What Will Become of the Press Box Cafeteria?

A lot will change when sports return, but it’s unlikely fans understand that 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 because 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 during the game? What could he possibly be working 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. Previously Dave Pearson was chef of the press box, known for his excellent sauces. They renamed the cafeteria after him before he died. Now it’s called “Dave’s Diner” though I don’t know if anyone regularly refers to it as that. I came onto the scene the first year after Dave was gone, 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.

In my years of eating at Dodgers none of the food has been great. I would call it average at best, and usually that’s just once a week on Taco Tuesdays. At worst, they’re stingy. I got into the habit of scooping chilli meant to garnish Dodger dogs into a small cup after the seventh inning — my evening snack. Twice last season I was asked not to do that unless I took a Dodger dog with it. Shamelessly, I’ve continued that practice.

Despite these misgivings, there are three constants about the Dodger press box that keep drawing everyone back — the popcorn, the cookies, and Maria, the guest services employee who runs the cafeteria. 

If Maria isn’t officially in charge of the cafeteria, she is most certainly its unofficial school marm. Maria is the type of woman who doesn’t let much get by her watchful eye. Which is why, if you need to do something weird, like steal the lemons meant for soda to season your food — yes, another infraction of mine — you need to do it fast, before Maria sees. 

Maria is, of course, as loving as she is vigilant. She remembers life stories and cuts the birthday cake at parties and always tells me not to walk home alone (which I usually do, but don’t let her know). Two years ago when Maria, who typically takes the bus to work, was hospitalized after a hit and run at the bus stop days before the World Series, insiders from across the MLB came together to donate toward her hospital bills. 

If something unusual is going down in the press box or around the stadium, Maria usually knows, or, at least, she knows who would know. Thus, Maria is essential to my work as a journalist.

Then, there are 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.

“You better be careful with those,” a man told me my first season. I thought I had sneakily concealed my hoard of cookies behind a napkin so I could make it look like I was just eating one cookie very slowly throughout the game. “The freshman 15 is real around here.” 

I shouldn’t have been offended because it turned out to be prophetic. 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.

I do not mean to characterize my colleagues as vultures, but in my years of eyeing the cookie warmer this is the type of behavior I have witnessed. It’s a plain fact that 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 very little regard when it comes to hygiene around food. I have seen men reach their bare hands into the cookie warmer, completely bypassing the tongs, the napkins, or any number of utensils that could be used to buffer their own personal sweat and germs. All in a quest to get a nice five-stack of fresh cookies all to themselves. (Newsflash to these men: No, it does not look like you are eating one cookie very slowly all game. I’ve tried that. Everyone knows you’re hoarding a five-stack).

These acts happen regularly. They’re even more pronounced 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 press room instant ramen. In Qatar you complain about how dreadfully tired and hot you are around plates of press room 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?

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