Opening Day: Going Gluten-Free at Baseball Games
I live in a baseball town. A major league team is 30 minutes to the south. A minor league team is 30 minutes to the north. Levels of fandom range from wearing team T-shirts on game day through wedding ceremonies and receptions at the stadium.
Securing opening-day tickets breeds a level of competition that pits neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. Some fans camp out in front of the stadium to get a good spot to purchase opening-day tickets. Others make sure to be at a computer when the season’s online opening-day ticket buying goes live. Radio station call-in contests, with opening-day tickets as a prize, are suddenly worth the effort to compete in. Connections, professional, personal, and political, are leveraged to get tickets.
When opening-day arrives, parents miss work and children miss school. Part of the appeal of the game extends beyond hometown pride. Games are an escape, a release, a way to leave mundane cares behind. To focus on the game. The players. Or when the kiss cam will be looking your way for a smooch. Or who will catch the fly ball that goes into fan seating.
As game day arrives, there is so much excitement. And so much effort. Making the trek from the transportation center to the ball field. Climbing the hundreds of steps to get to your seat. The emotional and psychic energy of the crowd. It leaves you hungry. But where you can eat?
You are gluten-free – what are your baseball stadium food options?
To prepare for this post, I researched about half a dozen teams across the US and Canada. The majority of teams were major league teams although a few minor league teams were consulted. As a number of teams rely on third-party vendors for their food concessions, food service management firms were also consulted.
Here are some general tips that might be helpful in planning your trip to a baseball park. However, it is recommended that you contact specific ballparks prior to attending a game to verify what their policies are and how they might accommodate you and the group you will be attending with.
Gluten-free food knowledge and food options vary greatly by venue. Some teams had knowledgeable personnel who were able to quickly access gluten-free food choices and provide navigational guidance about where to find the choices on the team’s website. Some teams had lists of gluten-free foods that were not posted on the website but that they were willing to share upon request. Some teams assured me that gluten-free food designations were listed on the menu boards within the park even though the information was not digitally accessible prior to visiting the park.
Plan ahead. Consult the team’s website well in advance of purchasing your tickets or attending a game. Bear in mind that the website is just a starting point and it may or may not have the information that you are seeking. All of the major league teams contacted appeared to share a major league baseball website template that that was customized to reflect the style and preferences of the individual team. Restaurant and food information was most likely to be found under online on the site for team’s actual ballpark. For example, AT&T Park for the San Francisco Giants – additional information on gluten-free options below and Great American Ball Park for the Cincinnati Reds, etc. Some teams also listed food information within their A-Z Guide or within the Amenities section of their ballpark tab. Although some stadiums had a scrollable “food” drop-down menu on their Amenities page, the pop-up menus that displayed from this page frequently lacked any allergen information.
Can you bring food into the ballpark? Policies about bringing food into the ballpark varied from very liberal to very restrictive. Some teams did not allow food to be brought in. (One team, however, said that despite that policy, exceptions are sometimes made to accommodate specific needs.) Although having a doctor’s note was not required, it was suggested that it might be a good idea to bring one if there was a medical need for bringing in food. Unopened bottled water was frequently allowed.
Is there allergy free seating available during games? Many teams offered a very occasional allergy free seating option. Although peanut allergies were the primary allergen this was set up for, gluten-free areas were also a possibility at some locations. As these inquiries were done prior to the start of the season, not every team had their dates published for allergy free game dates. Without fail, each team that did provide allergy free dates stated that it was just a couple of games throughout the year. And that allergy free seating was confined to one or two sections (and therefore had relatively low seating capacity). One team, who talked about the peanut free zone for selected games, said they do not publish this information on their website and that information is available to prospective guests who ask. (However, even with the no advertising policy, demand was so great that they had a waiting list.)
That sun is hot-where’s the beer? A number of teams offered gluten-free alcohol options. Brands that you can wet your whistle with at a ballpark include Red Bridge, Omission Lager, and Angry Orchard Hard Cider. As with any beer, please check with your doctor before drinking it to make certain it won’t impact you, as some folks may still react. (You may also note a recent tweet highlighting Coors Peak Beer if you follow Nima Sensor. – Carla)
There’s a few teams that deserve special accolades for “hitting it out of the park” with their inclusive gluten-free options. The IronPigs minor league team in Allentown, PA opened up a gluten-free food stand during the April 2014 baseball season. The team wanted to be sure that fans suffering from Celiac Disease or with gluten-free diet restrictions would have plenty of enjoyable food options including a Pennsylvania Dutch sandwich served on a gluten-free role, gluten-free alcohol, and gluten-free snacks and desserts. On the major league side, the Minnesota Twins deserve kudos of a “grand slam nature” for scoring big with their comprehensive, proactive focus on the nutritional needs of the gluten-free community. Not only did they work proactively with the AFAA (Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota) but they have gluten-free food choices easily accessible from multiple locations on their website. And let’s be sure to recognize the New York Mets for hosting a Celiac Disease Awareness Night which, in addition to raising awareness of Celiac Disease, also provides financial support to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University through donation of a portion of advance ticket sales from this event. Other teams offer these evenings, so contact your local team for more information.
Although gluten-free awareness levels are mixed at ballparks, there is a trend within venues that those who hear “hey batter batter” on a professional level are beginning to realize that, at least for some fans, “gluten-free batter is better.”
For our local SF Giants fans, Denise did some extra research. Several items are available at Garden Concessions in the lower center field. Gluten-free consumers can buy the following items: flat bread, seasonal salad, arugula salad, hot dog and bun, veggie antipasto – all gluten-free. At the Great House of Brews at Promenade Level Section 114 you can get a gluten free hot dog and bun and kettle chips. There are also two gluten-free beers available.