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?

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.

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.

Is it ice cream?

In the upstairs ice cream stand, we sell a small variety of ice cream products. Aside from chocolate, vanilla, and black and tan ice cream, we also sell ice cream sandwiches, chocolate chip cookie sandwiches, popsicles, Choco Tacos, Sour Patch Kids, and Swedish fish.  There is one other item that we sell in the upstairs ice cream stand that causes customers quite a bit of confusion: Dippin’ Dots.

Dippin’ Dots are tiny balls of ice cream that are basically flash frozen using liquid nitrogen and then kept at a much colder temperature than regular ice cream.  The freezer we keep the Dippin’ Dots in is typically kept at -39 degrees.  When they were first created they were marketed as “the ice cream of the future.”  They’ve been around for a few years now and there are still lots of people who get confused by them.

The main thing that confuses people is whether or not they are actually ice cream.  I guess I can understand this confusion.  When you think of ice cream, you don’t imagine tiny, round balls that look more like small pebbles than anything else.  Most people think of scoops of ice cream or a cone of soft serve like what you get at Dairy Queen.  Dipping’ Dots, on the other hand, look nothing like your typical dessert.  The best way I can describe the way they look would be to say they almost look like freeze-dried food; something you would eat in space – only they taste much better.

My favorite part about selling Dippin’ Dots is listening to people try to order them.  I’m not sure which part of Dippin’ Dots is so hard to say, but we have heard a wide range of different pronunciations and all together wrong names over the years.  People have asked for the pebbles, the balls, dots, dip dots, dippy dots, and, my personal favorite, dippity dots.  The final pronunciation was a true test for Ariane and me.  It took everything we had to not start laughing, especially when the customer kept repeating herself.

I’m not exactly sure where the name confusion comes from. The sign for the Dippin’ Dots is on the wall of the stand, directly behind the register. It is a big, blue sign that says Dippin’ Dots in big letters across the top – the kind that’s hard to miss. What’s even more confusing is that most people notice the sign, but instead of reading it they assume it is a list of ice cream flavors. While it is a list of flavors, it is not the ice cream they think it is.

I’ve had the privilege to sell this frozen novelty for the past three years and I still hear new interpretations of the name every now and then. After trying to explain exactly what Dippin’ Dots are for the last few summers, I think I finally landed on the best description: it’s ice cream frozen into dots.

Beware the Right-Handed Hitter

In any major or minor league ballpark there are always signs posted warning fans to watch for foul balls.  At every Fightin’ Phils game they play a short video clip asking fans to keep an eye on the game and always look out for foul balls or even a bat occasionally.  In the upstairs ice cream stand we have another warning: Beware the right-handed hitter.

This warning ties into the typical beware of foul balls warning.  It all comes down to the location of the stand in relation to home plate.  The stand is located behind and to the right of the plate.  When a left-handed batter is in the box, he is on the same side of the plate as the ice cream stand with his back facing the stand and it is very rare for a foul ball to go behind the hitter.  When a right-handed batter is up, he is standing to the left of home plate which faces his body towards the upstairs ice cream stand.

Typically, when a batter hits a foul ball, it flies out towards the outfield or along the third or first baselines.  Depending on the type of pitch thrown and how early or late the bat makes contact, the ball will go up behind the plate, usually in the direction the batter is facing.  This is when we duck and cover in the stand.

The upstairs ice cream stand has taken more hits from foul balls than I can count.  If you look at the front of the stand you can see marks along the bottom where foul balls have chipped the paint.  We’ve had more close calls than anything else, but there have been one or two balls that actually make it through the window and off the back wall of the stand.  The container of plastic spoons that sits on the front of the counter has even taken some hits.

We’ve learned to keep a watchful eye on the field anytime a right-handed batter steps up to the plate.  At least one of us will yell, “heads up” if a ball looks like it is heading in our direction.  On some occasions we become easily spooked – usually after a few balls have already come our way – and we seek safety at every gasp or shriek from the crowd.  We have gotten so accustomed to watching foul balls that are heading our way that sometimes the ball seems to be moving in slow motion.  We stand there watching and thinking that it will never reach us and then at the last minute we find ourselves jumping away from the window or crouching down behind the soda machine.

It can be nerve-wracking trying to keep an eye on the batter during the game.  If we get busy in the middle of the game, it can be difficult to watch what is happening on the field and still help the customers in a timely manner.  We just hope the ball doesn’t come our way and if we hear someone yell heads up, we get out of the way.  I’m sure it’s amusing to watch us whenever a foul ball is hit.  Despite the occasional hazards of foul balls, I wouldn’t want to work in any other stand.

