Municipal Stadium, the home of the Hagerstown Suns, is 89 years old. As you might guess, octogenarian ballparks don't offer much in the way of amenities. But what they do offer is history, intimacy and, more often than not, plenty of charm.
Municipal Stadium has charm in spades, from the covered grandstand seating to the rooftop press box to the Suns diehards who line up along the home team's dugout to watch the game. Even the concession stands, and the food offered therein, are charming. Ballpark classics done well, and at an affordable cost.
My visit to Hagerstown, my first since 2011, encompassed the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The Minor League season was winding down, but there were stories to be told and #content to be shared. Concessions were part of that content, of course, and assisting me in this regard was my Designated Eater Chris Ruffner.
As Minor League Baseball prepared for its transition to the offseason, Chris was preparing for his own transition. The 18-year-old, from Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on the cusp of his first day in college. He's currently enrolled at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.
"I want to be an athletic trainer," said Chris. "I'm currently the Frederick Keys bat boy, and that got me into wanting to work in baseball. And, my mom's a physical therapist."
The Keys, for whom Chris served as bat boy, are in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. The Suns are one rung down on the ladder, as they play in the Class A South Atlantic League. Chris said he's a fan of the game no matter the level. He loves to travel to different ballparks; his favorite MLB stadium is Baltimore's Camden Yards, while his favorite Minor League facility is Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa (home of the Quad Cities River Bandits).
Chris is also a fan of food, and at this moment in time he was hungry. Our journey, such as it was, began at the Antietam Grill.
Chris ordered a Suns Dog (stuffed with bacon and cheese) as well as a Tim Burger (named for a man named Tim, although I have now forgotten which Tim).
This is the Suns Dog.
Chris, who has controversial condiment opinions, was ready for eat.
"The cheese blends in really well with the taste of the hot dog," said Chris. "I didn't taste the bacon as much, but the cheese is melted in."
As for the Tim Burger, it was a solid, if unspectacular, double meat patty. If you know a guy named Tim, it's a good bet that the guy named Tim you know would like it.
On this evening, and assumedly every evening, the game's radio broadcast was playing throughout the concourse. As Chris chowed down on the Tim Burger, Hagerstown play-by-play man John Kocsis, having just seen the above tweet, gave Chris a shout-out. Technology is an amazing thing.
"This tastes like a standard double cheeseburger," said Chris, still smiling from having heard his name on the game broadcast. "It's good, but nothing special."
In search of something special, Chris and I headed over the third base side of the concourse. It was there that we found The Hub, where Hagerstown singles mingle.
The Hub's special of the homestand was a Pork Dog, topped with pulled pork and cole slaw.
"It's like your entire Labor Day picnic all rolled into one..."
"It's really messy but the pork and hot dog blend together really nicely," said Chris. "It's cooked well, and the barbecue sauce on top of the cole slaw is a nice touch."
After careful deliberation, Chris ranked the Pork Dog as his favorite item of the evening. The Suns Dog received a runner-up award, with the Tim Dog an also-ran (apologies to Tim). After sharing his rankings, Chris departed to the grandstand to watch the remainder of the game with his family. Later in the evening, he texted me the following message:
"Oh, I forgot to mention that of the 80 Minor League parks that I've been to, this has been the best dining experience."
Spoken like a true Designated Eater. Thanks, Chris, and good luck in college.