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Fans line up for free food in Augusta05/24/2013 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
"Cod strips and strawberry churros" doesn't quite have the same ring as "peanuts and Cracker Jacks," but, believe it or not, it's a culinary combination that gets fans to the ballpark.
That's what I found out when I recently attended an Augusta GreenJackets' game at Lake Olmstead Ballpark. Or, to be more accurate: it was "Feed Your Face Monday" (a recurring weekly promo), and the cod and churros were on a concessions menu that also included mini corn dogs and pizza strips as well as more established items such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and popcorn.
Upon my arrival 45 minutes before first pitch, the lines for the concourse concession stand were already packed with aficionados of these fried and/or bun-based food items. But most of all, these ravenous individuals were aficionados of what just may be the most beloved word in the English language.
Or, to (once again) be more accurate: free with a general admission game ticket, which now costs $11 on Mondays as opposed to the usual $7 charge. The upside of this 36 percent price increase is that fans can stuff their gullets from the time the gates open through the conclusion of the sixth inning. While my unfortunate but necessary adherence to a gluten-free diet kept me from being a direct "Feed Your Face" participant, I was happy to observe the concession stand's (barely) controlled chaos while GreenJackets general manager Bob Flannery filled me in on the specifics.
"It's a Monday, so you're not going to see thousands of people coming in. Like the restaurant or the movie business, it's never going to be our best day of the week." he said. "Still, you can make something out of it."
The Week That Was
Flannery freely admits to "stealing" the "Feed Your Face" concept from Lehigh Valley IronPigs general manager Kurt Landes, a former colleague in the Hagerstown Suns front office ("All blessings to the godfather," said Flannery of Landes, who has gone on to oversee Minor League Baseball's most successful franchise). It was first instituted last season, ultimately resulting in a 20-percent increase in Monday attendance as well as a significant uptick in the usage of season tickets.
"Last year we had a handful of objections to [Feed Your Face Mondays], and we said, 'That's okay -- come in for the old price and, if you want to come back, then you can buy the $11 ticket,'" explained Flannery.
That initial smattering of complaints has tapered off, perhaps because the budget and/or health-conscious folks who first made them have learned to steer clear of Monday nights, or perhaps because they simply learned to stop worrying and love the gut-bomb.
And as for these gut-bombs, cod strips and strawberry churros represent just the tip of the iceberg. Each Monday, the GreenJackets provide new and different items in addition to the hot dog and hamburger mainstays, as a means to provide variety for the ballpark regulars and, well, just because.
"Some things we serve are definitely not normal. I guess you could say it gives our seatholders a chance to cleanse their palettes," said GreenJackets director of operations Brian Marshall. "We've had chicken cordon bleu bites, beef wellington bites, fried green beans. ... No matter what it is, they can take as much as they want back to their seats."
"Some people even bring trays!" added Flannery, elucidating a phenomenon that I unfortunately did not observe on the night I was in attendance. "That's genius. It's not like there's a sign out front that says the South Atlantic League doesn't allow food trays to be brought into the stadium. ... The staff enjoys it, too. 'Oh my gosh, how many hot dogs does that person have?' And everyone's bound to get thirsty, so we do great with drink sales."
The team's corporate sponsors often get involved in the mayhem as well, with local restaurants such as Maurice's BBQ and Marco's Pizza supplementing whatever options that the GreenJackets have chosen to provide. Flannery reports that most of these offerings are exhausted within 45 minutes, although there are exceptions.
"[Healthy supermarket] Earth Fare was out here, and they took a little longer to give away all of their stuff," he said. "People would come over, feeling a little guilty, like, 'Well, I guess I really should take a banana.'"
As for the future of "Feed Your Face Monday," there is still much uncharted terrain to explore. Flannery, for one, has set his sights on a particularly revolutionary idea.
"I'm not sure it would work out, but I'd really like to try serving breakfast," he said. "Just make sure you write that: Bob wants a breakfast buffet."
But no matter how successful "Feed Your Face Monday" becomes, it will likely always pale in comparison to its alcoholic equivalent.
"We had about a 250 [person] walk-up today, one of our best Mondays," noted Marshall.
"We've never had less than 1,000 on Thirsty Thursday," replied Flannery.