For the last 10 years, a stack of small plastic baseball caps has sat on the second shelf of my kitchen cabinet, in between the dinner plates and the bowls. About half the caps are red and half are blue; the logo that would indicate which team they represent has worn off all but one. Fittingly for my family, it is a Yankees cap.
These caps represent a decade of taking my two children to Nashville Sounds games. As anyone who goes to even one or two games a year knows, those helmets are the serving dishes for the ice cream sold at the concession stand. I've seen people scavenging the stands after games collecting dozens of them, but we only take home what we've purchased. Once they reach our kitchen, the helmets tend to disappear almost as quickly as they come into the house. They've been used as bathtub toys, snack containers, paint pots, cotton ball and marble holders, and as bowls for ice cream from our own freezer. I have found them in the backyard, on the screened porch, under beds, between sofa cushions, in closets and in the backseat of the car. Last time I checked, we had about eight of them left.
When I first started taking my children to games, the amount of time we spent at Greer was determined by what they consumed and how long it took to consume it. At 3 and 4 years old, they weren't nearly as interested in the game as they were in the food being hawked in the stands: peanuts, Cracker Jacks, cotton candy, Icees, funnel cakes, snow cones, lemonade, all as evil in their in-your-face availability as the candy displays that line supermarket checkout lines. As much as I respect the fact that stadium vendors are simply trying to make a living, it has always been my policy to say a kind but firm no to them; giving in would be the first dip down a slippery slope toward financial ruin and sugar overload. We always get our ballpark food and beverages at the concession stand.
In the early years, I counted six innings as a successful outing: a hot dog at the top of the second, peanuts in the middle of the fourth, and ice cream at the top of the sixth. Once the ice cream was gone, so were we. But about five years ago, we turned a corner when my children became more interested in the game than the food, and I finally saw my first complete game in 10 years of child-rearing.
These days, our evenings at Greer are no longer dictated by eating habits. Ironically, the food selection at the ballpark has grown considerably as my children's taste for ball park food has shrunk. Last season, all Joy wanted was a Diet Coke and a soft pretzel; Harry preferred the cup of fries or the nachos, along with an Icee.
Buck's Backyard Grill, a screened-in cooking area with industrial-sized grills, was installed several years ago; burgers and dogs are on that menu, along with grilled chicken, Polish sausage and pulled pork sandwiches. Buck's is the only place to get barbecue nachos, which Greer F&B man Mark Lawrence says is the most popular concession item. Lawrence notes that the burgers and dogs are now Black Angus; I didn't notice a dramatic difference in the ones I tried, but I'll take his word for it. Making its debut this year at Buck's is the grilled Bratwurst sandwich, an apparent nod to the new parent club, the Milwaukee Brewers. Of the new items, this was the best we sampled.
Buck's new Brew Crew's Brew House beer garden, located to the right of the main entrance, is the perfect place to take that brat; on the way, stop at the Bye Bye Deli stand to pick up your beer. On draft are Samuel Adams or Shiner Bock; bottled brews include Red Stripe, Guinness Draught, Corona and Newcastle. If you'd rather have a deli sandwich with your suds, grab one of those at Bye-Bye deli as well.
Donnie's Delights (Stand 3) is the frequent fryer of the park, with french fries, fried catfish nuggets (although our basket contained strips of fish filet instead), chicken poppers, corn dogs (regulation-sized and foot-long), wings and fried cheesecake. The last of those tastes a lot better than it sounds: a rectangular block of cheesecake is wrapped in a thin layer of pastry dough, deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar. We didn't expect to like it, but we did.
The most surprising addition is the garden salada good mix of greens presented in a covered bowl much like those at fast food places. (Add your tomatoes from any condiment stand.) I applaud this healthy alternative, but I don't think the salads will be edging out the barbecue nachos anytime soon.
The most unusual new ballpark fare is sweet-and-sour pork, rice, an egg roll and a fortune cookie, all served on a divided plate, for just 5 bucks. Find it at Magglio's Pizza & Chinese, next to Ozzie's Ice Cream Parlor, which is where I'll be replenishing my collection of plastic baseball caps this summer.