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.


Bregman's great year not enough to overtake the best in the sport

Mike Trout wins 2019 AL MVP over Alex Bregman

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After a close race, the MLB announced on Thursday that the winner of the American League Most Valuable Player Award is Los Angeles' Mike Trout. He edges out Alex Bregman, who many thought might be able to capitalize on missed time by Trout in 2019 to steal the award. Trout takes the award for the third time in his career, joining a list of only ten other players in history to win it three or more times.

Missed time not enough for Bregman to steal it

What some may have thought would put Bregman over Trout in the mind of voters is the sustained success he had in a complete season. Trout missed 28 games this season mostly due to injury, while Bregman played in 156 of the teams 162 games, sitting out just a handful of games with minor injuries or scheduled rest.

Still, Trout managed to put up incredible numbers that Bregman couldn't quite match. Trout led the entire league in WAR at 8.6 with Bregman right behind in 8.5. He also led the MLB in walk percentage (18.3%), on-base percentage (.438), and was second in OPS (1.083), which was best in the AL. Trout was second in the AL in home runs (45), sixth in runs (110), and ninth in RBIs (104) despite his missed time.

Still a terrific season for Bregman

Bregman finished with 41 home runs (3rd in the AL), 122 runs (4th), 112 RBIs (5th) while leading the entire league in walks (119) to put him third in walk percentage (17.2%). The walks helped boost his on-base percentage and OPS, finishing second to Trout in both categories in the AL at .423 and 1.015, respectively. Bregman did finish with a better batting average, posting a .296 to Trout's .291.

One of his most impressive stretches, though, came in his hot August, which earned him a player of the month honor. That month, he drove in 31 runs while hitting six home runs and fourteen doubles, working his way up to a 1.235 OPS over the 26 games he played.

2019 was by far Bregman's best performance in his early career and shows that the future is bright for the young third baseman who the Astros currently have tied up for the next five seasons. Though Mike Trout will likely still be the favorite for MVP for many years to come, Bregman showed this year that he could give him an honest fight for the award.

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