A lot will change when sports return, but it’s unlikely fans understand the modification with perhaps the furthest reaching impact will be whatever is decided about the food in the press box.
Amid the talk of playoff matchups and hub cities I have yet to hear a plan outlined for feeding the press, or even inviting them for that matter. If there’s one thing I know about sportswriters it’s that they love to eat. And, they love to chit chat while they eat. All of which is in the public’s best interest. This is where the real dirt is uncovered.
“Did you see J.Lo is here with A-Rod?”
“Were you aware that tickets are still not sold out for this World Series game?”
“They said Bud is going to do his pregame talk early tomorrow, don’t miss it.”
“Did you see Plaschke typing alone in the cafeteria? What’s he onto on now?”
The cafeteria in the press box is where I’m alerted to most facts. Nowhere is this more true than at Dodger Stadium where the cafeteria is something of a legend.
True, it’s gone downhill in recent years. The previous chef was named Dave, and one of the first whispers you’ll hear if you happen into the press box during mealtime is that Dave made great sauces. Tragically Dave died several years ago.
Like all legends, no one can live up to him now.
When I first started taking my meals in the press box it was immediately after Dave died, just in time to hear everyone bemoan the fact that the new chef was not Dave, could never be Dave and that the cafeteria should just forgo anything saucy because no one after Dave can get sauces right.
I have to agree that the sauces now are not good.
Neither is the rest of the food and, what’s worse, they’re stingy. Don’t try to get away with scooping chili meant for hot dogs into a cup and eating it solo. I tried that twice last season and both times endured a reprimand.
So, what do people like about the press box cafeteria? There are two main attractions. First, Maria.
Maria is the cafeteria’s matriarch. Don’t even try getting anything by her watchful eye. What did I just tell you about getting reprimanded?
Like any good mother figure, in addition to telling me to watch my figure and not walk home alone, she is always there for every celebration, cuts the cake at birthdays and truly cares how the Dodgers are doing each season. If something unusual is going down in the ballpark, Maria knows about it, making her essential to my work as a journalist.
If it’s not Maria you’re coming to the press box cafeteria for, it’s probably the cookies. The cookies are what did me in as far as my figure goes. I’d probably be a T.V. reporter if not for them. I am still trying to lose my rookie season weight gain.
By the way, just like the rest of the food in the Dodger press box, the cookies are not great. As far as I can tell, they’re previously frozen and mass-produced. They come in three flavours and I can never decide which one I dislike most — chocolate chip, oatmeal, or peanut butter. I am constantly testing each in search of a conclusion.
Even though we’ve all had better dessert, I have noted that many people are similarly addicted to the cookies. When I eat inside the cafeteria I often sit with an unobstructed sightline toward the cookie warmer. This way I can watch for when Maria reloads it; I grab mine before the vultures descend.
In my years of eyeing the cookie warmer, I have noticed appalling sanitary infractions. There’s no use hiding this fact: Most of the people in the press box cafeteria are men. This is because most sportswriters are men. This is presumably because the people who employ sportswriters have largely yet to catch up to the concept that women can do things, too. I digress.
What I have noticed is that most men, (not all, but most), have little regard for food hygiene. I have seen men reach their bare hands into the cookie warmer, completely bypassing the tongs, all in a quest to get a five-stack of fresh cookies.
These acts happen regularly and are at their zenith when there’s a fresh load of chocolate chip cookies, which seem to be a favourite amongst the men. They have obviously surpassed my sampling research efforts and come to a consensus.
For this reason, I am almost certain that the cookie warmer will not make it into this new era of hand sanitizer and social distancing.
If the cookies don’t make the cut, the popcorn certainly won’t since whatever sanitary offenses I have witnessed at the cookie warmer pale in comparison to what I’ve seen sportswriters do while scooping popcorn.
We already know the meals are not much of a draw, and if the cookies and popcorn are out of the picture, what will anyone come to the cafeteria for?
If no one comes to the cafeteria, what will happen to the Marias of the world?
Not to mention the hundreds of conversations between scouts, agents, photographers, journalists, front office staff, former players, and various hangers-on that happen over the course of the season. The cafeteria is a true leveling ground, where peasants and aristocracy meet. Where tidbits are shared and stories developed.
By the way, this situation is not unique to Dodger Stadium.
Food is the great uniter of all sports journalists.
At the Olympics you find companions to whom you can complain about how dreadfully tired and cold you are over cups of pressroom instant ramen. In Qatar, you complain about how dreadfully tired and hot you are around plates of pressroom finger sandwiches. In Budapest, oh Budapest, the Hungarians did the sportswriters right when I was in Budapest. There was nothing to complain about because they gave us free champagne. Every night.
My best sports friendships have been forged over press food and many, many stories developed, interviews secured, and, even sometimes, the odd comforting word to boost my morale.
Yes, yes, we all want to return to play. We want to do it safely. We want the leagues to find a fair way to resume their seasons. But, let’s make sure we’re asking the right questions: Is there going to be a press box cafeteria?