearty breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and some type of side such as bacon or sausage.

What if that breakfast consisted of a hotdog and an ice-cold beer? Instead of cereal with milk, how about a dish of ice cream with sprinkles. While you enjoy this unusual breakfast you can sit back, relax, and enjoy some baseball instead of watching the news or reading the newspaper.

Since I began working at FirstEnergy Stadium 13 years ago, there has always been one game during the season that was designated as the morning game. The game is played at 9:35 in the morning and the main goal is to give those fans who might work late or work solely third shift a chance to see at least one game each summer. The morning game is always an interesting one because it is definitely not your typical baseball crowd.

The best part about the morning game? Getting to the stadium when it’s still quiet and things are just getting started.

morning-game

Every Summer FirstEnergy Stadium comes alive early in the morning as the Reading Fightin Phils host their annual morning game. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Believe me, I am not a morning person; I’m pretty much the exact opposite. Still, there is something so enjoyable about being out at the ballpark in the morning. It’s difficult to explain the feeling, but I think it has something to do with the fact that the stadium is much quieter in the morning.

On a typical game night when my sister and I get to the stadium the crowds are already moving around inside the main gates during happy hour. There is usually a musical act performing, some concession stands are already open for business, batting practice is taking place on the field, and on any given night there might be tables set up in the plaza for different groups to share information or sell raffle tickets. Overall, the stadium is already in full swing when we get to work.

The same cannot be said for the morning game.

We typically get to the stadium around 8 on the day of the morning game and the stadium seems to slowly be waking up to start the day. During my internship, I was at the ballpark around 5:45 or so and watched the sunrise from the third base line. When you’re walking through the stadium that early in the morning, there a sense of calm that often comes before a large event. Everyone seems to move a bit slower in the morning, but somehow everything is still ready come game time.

The weirdest part of the morning game? Watching people eat hot dogs for breakfast.

Now, I am a big fan of hot dogs; I just can’t seem to get used to the idea of eating one for breakfast. This is coming from a girl who has eaten some strange things for breakfast, including cold Chinese food. There is just something about hot dogs that I cannot imagine eating one that early in the morning. It’s also strange to me that people will drink beer and eat ice cream that early, but for some reason that I can understand more than the hot dogs.

Are you the type of person who likes to get up early and get a workout in right away? Don’t worry, fans are invited to come out early and stroll the warning track before they begin to prep the field. If you stroll quickly enough, I’m sure you could get in at least a good mile or two. After your walk you can enjoy a complimentary hot dog and cup of coffee.

Hot dogs and coffee – the new breakfast of champions.

In the end, the morning game is always a fun one and it is nice that the teams are willing to change their routines in order to give their fans a chance to enjoy watching them play. While I don’t know that I will ever get used to the idea of eating ballpark food that early in the morning, it’s just one more aspect of this organization that makes it a great place to work.

 

Confessional: What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten for breakfast? Would you eat a hot dog or hamburger for breakfast?

Briscoe Disco

I always say one of the best parts about working at FirstEnergy Stadium is the community and family bond between the fans and the employees. The strength of that bond is visible in many ways, but it is at its strongest when one of its members is down for the count.

For more years than I can easily count, Adam Briscoe has been a constant fixture at Fightin Phils games. He has also become a strong presence at Reading Royals hockey games. A well-known figure on the Reading sports scene, Briscoe is most famous for his personal style of dancing known as the Briscoe Disco.

If you have not had the opportunity to experience the Briscoe Disco, let me try to explain it to you. Hold your arms out in front of your body and wave them up and down at a steady pace. Keep this constant motion going as you sit at your computer or walk around the room. You have now done the Briscoe Disco. If your arms are tired after doing it for a minute or two keep practicing because at Fightins’ and Royals’ games, it goes on the entire time.

At Fightins’ games, Briscoe walks through the stadium during the game encouraging fans to get up, dance, and cheer for the Fightins. Kids love to dance along with him and every Fightins’ win is celebrated with the Briscoe Disco.

