If the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Don Steinberg is to be believed, the jerk chicken I sampled at the former Pac Bell was not personally prepared by Orlando Cepeda.
Most baseball fans know that Bull’s BBQ at Citizens Bank Park, where former Phillies star Greg “the Bull” Luzinski (above) signs autographs, isn’t an original concept. We know the idea of having a rib joint behind the outfield, named after a large and beloved former player who greets fans, originated in Baltimore, where Boog’s BBQ opened at Camden Yards in 1992, patrolled by Orioles great Boog Powell himself.
Only the true ballpark junkie knows how widely the old-timers-presenting-food-at-games idea has spread.
At Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Manny’s Bar-B-Q gives Pirates fans a chance to meet former catcher Manny Sanguillen. On Yawkey Way alongside Fenway Park in Boston, pitching legend Luis Tiant mans El Tiante’s, where the specialty is the multi-meat Cuban sandwich. In Houston’s Minute Maid Park, former Astros pitcher and manager Larry Dierker lurks around a bar called Larry’s Big Bamboo.
They’re all part of a trend that combines ballpark food service with entertainment and often leads to merchandise sales. And they’re all products of Aramark, the Philadelphia-based food giant that is taking over concessions and retail operations at sports facilities everywhere – including Lincoln Financial Field – with a growing role in shaping the fan experience.
To stadium planners, the games on major-league ball fields are now called the “core product” as teams look for attractions to entertain fans and capture revenue.
Former players are part of the package. The players, under contract with Aramark, have varying levels of interaction with the food. Powell is a barbecue maven who had input on recipes. “Bull [Luzinski] has said, ‘The rub’s not spicy enough today,’ ” said Brian Hastings, Aramark’s manager for Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s these players from the ’70s and ’80s,” Rooney said. “They make a buck, but it’s more than a compensation thing. The ones we’re really successful with are the ones who really enjoy it.”