If you ever find yourself at a Fightin’ Phils game sitting in one of the sections around the ice cream stand remember this important message: Keep your eyes on the game and beware of the right-handed hitter!

Ask a silly question…

Working in food service, as with any job, you find that people ask some of the most outrageous questions.  Baseball fans are no exception.  Here are some of my favorite questions that we have been asked at the upstairs ice cream stand.

Question:  Do all the ice cream stands sell the same ice cream?

It amazes me how many people ask this question.  There are three ice cream stands in FirstEnergy Stadium and yes, we all sell the same two flavors of ice cream.  The question usually arises when someone asks for a flavor that we do not sell and they are hoping that one of the other stands has it.

Question:  Do any of the stands sell Coke products?

Every year the Fightin’ Phils season is sponsored by Pepsi – they play a Pepsi commercial before each game explaining this.  If you turn right out of the main parking lot and drive straight, you will pass the Pepsi warehouse.  You could even walk there if you wanted to, one building sits between the two locations.  As a result, all of the concessions stands sell Pepsi products and only Pepsi products.  I prefer Pepsi so this has never been a big deal to me, but, understandably so, we always have a few fans each season who are upset that they can’t have a Coke during the game.

Question:  Are sprinkles a topping?

This question baffles me every time it gets asked and we hear it at least once a season.  I can never figure out what other item customers imagine it might be.  The price tells you right away that it’s not an ice cream flavor – they cost $0.75 where as the cheapest ice cream is $3.50.  There really is no other possibility for sprinkles other than as a topping. We have, however, given kids sprinkles in their hands once or twice – we just hope they don’t tell their parents how they spent their $0.75.  If anyone can figure out another use for sprinkles other than as a topping, please let me know!

Question:  Do you sell hot dogs in this stand?

If you’ve never seen the upstairs ice cream stand, picture this: Take you average shed and cut a large window in the front and a door on the end.  Now add two freezers, a soda machine, a register, and a little bit of counter space.  That is the stand.  When a customer comes to the window they can view the entire interior of the stand with the exception of under the counters.  Trust me, I am not hiding a grill full of hot dogs next to the motor of the soda fountain.  The best detail about this question is that it always comes after the customer has stared at the inside of the stand and at the menu for at least a full minute.

Question:  Can I get another mini batting helmet for my child at home?

The answer to this question is simple: yes you can, for $4.50.  What gets me about this question is that people assume that they can have a helmet for free if there is no ice cream inside it.  That’s not how it works.  You are more than welcome to take a clean, empty helmet home with you, but it will cost the same as a helmet full of chocolate ice cream.

Question: Do you have a fork?

Although it is rarely asked, this question does come up from time to time.  Now, I don’t remember eating ice cream with a fork when I was younger (unless it was an ice cream cake), but maybe times have changed.  If your child wants to sit and stab at each and every Dippin’ Dot in their cup, I say go for it.  Unfortunately we only have spoons available at the ice cream stands.

Question: Do you have a sink that I could use?

This question gets asked quite often during the season.  It always comes from parents who find themselves stuck with a mini batting helmet covered in the remains of chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  Their children have eaten all they can and now want to take the souvenir helmet home with them.  The parents are stuck with the task of finding a way to clean off the helmet before it gets stuffed into a bag.  I understand they want to save time by not having to go downstairs to the bathroom sinks, but we are unable to help them out.  If you refer back to the image described in the hot dog question, you will see that there is no room for a sink in our stand and that it’s pretty obvious we don’t have one when you are at the window.

Question: Are you closing?/Are you closed?

In order to understand the ridiculous nature of this question, there is one more important detail about the stand you must know.  When we want to close for the night, we have to walk out of the stand and pull down the window that runs the entire length of the stand.  it is very similar to a food truck that has a window that opens up instead of sliding side to side.  The question has two forms and comes at two possible times.  Someone will generally ask the first form of the question when Ariane is standing out in front of the stand in the process of lowering the face of the window.  The second form of the question always comes later, after the window is closed and latched and we have started cleaning everything.  Without fail, once a home-stand we will get asked this question and the person who asks always seems surprised when the answer is yes, we are closed.

We get asked a lot of strange questions throughout the summer and these are a few of the ones that I find truly amusing.  I am sure there will be more to add to the list after this summer, but until then, enjoy these tidbits of what life is like on my side of the counter.