Watching carbs to help the O's stay on the ball

July 06, 2005|By Rob Kasper

I WENT TO the ballpark and ate nothing but healthful foods. I did so for two reasons. First, I wanted to experience the lighter side of the stadium fare, the side paying attention to calories and carbs more than flavor and fat.

In ballparks throughout America there are, I am told, people who are chomping down on healthful fare. I don't know a single one, but when I looked at the trend section of the Web site of Aramark (www.ballpark foods.com), I saw menu items in the 11 major league ballparks the concessionaire operates across the country that would make a nutritionist smile. Somebody is eating this stuff.

The second reason I ate healthfully was because I am superstitious. The Orioles were in a six-game losing streak and, as fans do, I was conjuring up ways to change the team's luck. I figured if I changed my habits and ate salad and low-carb foods at Camden Yards, maybe the team could snap out of its losing ways, beat the visiting New York Yankees and get back in the winning groove. Rationally it made no sense, but illogic is part of what being a baseball fan is all about.

Last Tuesday night, instead of heading straight for the bigger-than-a-nightstick, juicier-than-a-fresh peach, fatter-than-a-sow Italian sausage sold at stands on Eutaw Street, I searched out a low-carb sausage.

It was sold at the KosherSports stand near section 78 in the ground floor left-field concourse. This sausage, minus the bun, had 140 calories, 0 percent carbs and 16 grams protein and was made from all natural chicken and turkey parts.

I got this information from Becky Pepkowitz, who has roots in organic foods operations around town and is now providing natural, kosher sausages to the ballpark's kosher stand and some Baltimore-area markets.

I bought a $5.75 spicy Italian sausage, with peppers and onions, and the bun. It wasn't bad. It was a little dry and did not have the snap and juice of its fatter sausage cousins, but it did have good peppery bite. It was also skinnier than my usual ballpark sausage, but eating the smaller portion made me righteous.

The gods of good fortune did not initially smile on my choice of an all-natural, low-fat, low-carb, no-MSG, nitrate-free sausage. As soon as I finished eating it, the skies grew dark and foreboding. Thunder rumbled. Lightning cracked. Rain threatened. The ballpark announcer urged the crowd to take cover under the stands.

As storm clouds rolled overhead, I switched ballpark beers. Instead of my usual, full-flavor, fat-boy beers, I tried a low-carb Michelob Ultra. Judging by the television ads, this beer is aimed at the firm-midriff crowd, the folks who do 200 sit-ups a day and who are very conscious of how many carbohydrates they ingest.

I aspire to firm-midriff status but I can't drink this beer. It tasted like penance to me, thin and watery. I took a few obligatory sips, but ultimately took the highly unusual action of throwing away a $6 cup of beer that was three-quarters full.

Next I headed for the ballpark's temple of virtue, Pastimes cafeteria on Eutaw Street, beyond the right-field stands. That is where the salad eaters graze. They feast on not one, but two types of greenery: already-prepared boxed salads and ones customers assemble from the cafeteria's salad bar.

As I grabbed a boxed spinach salad with a tag showing a price of $3.50, I felt like not only was I behaving in a principled manner, I was also getting by on the cheap. The boxed chef's salad sitting right next to the spinach salad was $8.

When I got to the cashier, I discovered virtue has its price and in this case it was $8. The tag on the spinach salad was wrong.

As someone who grows his own lettuce, I am particular about my salad greens. The spinach in this ballpark box salad was first-rate, clean, crisp, with plenty of flavor. The piece of bacon and the slice of sweet onion were also top-quality.

The croutons, however, had texture issues. They tasted like second base, the straw-filled variety that I have eaten when I almost got picked off and had to dive back to second during various softball games. Another thing I could say for the Camden Yards salad: It had volume. It filled me up.

As the skies cleared, the game started and I took my seat. Sitting near me, but not joining me, in the journey into healthful eating were my younger son and one of his college buddies.

They play football at Johns Hopkins and enjoy high-carb cuisine. They inhaled two kosher hot dogs, an untold number of chicken tenders and several mountains of french fries. Despite the fact that I was surrounded by guys eating vice-filled ballpark food, I remained on my goody-goody mission. I had plenty of ill feelings, but I took them out on the umpires.

During the early going, my foray into virtue was not yielding happy results. The Yankees jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and I was thinking of bagging the health route and making a trip to the microbrew stand. But a home run by Rafael Palmeiro, a Yankee miscue on a bunt by Larry Bigbie and a clutch base hit by Miguel Tejada sent the game into extra innings.

In the 10th Brian Roberts, who appears to have the physique of a salad eater, slammed a home run into the left-field seats. The Oriole crowd went home happy, but some of us were a little hungry.

Did my bout of healthful eating bring home the victory? That is hard to prove, or disprove. But the trouble with these rituals is that once they work, they have to be repeated. So tomorrow night when the Red Sox are in town, I will be at the ballpark eating salad.

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