BATTER UP! EAT UP!

Houston Astros roll out a powerhouse lineup of new ballpark grub for 2019

Smoked Pork Burnt End Tots. Photo courtesy of Aramark

Originally appeared on CultureMap.

Good luck sticking to your regular baseball diet — hot dogs and beer — at Minute Maid Park this season. The Houston Astros unveiled their lineup of new menu items this week, and you may want to skip lunch on game night. And maybe even breakfast the next morning. And drop by Jenny Craig for a pep talk on your way home from work.

Among the more fanciful selections for 2019: Smoked Pork Burnt End Topped Tots, Prime Rib Steak Sandwich, Lamb Gyro, and Calabrese Shrimp Sandwich. How does a dish of Kahlua Tiramisu sound for dessert? (Remember, pinkies out.)

"We try to keep our food focused on the regional tastes of Houston and finding a way to put a ballpark spin on things. We do a lot of research and consultation with our fans, and assortment of food and beverages is the thing that matters most to them," says Mat Drain, His Exalted Highness of Habanero for Aramark, which runs the food concessions at Minute Maid Park.

Aramark held its annual press event in the ballpark's Diamond Club. Inviting the media to sample free food, buffet-style, makes the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona look like a waltz contest. Joey Chestnut has nothing on sports writers.

A beefed-up lineup
My favorite was the Prime Rib Sandwich, which is serious business even by steakhouse standards. It's a thick slab of trimmed prime rib, topped by caramelized onions and horseradish sauce. It's over-the-top, amazing and not cheap. Your favorite president, Andrew Jackson, will pick up the bill.

I taste-tested the 713 Prime Burger, an 8-ounce Nolan Ryan patty — actual prime beef — with American cheese on a toasted bun. Elegant in simplicity, divine in quality, smooth as butter. I dug into a Fried Shrimp Po'boy, with real Gulf shrimp. Nice touch staying local.

I also snuck in a Ken Hoffman Dog, topped with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard. Yes, for the first time, my dog will available throughout the stadium this season, total respect.

Better food for all fans
Drain, if nothing else a man of the people, says he's addressed a complaint heard often in years past: that all the good stuff is limited to certain stadium levels, particularly the suites and club level.

"Our biggest focus has been making sure we have variety on all levels of the ballpark. We've added specialty concepts that have been successful on the main concourse to the upper concourse, such as our HTX Mex portables selling tacos," he notes.

One table at the food rollout was dedicated to an array of new salads and healthier options, available at the Marketplace on the main concourse. (I pretended that I didn't see it.)

Executive Chef Jimmy Coatsworth explained how he prepares Smoked Smoked Pork Burnt End Topped Tots. It was like listening to Beethoven describe how he composed his Fifth Symphony. What kind of devious mind thinks up a Frito Pie Corn Dog? If only Coatsworth used his powers for good instead of evil.

Dollar Dog Nights will be held on Tuesdays this year. There are lucky 13 Tuesday night games on tap this year, start looking for loose change in the couch. Big ups for Minute Maid Park. While other stadiums sell smaller franks on their discount dog nights, the Astros offer the same size frank as other games.

To see the complete batting order of new food items, locations, and prices coming to Minute Maid Park, read the rest of the story on CultureMap.


TEAM COMES TO JAKE'S DEFENSE AND BRINGS SQUAD CLOSER TOGETHER

Marisnick collision and aftermath could be turning point in season

Photo via: Astros/Facebook

Every season has a turning point and a moment or two that becomes a catalyst as to whether or not the team makes a long run and has playoff success or fails to live up to expectations and goes home early. There is still plenty of the season still to be played, but this year's version of that defining moment could very well be the collision at home plate between Jake Marisinick and Angel's catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the aftermath both on the field and on social media. From the minute it happened the court of public opinion had plenty to say and lots of venom to spew Jake's way. From members of the media to current players like Yadier Molina and plenty of cowardly keyboard warriors on Twitter and Instagram, everyone took the time to rip Marisnick and detail the punishment they felt like he deserved. Through it all Jake handled it all with remorse and honest commentary as he tried to explain his thought process and what he planned to do going forward. Never once did he lash out or get into a war of words with his critics as he answered the numerous questions from the media and expressed his deep regret to Lucroy. Jake handled everything with class and in the process, we found out just how tight a bunch this Astros team really is.

