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On Hot Dogs, Peanuts & Cracker Jack: The History of Ballpark Food

As the second half of baseball begins, the Astros are drawing fans to Minute Maid Park with $1 Hot Dog Night. So why is it that baseball is so closely linked to hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack?

Dave Sandford

Friday, July 19th is $1 Dog Night at Minute Maid Park. It's a night I absolutely adore because it means that the thing I eat most often at ball games is cheap and who doesn't like dinner for a dollar? Of course, there are many who have given up hot dogs at baseball games in search of fancier foods and the teams have all provided. You can get fish tacos or roast beef sandwiches. You can get that awesome potato salad they serve up on the club level or build your own salad, but the classic ballpark meal is one of a hot dog, peanuts and cracker jack.

While contemplating how I'll eat my hot dog (or two) at tomorrow night's game, I took a stroll down the lane of history and ballpark foods to see how our favorites were drafted into baseball.

Batter Up: Hot Dogs

My ballpark dinner of choice is typically a hot dog. Sometimes I load it with chili, cheese and onions and sometimes it's mustard and relish, but either way, it's a definite favorite of the spectators at baseball games.

During hot dog season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) Americans eat 7 billion hot dogs - that's 818 hot dogs every second! Not surprisingly, that season coincides with baseball season and ballparks are responsible for about 30 million hot dog sales each year. In fact, the average baseball hot dog vendor sells around 150 hot dogs each game and 10,000 to 12,000 of the foil-wrapped meals per season.

There is only one MLB ballpark whose hot dog sales are eclipsed by sausage sales - Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI. The rest of us are true Americans.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, the city of Houston is number eight on the list of top consumers of hot dogs - and every city ahead of our fair town is a city with a baseball team. That I don't believe to be a coincidence at all.

So whether you believe that hot dogs became a ball game food of choice for their convenient bun packaging or whether you think they soared over rumors of Babe Ruth eating twelve hot dogs and drinking eight bottles of soda between games in a doubleheader, the link between hot dogs and baseball is ingrained in our sport fandom.

And regardless if you get yours with mustard and relish or load it up with chili, cheese and onions, if you're eating one at Minute Maid Park, you are in good company (especially this Friday when they're only $1).

Batter Up: Peanuts

As long as I have gone to baseball games, I have eaten peanuts. Baseball nirvana exists only if your team is winning and the ground at your feet is littered with peanut shells. But where did this link between baseball and peanuts come from?

Only the circus has a closer affiliation to peanuts than the sport of baseball. But baseball fans are fanatical about their peanuts with each MLB team selling upwards of 70,000 bags of peanuts a season. But for a game that is all American it's worth noting that this game time snack isn't all red, white and blue. In fact, peanuts were originally grown in South America and today more than three quarters of all peanuts hail from India and China.

We're nutty for peanuts even though they aren't nuts at all, but rather legumes. And according to the United States Department of Agriculture America still grows a hefty amount of those legumes. There are almost two thousand square miles of peanut farms in America that produce about four billion (yes, billion with a b) pounds of peanuts each year. So peanut farmers as American as President Jimmy Carter still exist.

Putting all of that aside - why'd peanuts get linked to baseball anyway? It all goes back to the American Civil War. Soldiers found that peanuts were a tasty and very affordable energy supply. As the soldiers returned to their homes they brought their new love of peanuts along with them, creating a high demand for peanuts. They quickly became a tasty and affordable snack to have during a baseball game. As a result, in-shell peanuts became a hit with baseball spectators.

In addition to the new snack trend, there's that line in the song we sing in the seventh inning stretch telling us that we are supposed to eat peanuts at baseball games.

So go ahead, buy a bag of peanuts and litter the ground with their shells. I promise it makes any game better.

Batter Up: Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack, although not the messiest of all offerings at a ball game, were the initial reason I started carrying wet wipes in my bag to games. The candy-coated goodness is tough for a diehard to resist.

Cracker Jack first made an appearance at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. It was introduced by creator R.W. Rueckheim. The caramel popcorn snack didn't receive it's name until about three years later when Ruekheim's brother handed a package to a salesman who replied, "That's a Cracker Jack!" It was expression that at the time meant something in the same vein as today's "awesome." The brothers loved the name, patented it and launched the Cracker Jack brand.

Cracker Jack was first served at baseball games as early as 1896, but it's eternal link to the game of baseball wouldn't happen for another 12 years. It was in 1908 that Jack Norworth made his famous subway ride during which he spent thirty minutes writing the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and included a reference to Cracker Jack.

"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack."

Interestingly enough, Norworth and composer Albert Von Tilzer hadn't actually seen a baseball game when they each crafted their part of the song. It would be another twenty years before either saw a baseball game played. And yet, without even watching the game of baseball Norworth and Von Tilzer immortalized Cracker Jack forever for baseball fans.

It has become such a mainstream part of the game that in 2004 when the New York Yankees stopped selling Cracker Jack and replaced it with the brand Crunch 'n Munch! there was an uprising of fans and the club was forced to revert back to selling the original Cracker Jack brand. Further proof that baseball fans are also fans of tradition and superstition. Plus, who doesn't like a snack that comes with a prize?