Daniel Rivas, seen in the photo at the top of this article, is a native of Laton, California who currently lives in Salinas and works as a high school math teacher. But when Daniel visits the Fresno Grizzlies' home of Chukchansi Park, he dons Ultimate Warrior-inspired facepaint and thus transforms into his alter-ego: The Grizzly Fanatic.
Daniel's hometown of Laton is in Fresno County, but he didn't become a big supporter of the Grizzlies until earlier this decade. His pathway to fandom was courtesy of a man he calls "Pops," his junior varsity baseball coach and overall life mentor. Daniel, who said that his tendency is to "go extreme" if he likes something, is a former high school and college mascot and brings that energy to Chukchansi Park. Salinas is a three-hour drive from the ballpark but he and his wife, Stephanie, are in attendance for every weekend game. Stephanie, or Mrs. Grizzly Fanatic, is a huge fan of the Grizzles as well. The proof is in the body art:
Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly Fanatic had their first date at Chukchansi Park. He also proposed to her there, and they then got married at the ballpark. And not only that, but Parker the mascot conducted the ceremony. The couple's two dogs, Slinky and Harley, are collectively known as the Grizz Pack. All of this is to say: When Daniel applied to be my Designated Eater (read: sent me an email), I felt like I just had to give him the job.
You may have noticed that Daniel was wearing a "Lowriders" jersey over his Grizzly Fanatic t-shirt. This was a timely sartorial choice, as the Grizzlies were playing as the Lowriders that late July weekend as part of their participation in Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión program. Lowriders were parked outside the ballpark, and later in the evening the team staged an amazing (to me, at least) "hopping contest."
The Lowriders theme extended to the food as well, as Daniel and I began with an order of the "Low-fry-der" carne asada fries.
With an advertising campaign like this, how can you go wrong?
Daniel was revved up and ready for automobile-themed meat and potato product.
Daniel declared the fries to be "perfect"
"The first weekend [the Grizzlies] did this, I almost bought one just because I wanted the car," he said. "My wife talked me out of it, but that's how interested I was. I was going to buy it without any fries."
Next up was a tri-tip sandwich. Tri-tip is a venerated foodstuff in California's Central Valley, to the extent that the Grizzlies host a "Tri-Tip Throwdown" modeled after their long-running Taco Truck Throwdown.
Daniel, who prefers to smother his tri-tip with jalapeños, said that his favorite Fresno-area tri-tip sandwich can be found at Mike's Grill. Could the Grizzlies' version possibly be as good?
While Daniel declared this sandwich to be "perfect," there are degrees of perfection because he said that, ultimately, he liked Mike's Grill better.
"The meat isn't super-soft, but it's not too well-done. At that point it just tastes like charcoal," he said. "And the jalapeños take it to the next level. That's my secret 'eating barbecue' food."
Fresno is best known for its tacos, to the extent that the Grizzlies, in addition to staging the Taco Truck Throwdown, suit up as the Tacos for every Tuesday game. A relatively new addition to Chukchansi Park's refurbished outfield concourse is the brilliantly-named "Oppo Taco" stand in right field. That's where Daniel and I headed next.
Daniel obtained a taco triumvirate of carnitas, asada and pollo. They were served unadorned, just meat in a tortilla, but this is what they looked like after Daniel hit the toppings bar.
The carnitas taco was "super-soft and marinated well," according to Daniel. As for the asada, "it was salted really well and for asada, that's really what you have to do. The pollo, or chicken, got the lowest marks, as Daniel said it really needed the guac and pico gallo to hide its essential blandness.
The Oppo Taco stand also sells churros, as well a dessert item whose name just rolls right off of the tongue: The Churwaffle Sundae.
"It's like a bite-sized churro, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside," said Daniel. "They put a lot of cinnamon on it, and that's a key feature of churros. And it's pretty good as a sundae. I'd never had it as a sundae. I will definitely have this the next time I'm here."
And with that, Daniel's work was done. It was a pleasure to spend a couple innings with him. And from now on, in addition to being the Grizzly Fanatic, he is also a Designated Eater.
"Today I knocked something off of my bucket list. This had been one of my goals," he said. "It was a good time, 10/10. I'd do it again."