While it is neat to watch the fans interact with Briscoe during the games, I was fortunate enough during my internship to see him interact more with people inside the organization. He would come into the office during the day just to say hi and after games the players would invite him into the clubhouse to hang out for a bit. Everyone knew if a game was cancelled, there would probably be a message on someone’s answering machine expressing Adam’s disappointment. As someone who does not drive, Briscoe has often received rides home from front office members and other game staff employees who are watching out for him and helping to keep him safe.

He’s a sports fan who loves coming to see the teams and fans as much as they love seeing him. This love has been more evident recently as the community has rallied behind him in a time of need.

Briscoe suffered some serious injuries recently after being hit by a car. The Reading sports community took the news hard and immediately took up the responsibility of providing Briscoe and his family with all the help they could. Both the Fightins and the Royals have offered their help to his family in their time of need. A donations page set up by the Royals organization is raising funds to help with any medical expenses the family is facing and has achieved just over half of its goal. Fans of both organizations have been sending get well wishes and thoughts to Briscoe via the teams’ social media pages, with many fans encouraging him to get well soon so they can dance with him again.

I have watched Briscoe at the stadium over the years and have even reached a point where he will say hi to me in passing. Knowing that he is someone who is not very outspoken, it makes me smile to think that he has seen me around the ballpark enough to feel comfortable with a simple greeting. I am keeping Briscoe in my thoughts and am hopeful that come this summer, he will once again be at the ballpark proudly belting out the lyrics to the National Anthem and dancing the Briscoe Disco with his many adoring fans.

Get well soon, Briscoe!

Confessional: There is no confessional question with this post. I simply ask that you send some good thoughts to Briscoe and his family. If you would like to, please feel free to share any stories you may have of Briscoe either at the stadium or at the hockey arena.

Field of Learning

I’m pretty sure that everyone would agree that the best days in elementary school were the class field trip days. It was a day spent out of the classroom and even though it was still educational it didn’t feel like learning. If you were lucky, you also had field trips in junior high and high school.

For students in the Reading area, one of the more popular field trips is to one of three Fightin Phils games in the spring. Each season the team has three games that are specifically geared towards school groups.

In many ways, the education day games are great. They provide the schools with educational field trips that are also fun; at each game there are scientific presentations that teach kids about things such as the laws of motion, and the kids are given the chance to discuss school and baseball during a question and answer session with Fightins players.

For a few hundred elementary school students, this is the best day of their school year. The day is similar to having three hours of recess and no actual classwork. For the middle school kids, it’s a day where they can act cool in front of their friends and buy any food they want without worrying about their parents getting mad. They don’t stop to think that when they get home, they will have to explain why they only have two dollars left of the twenty they left home with that morning.

There are also ways in which these days are not the best.

I would have to say the worst part of dealing with education days is dealing with all of the young kids who either run away from their chaperones or whose chaperones are not paying attention and have no control over what the kids are doing. It is hard enough to get a group of kids to all stand quietly and order one at a time, but when there is no adult in the picture to help out it gets even more difficult. I understand that the teachers are trying their best – I know plenty of people who work in education including my parents – and it can be hard to keep kids under control when they are in a new location and their excitement level is off the charts. All I ask is that you don’t send a group of first graders up by themselves to order food; that is why all field trips have chaperones.

Over the years I have seen some great chaperones. Both parents and teachers alike who have the students under control, have them all ready to order when they come to the window, and even some who have helped a student out who may be short a dollar or two and he or she really wants those sprinkles. There are definitely more positives to education day than there are negatives.

Despite the frustrations that may arise from dealing with so many children in this type of setting, I think the education day games are a great part of the Fightins’ organization and I hope they continue to have them each summer. It is just one of the many ways the organization stays involved with the community and it is a great way to introduce America’s pastime to a new generation of fans.

And besides, who wouldn’t want to watch five hundred ping-pong balls explode all over a baseball field?

Confessional: What was your favorite field trip in school and why?

