Spring training is just around the corner. The players are oiling up their gloves, creasing their brims and preparing to chew, spit and rearrange themselves through another 162 games.
I love baseball.
I don't care that it is the slowest and most idiosyncratic of all professional sports. The only game more involved and meticulous in nature than baseball is golf, but golf is just aristocratic enough as to be out of the common man's sphere of influence. Historically, golf is a game largely played by wealthy white men, and in recent years and smaller numbers by wealthy men of other races.
The purest aspects of baseball are icons of Americana, of all the things that I as an American love: teamwork, high-fives, crotch grabbing, firm pats on the ass, afternoon drinking and-- most of all -- hot dogs.
There is no Cousteau without the Sea, no Jackson 5 without Michael and there is no Baseball without the Hot Dog.
There are other foods we associate with baseball, at least in the modern era. Minute Maid has nachos, yard-long, sangria-based "margaritas," baked potatoes bigger than your head, Papa John's and a few St. Arnold's stands.
There's even a Little Big's in the stadium, as well as an El Real food concession stand, though the former excites me more than the latter by a fair margin. I can't say I see myself spending that much money on food at the ball park, either way. Maybe Chef Caswell can suit up and toss a few innings for the 'Stros. Couldn't hurt.
No, when I eat at the ball park, my available stomach space is devoted to a hot dog.
For one, it's the cheapest thing at the concession stand, more or less.
And two, the toppings are free, so you can put whatever the hell you want on your own damn hot dog.
That said, I'm going to say something right here and right now, something that will probably catch me more flak than calling California Rolls "sushi," or insisting that each and every Austin eatery open at least four new Houston locations a piece, growing exponentially by a power of three each and every year from now for a decade.
You can say whatever you want about "It's blasphemy" and "Mustard is the only thing you can put on a hot dog." You can quote me some lines from Sin City, or tell me I have a base, sophomoric palate. You can even tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. Whatever. Maybe you'd be right, but I I wouldn't give a damn.
I hate mustard and I love ketchup, so I put ketchup on my hot dog. If baseball is America's National Pastime, and America is the Land of the Free, then I'm free as a bird to put whatever I so please upon my hot dog. So I do. I put ketchup on my hot dog.
New owner Jim Crane is allowing fans to bring food into the park this season. The rule will apparently be that you just have to have the food in a clear plastic bag. If that's the case, I'll bring in gallon bags filled with hot dogs and buns. I'll sprinkle them about and pass them around like some kind of twisted Johnny Appleseed, hopped up on too-expensive beer and excessive sodium. I'll keep one dog and one bun just for me, though. I'll put ketchup on it, and love every second.
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I still go to Astros games, even when the team is miserably piss-poor. I still go to Astros games because I'm a creature of habit. It's also force of habit to put red stuff instead of yellow stuff onto a tube of heavily-preserved meat which is nestled inside of some bread.
This Saturday is the last Saturday until September when there will not be a baseball game of some sort on. For me, that signals the beginning of another habit I've formed over the years: being excited about baseball season starting again.