AJ Hinch, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The greatest thing to come out of this horrible situation was the support Jake received from his teammates and the way his manager and some of the biggest names on the roster were outspoken in defending him and vouching for his character. From Lance McCullers and Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, everyone had Jake's back as they told anyone that would listen what a great person Jake was and how he would never purposely try and hurt another player in any game situation. George Springer was telling the TV audience right after the game ended and that was the first of many examples of a team that would not let one of their own be hung out to dry and left to fend for himself. A lot of players in the same situation would rather run and hide for fear of damaging their own image and yet here were the Astros providing strength in numbers as they protected their brother. Manager AJ Hinch, a former catcher, was quick to explain the split second a player has to decide his path and route to the plate while attempting to avoid the defender. He added that Jake was not a dirty player, the contact was not intentional and that Marisnick felt awful and was deeply concerned for Lucroy. It was a very unexpected outcome stemming from a very unfortunate situation.

With all that unfolded surrounding the collision, there was more adversity to come and it would get worse before it got better. Marisnick received word from the office of Major League Baseball that he would be suspended for two games for his role in the play. He quickly said he would appeal, but that would mean that he would have to play in Anaheim, against Lucroy's Angels with all of their fans chomping at the bit to give Jake a piece of their mind. They didn't hold back and certainly got more than their money's worth as the attacks were relentless and most had no boundaries or filter. Eventually, the Angles themselves would look for payback as pitcher Noe Ramirez would not only hit Jake but come dangerously close to his head and neck, drawing the ire of many of the Astros who witnessed it from the dugout. That would spur heated dialog between first baseman Albert Pujols and the Houston bench, so much so, that both benches would clear. Throughout it all, the one player that played peacemaker and attempted to get order restored was none other than Jake. He waved his guys back into the dugout as he calmly discussed everything with Pujols. He never once looked to fight or stir the pot, he only wanted to put everything behind him so he and the team could move on and move forward. The team was off to a slow start after the all-star break and they really needed to re-focus and get back to baseball.

Yuli Gurriel Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's funny how things work out and how a team can get closer and play better when faced with its darkest moments in the middle of a swarm of adversity. Turmoil and stressful situations can splinter a team and tear it apart if not handled correctly. On the flip side, a group that stays together no matter how bad a particular incident may seem can actually benefit from it and gain momentum from having stuck together in the face of the negativity. The latter has been the case for the Astros who seem to have used the Marisnick incident to get even tighter, closer together and focussed on moving forward winning as many games as possible to get closer to their ultimate goal of another World Series title. The team won the final 2 games in Anaheim after rallying around Jake and haven't looked back or lost since. They just swept the hated Texas Rangers in a 4 game series and broke out the heavy lumber in opening up a double-digit lead on their way to taking the first game of a huge series against the A's at Minute Maid Park Monday night. They have won 7 in a row and are getting healthier with each passing day as they are playing some of their best baseball of the year. The results speak for themselves as they have taken a licking and just keep on ticking. They say winning is contagious and together everyone achieves more, but this team found out the hard way that character is a powerful tool and if used by an entire team in unison, it can move mountains and build a culture. Jake has always been a fan favorite and one of the most beloved players in the Astros clubhouse, but he may be even more entrenched in this Houston lovefest after how he handled a very difficult situation and came out of it a better man for having gone through it. Let's hope that when the season is over and we look back on its biggest moments and turning points we can point a finger at those moments in mid-July that started with a collision and ended with a bang.

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