 

Alcohol-Free Yuengling

I don’t know that I have ever disappointed as many people in such a short amount of time as I did this past summer. Now understand, it wasn’t me personally that caused said disappointment, but I was the summer-long bearer of bad news.

Before you keep reading, let me assure you that it was nothing as drastic as the opening of this post may have led you to believe.

Up until the 2016 season, all of the ice cream in the stadium was Green’s Ice Cream. This season, the ice cream stands proudly sported new signage promoting a new brand of everyone’s favorite summer treat. That brand was none other than the ever popular Yuengling.

I know what you’re thinking – Yuengling makes ice cream?!

They sure do, and yes, it is the same Yuengling that makes the beer. Thanks to technology and the wonderful world of Google, Ariane and I did some research and quickly discovered how one top-selling beer distributor became an ice cream maker.

According to their website, Yuengling began selling ice cream during prohibition. The ice cream business was a way to provide financial support for the brewery. It started out as Yuengling’s Ice Cream Corporation and was later renamed Yuengling Dairy Products Corporation after they began selling milk. The company produced ice cream products for 65 years before shutting down the factory. In 2014, Yuengling’s Ice Cream became available once again.

The ice cream is good, but that’s not what caused the disappointment.

The sign on the top of the stand says Yuengling’s in the trademark script and ice cream below in a smaller font. This is where people would get confused and then disappointed. Multiple times throughout the summer, we had customers come up and confidently ask for a Yuengling. The only problem being that they always wanted the refreshing beverage, not the frozen chocolate or vanilla treat.

Now, most of the time they would just walk up and say “I’ll take a Yuengling.” At which point I would automatically respond with “Chocolate, Vanilla, or Black and Tan?” When it finally registered that they wanted a beer and that’s why they were making a weird face at me, I would say, “Oh, it’s Yuengling Ice Cream.”

Most people were good-natured about the mix up and would laugh or apologize before asking where they could purchase a Yuengling beverage. Others would stand there and stare at us like we had each grown a second head. Then of course, there were those few who would actually get mad, as if we purposely used the name of their favorite beer to lure them up to our stand in the hopes that we could trick them into buying our ice cream instead.

sign

The thing is, once you get up to the stand and look inside, there is a sign on the back wall that very clearly says ice cream and beverages then lists flavors and sizes. There is no evidence of beer anywhere in the stand and if we had a refrigerator of beer in the stand, it would be obvious. There were a number of customers who walked up to the window with the intention of ordering a beer, but once they reached the stand they realized that it was ice cream and they went on to find a beer stand without having to ask us first.

Throughout the course of the summer the number of people trying to order beer from us dwindled as fans began to realize that we were now selling Yuengling ice cream as well as the beer. For the first half of the summer though we sure did disappoint quite a few people.

Who would have thought that a brand name could cause so much confusion and disappointment?

Confessional: If you could make any flavor of ice cream, what would it be? or Have you ever tried Yuengling Ice Cream? If so, what flavor(s) have you tried and what did you think?

What makes you stay?

With the end of the 2016 Fightins season, I wrapped up my 12th season of work in Baseballtown. During those seasons there have been many times when I have been asked “What makes you stay?” or “Why do you keep coming back?”.

I’ve never given these questions much thought until now, but I know that there are a number of reasons why I return to FirstEnergy Stadium each summer.

The main reason is simply because I love baseball. I love watching the game and continuing to learn more about it. Having had the opportunity to play softball for eight years and to manage for four, I understood baseball pretty well when I started working at the stadium. Even so, I continue to learn more about the game each year. A few years ago I even learned that you can play a game under protest! I enjoy the game so much that even if I don’t have to work, there is a very good possibility that I will still be at the game.

Another reason I come back each season is the experience – and I don’t mean work experience for my resume.

Over the past 12 seasons, I have had some great experiences both as an intern and working in concessions. There have been a number of proposals, prom invites, a wedding, and even a military homecoming that I have had the chance to witness. A few seasons ago I travelled with some friends to cheer for the team at an away playoff game. I’ve had the opportunity to sing the national anthem a number of times, met a Hollywood director/producer (I have actually seen at least one of his films multiple times,) and even talked strategy with Reading’s manager one night while watching a Philadelphia game on television. It’s experiences like these that add to the excitement of working in a baseball stadium.

