Man’s search for best meeting of baseball and hot dogs leads him to Modesto

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 9, 2014 

Tom Lohr is on a mission. A mission from dog.

The Tulsa, Okla., resident is spending this summer visiting all 30 Major League Baseball parks, mixing in as many minor league games as possible.

At each stop, his routine is the same. He walks through the gate, heads for the first concession stand he sees and buys that ballpark’s basic hot dog.

Not a super dog, not an Arizona-style bacon-wrapped, stuffed corn dog, and not an ethnic sausage – a basic weenie.

He then strolls to the condiment stand and completes the dog with the works, or everything the ballpark offers for free, with the exception of ketchup, something he views as a sin.

Then, after the final bite, he pulls out his notebook and takes notes.

Yes, everybody’s a critic, but Lohr’s goal is to find the best combination of fan experience and hot dog that baseball has to offer, and he’s maintaining a blog – ballparkdogs.blogspot.com – to document that search.

“I’m a lifelong baseball fan, and I never really ate hot dogs except for when I went to the ballpark,” said Lohr, whose journey took him to John Thurman Field for Friday’s Modesto Nuts game against Stockton. “It’s like hot wine when you go skiing – they just go together.”

Lohr, 52 and a confirmed bachelor, receives a military pension and spent several successful years working in the oil and gas industry before leaving that job last summer.

“It was a good time for me to quit – while I was still young enough to do the things I wanted,” Lohr said. “I’ve always wanted to do all 30 major league parks in a season, and this seemed like the right time to do it.

“Last year, I drove the length of Route 66 and mixed in as much baseball as I could. I found myself eating hot dogs every night, and for giggles, I’d post Facebook photos of the hot dog. My friends said I should start judging hot dog tasting competitions.”

So Lohr combined baseball and hot dogs – leaving out apple pie and a certain make of automobile – for this summer’s challenge.

“I wanted to see where you could get the best baseball-hot dog experience,” he said. “I rate the facility, the ambiance and the hot dogs. Ideally, you walk away after eating that ballpark hot dog and tell yourself it really hit the spot.”

He admits that everything in his blog is entirely unscientific and based solely on his own observations and personal taste buds, but there is structure involved.

“First off, who isn’t an expert on hot dogs?” Lohr said. “But the scale I devised was with the assistance of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council in Washington.”

And the criteria?

“The run-of-the-mill dogs are set apart by who makes them,” Lohr said. “That makes a huge difference, as do the condiments at each ballpark. The bun can make or break the dog. You can put an excellent frank on a nasty bun. A little stale is OK, but a really stale dog doesn’t go down. A nice, fresh, steamed bun is perfect.”

He said the best hot dogs so far on his trip have come in Oklahoma City and Houston, while the worst has come right here in the California League.

“The worst dog I’ve had was in Lake Elsinore – hands down,” Lohr said. It’s a nice ballpark. They had free hot dogs that night and I didn’t go back for seconds. The frank itself was bad, and I don’t know who makes it, and the condiments were skimpy.”

His stop in Modesto was during a break in dates between games in Oakland and San Francisco and comes after stops in Stockton and San Jose.

For Lohr’s complete review of Thurman Field’s baseball and bun bonding experience, you’ll have to read his blog. But his first impressions were quite tasty.

“The bun was fresh, the frank was good and the condiment selection was good,” he said. “There were no jalapeños, but not everybody is perfect.

“What they won’t score well on is what I call the ‘it’ factor, which is when the hot dog is so good that you tell yourself you have to go to the ballpark just to get one. Other than that, it will get high scores.”

Sounds like a wiener.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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