There are three kinds of people who go to minor league games. After much scientific research (a.k.a., "thinking about it in the shower and making some assumptions"), I can say that 7 percent of people who go to the games are die-hard fans of the team (they know the roster, they buy shirts, they get season tickets), 3 percent are people who are scouting players, and the remaining 90 percent are there purely for an evening of summer entertainment.
The Whitecaps excel at providing entertainment. There are on-field games and distractions every half inning, food, dizzy bat races, give-away contests, food, multiple mascots, post-game fireworks, food, and game-show style quizzes.
But there's also food.
Every year, the Whitecaps invite their fans to submit new menu items and vote for a winner, and every year there's a new array of unique food choices for the fan with the discerning palate, by which I mean, the fan who has had too many West Michigan craft beers and needs something dense to offset the alcohol intake.
As the Whitecaps go into their championship-defending 2016 season, these are a few of the things you will find to fill your plate at the ballpark.
Chicken chips & Buffalo chicken sticks
Did you enjoy the chicken fries that were a staple at Fifth Third Ballpark? Too bad. They've been DFA'd, and chicken chips are the latest top prospect.
These are basically chicken nuggets that have been crushed flat by the weight of heavy pre-draft expectations. On the plus side, they're lighter than nuggets. On the down side, they're lighter than nuggets. But this is just an appetizer, so grab some dipping sauce and enjoy while you're making a main entree decision.
The Buffalo chicken sticks are stuffed with melty cheese -- "bleu" to be exact, so make sure to order them with a slightly snotty faux French accent.
Pretzels and other pretzels
The pretzel craze has been sweeping the nation for several years. Sooner than you realize, everything you order will be served inside a regulation-size safe made of warm pretzel: hot dogs, burgers, spaghetti, duck à l'orange, popsicles, everything. I have zero complaints.
Here we have two different pretzel options: the kind served with fancy mustard made with Founder's Dirty Bastard, and the kind stuffed with melted bar cheese. I personally think both of these options could be improved by serving them on pretzel buns, but I don't make those decisions.
Build-your-own burger bar
Sure, going to the ballpark to see a game in person is great fun, but so is watching the game at home where you can run into the kitchen between innings and make yourself a sandwich. The Whitecaps have found a way to let you do both: the build-a-burger bar gives you the chance to take your culinary destiny into your own hands while never leaving the ballpark.
Hey, who hasn't thought, "this is a pretty good game going on, but what I really need is a simulated trip to the grocery store?"
Here's the twist: you can put your burger in between two freaking waffles.
Now we're talking. Screw you, pretzel bun, waffle buns are the way to go.
Waffle fries with turkey, gravy, and cheese
This one's pretty straight-forward. You get a bowl full of waffle fries, smother them with shredded turkey and gravy, and then bury the whole mess with a cheese sauce topping of your choice.
The end result looks like this:
Perfection. You can now drink at least three more West Michigan craft beers and still be ok to drive by the end of the game.
The contest winner: Dutch Love
This won the fan vote by a healthy margin over my preferred option, a burger topped with mozzarella sticks, fries, and onion rings. But this is the same fan base that voted the hateful "Auger Dogger" into first place two years ago, so what do you expect?
That's shredded turkey and gravy, poured over cheese curds and fries, wrapped in a pita. (Don't eat the toothpick, unless they offer to bake it into a warm pretzel for you first.)
It's plenty tasty, even if basically nothing about this dish really says "Dutch," or even "love." This is more like "poor man's Canadian poutine meets Greek cuisine having an identity crisis," but the "Dutch love" name is ripe for all sorts of dirty jokes, so it's going to be a very good year at the ballpark.
Be sure to try out your best vaguely suggestive punch-lines on the friendly Fifth Third Ballpark employees every time you order this item, and you'll probably get a discount. (That's a Dutch joke, just FYI. Also, you should definitely ask to see the Dutch Oven used to cook these wraps.)
Not Your Father's Root Beer Floats
These really should come with a complimentary bag of cotton candy for customers with kids, because your youngsters are 100% never going to stop asking "can I have one of those, please, please, please?"
Actually, just go ahead and serve these to your kids. I'm pretty sure Michigan's laws permit some public drinking by minors as long as you call it a "root beer float," and I don't think ballpark security is allowed to arrest you anyway, so you're probably safe. (I'm kidding. Please don't do this.)
These floats are definitely a step up from last year's "Beer-a-misu" floats, which were made with a scoop of Tiramisu-flavored gelato, dark stout beer, and a side of shame. Not Your Father's Root Beer tastes exactly like regular root beer would taste if it were made by an alcoholic, and it mixes quite nicely with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Goes down easy, goes down smooth, and if you get too buzzed, you can always just order another bowl of waffle fries with turkey and cheese.
Let's go Whitecaps!
It's going to be another great season of Single A ball in West Michigan. The Caps won it all last year, and with some new talent coming into the organization in 2016 (how excited are you to see what Beau Burrows brings to the table?), they're poised to do good things again this year.
If they don't? At least you'll get to eat some amazing food.