Along with the experience and my love of baseball, another reason I come back each summer is the atmosphere of the ballpark.

Many people will say the environment or atmosphere of the workplace has a big impact on the attitudes of everyone who works there. I agree with this thought 100%. The atmosphere at the stadium is a great one to work in. Everyone is there to enjoy the game, people start conversations with complete strangers, and in general everyone gets along. I love seeing the regulars who come out to every game. You get a chance to truly know some people and they in turn get to know you. It’s a great feeling to walk through the stadium and be greeted by all the employees that I have gotten to know over the past 12 seasons – both game day staff and front office members. Getting to know these people I only see for roughly five months out of the year is a large part of why I come back. It’s almost like reuniting with an old friend each summer.

These are just the main reasons that I find myself returning to Baseballtown every summer for another season of baseball. Don’t get me wrong the job is not perfect, but it is part of what helped me realize that my ultimate goal is to work in sports. Sure the team won’t win every game or it might rain. You occasionally get the parents who are so frustrated with their kids that they are no longer enjoying the night. There are ups and downs and it’s not always the perfect place to work, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

Confessional: What’s one thing, not money related, that makes your job fun and keeps you there?

Too much ice cream?!

“Oh, that’s a lot of ice cream.”

“My kid will never eat all that.”

“Can you put smaller scoops in the next one?”

These are a few of the statements we hear almost every night after customers receive their order. Our ice cream is served two ways: in a cup or in a miniature batting helmet. When customers order, I tell them that the cup holds two scoops while the helmet holds three. They are also told the ice cream will sit higher than the top of either container.

ice-cream-1

The miniature batting helmet is a popular treat at FirstEnergy Stadium and most fans are surprised when the ice cream comes up over the top of the helmet itself. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

They’re still surprised when they see the final product.

After the initial shock wears off, things can get complicated. More often than not, the customer will decide that it is too much ice cream. While I never knew there was such a thing, this turns into us being asked to take some of the ice cream back. This is when it gets interesting.

The one thing most people don’t understand is that once we serve the ice cream, we can’t put some of it back in the freezer. Instead, we have to throw it away. While this doesn’t happen very often during the season, it’s still frustrating because that ice cream could have gone to another customer.

The second most common reaction is to ask for another cup to put some of the excess ice cream in. This would be the best solution to the problem except for one tiny detail. All of the cups are inventoried before and after each game and those numbers are matched with the totals in the register. As a result, we have to charge for any soda or ice cream cup that we hand out. Most of our customers are understanding when we explain this, but every now and then we get the occasional grumbler who will ask two or three times before leaving.

The worst reaction to the amount of ice cream is the “order change.”

An “order change” is when a customer decides after they have been served that they want something different. This reaction typically comes after a customer who ordered a helmet receives said helmet and realizes how much ice cream is actually in three scoops. When a customer decides they want to change their order, a few things must take place. First, we have to take back the ice cream they were already given and mark it down as a waste. Second, the order has to be reversed in the register and the new order has to be rung up. In most instances, the customer receives money back because the smaller item costs less. The other issue we have when customers change their minds is when we have a line of people waiting to order, and we then have to go back and remake an order that was already completed.

The one thing we don’t understand is that people don’t typically go into an ice cream shop and complain about the amount of ice cream they are receiving. Also, people don’t seem to understand that when it is 95 degrees outside, the ice cream is going to melt quickly. If you want to get your child ice cream, but are worried about them having too much simply order the smaller size. We are more than willing to make your servings smaller if you simply ask when ordering; just be aware that the price will remain the same even if you ask for less ice cream.

If there is one thing that we have taken away from these types of experiences, it is to make sure that a customer is absolutely sure they want what they are ordering before serving them. This will make it easier for both them and us and will save us time and merchandise in the end.