Fare game: Teams turn up heat on food theme

Brooklyn, Rochester among latest clubs serving up fresh identities

Syracuse will soon play as the Salt Potatoes, Rochester as the Plates and Brooklyn as the Slices.

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | August 3, 2017 12:00 PM ET

On Friday, change will be in the air in Coney Island. That change is going to smell an awful lot like pizza.

"That's going to be different for us," Cyclones director of communications Billy Harner said, "especially during low tide."

For one night, the Brooklyn club will play as the Slices, part of the latest helping of teams across the Minors temporarily adopting identities to celebrate beloved regional cuisine. Among an extensive menu of events specific to the promotion, neighborhood restaurant Gargiulo's will bring their own pizza oven and serve personal pies.

"They have kind of a mobile brick oven they use for street fairs and outdoor weddings and things, so they're bringing that over to our backyard," Harner said. "Just the smell of that -- I'm pretty excited."

The Double-A club in Montgomery permanently became the Biscuits in 2004, but the current boom of teams paying homage to food with a promo night dates to 2014, when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs took to the field in bacon-themed unis. The next season, the Fresno Grizzlies became the first team to take on a temporary food-related name change, becoming the Tacos.

Those promos cooked into -- in addition to a fierce social media rivalry -- a Minors-wide trend. This season has already seen the Albuquerque Isotopes play as the Green Chile Cheeseburgers and the Charlotte Knights become the Pitmasters, and several other teams will evolve into the most delicious versions of themselves in August. (More on that below.) 

In fact, Friday's game as the Slices won't mark the first time the Cyclones have shaken up their main ingredients. On July 3, 2016, they played in hot dog-themed uniforms as the Coney Island Franks to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Brooklyn institution Nathan's Famous. When the team began to consider how to follow up that successful promo, there was one obvious direction to go. 

"Pizza in Brooklyn is one of the things people are most passionate about," Harner said. "This is a way of life here. Pizza in Brooklyn is basically a religion. Everybody has their place they go to, and they have exactly how they prepare their slice before they eat it. Offices have their little traditions -- everybody will go have pizza for lunch on Friday [for example]. There's the ritual of pizza.

"If you ever want to get in a fight with somebody from Brooklyn, tell them some [pizza place] is better than someplace else. They'll fight with you for 15 minutes."

In addition to a hat giveaway and special jerseys, Brooklyn is planning an on-field dough-stacking contest.

The Cyclones should know. As part of Friday's promo, they've run a bracket challenge of Brooklyn pizza parlors, with fans voting to determine which advances. The champion will be announced at the game.

"There's been a lot of contentious debate," Harner said. "People have been upset over [pizza parlors] that didn't make the final bracket or losing in a round people thought they shouldn't have."

The first 2,000 fans through the gate will receive a themed hat, and fans will also be able to participate in a dough-stacking competition, a pizza-eating contest and more. 

"There are pizza tours that have buses that take tourists to the main spots around Brooklyn, and they're supplying us with kind of the Harlem Globetrotters of pizza dough tossing," Harner said. "They're going to be doing tricks, seeing how high they can toss it, catching it behind their back. But it's going to be a contest -- we're going to find some unsuspecting suckers in the crowd to go and compete with these guys who actually do it for a living."

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, the Triple-A Syracuse and Rochester clubs will be preparing for their own metamorphoses.

On Saturday, the Chiefs will become the Salt Potatoes in honor of a central New York summertime favorite -- spuds boiled in salty water to create a crusty and flavorful exterior and soft and palatable interior. Within a week of announcing the promotion in late June, Syracuse had shipped Salt Potatoes merchandise to 30 states.

On Aug. 10, the Red Wings will be the Plates, named in honor of the Garbage Plate. The name may not be appetizing, but the actual food item -- having originated at Rochester restaurant Nick Tahou Hots -- is a mix of fan favorites that theoretically amount to something even tastier than the sum of the parts.

"For those not from Rochester," the team's July 4 announcement of the promo explained, "a Garbage Plate is two burgers (or two hot dogs) served on a bed of mac salad and home fries and topped with meat hot sauce and onions."

Nick Tahou Hots will set up a trailer on the concourse during the game so fans can get the original Garbage Plate at the ballpark, and no fewer than 10 of the Red Wings' concession stands will serve a creative variation on the theme, including a dessert version featuring ice cream, brownies, cookies and gummy worms.

One state to the south, on the same night the Rochester Plates play, the IronPigs -- who have previously adopted the moniker "Cheesesteaks" -- will take the field as the Barbecue, representing a fictitious 1970s franchise for Fauxback Night.

Next Monday, the Reading Fightin Phils will play as the Reading Whoopies. That name honors the whoopie pie, a sandwichy treat consisting of two cake-like chocolate buns and a creamy center. Although the original home of the whoopie pie is bitterly contested among at least three states, the Phillies affiliate will undoubtedly be the first Minors team to change its name in tribute to the delicacy.

The Aberdeen IronBirds -- rivals of the Cyclones in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League -- plan to do Maryland proud next Tuesday. That night, they play as the Aberdeen Steamed Crabs.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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