Let's be honest: When you are eating a hot dog, you are making a bargain with God.
There's a certain amount of information you normally receive when you purchase food. You buy a hamburger, there's a certain level of belief that it's ground beef. The same goes for a chicken sandwich.
But really, a hot dog is a flying leap. Or, as it is written is the Online Etymology Dictionary: "The suspicion that sausages contained dog meat was 'occasionally justified.'"
My wife and I are what you might call high-information eaters. We strive to eat healthy food. We do our best to eat organic whenever we can. Local is preferred, for a variety of reasons. Transfats, various cancer-causing chemicals are avoided whenever possible. We're not judgmental about it. We just both have this preference about limiting our ingestion of carcinogens.
We are far from alone: America is, gradually, moving toward farm-to-table.
But I love a hot dog. So does she. So does America.
It doesn't even need to be the grilled ideal you'll find at Nathan's -- appropriately enough, within walking distance of the Brooklyn Cyclones. It just has to be hot, properly bunned. Ideally, the appropriate condiment -- mustard, not ketchup, you communist -- is nearby. The best hot dogs, though, don't even need it. (Hooray, salt!)
When I was growing up, the idea that I wouldn't eat a hot dog at a baseball game was preposterous. Ask my father about my first game, a Mets-Phillies tilt we've been able to date to roughly 1983, and he'll tell you: "He was mostly interested in the hot dog."
My interest in the game seen around the sides of a hot dog increased rather dramatically in the years that followed. But so, too, did my enjoyment of that treat contained within: the properly soft bun, not too much bread for the meat (the ratio is every bit as vital as strikeout-to-walk for a pitcher), the proper amount of mustard.
Early adulthood: I'd volunteered for a political campaign, one clearly set to lose on primary night. Eschewing the election party, I instead drove across the Walt Whitman Bridge on June 6, 2000, and took in a Phillies-Devil Rays game in a light drizzle at Veterans Stadium. The baseball itself was low-grade. Kevin Sefcik led off for the Phillies, Rob Ducey hit fifth. Bryan Rekar pitched for very-much-still-the Devil Rays, .211-hitting Vinny Castilla batted fifth.
I had the 500 level all to myself, and settled in with a friendly Phillies usher to watch. Oh, and there's something else.
It was Hatfield Dollar Dog Night. I believe, if memory serves, I had seven.
It was a glorious evening.
I've gotten more careful in my eating habits as I've gotten older, for sure. There's greater awareness of what various chemicals, fats and concentrated levels of sodium will do to the human body. I've got two children now, and try my best to provide a proper example whenever I can.
But even within the confines of these new societal and nutritional parameters, Mirabelle, my 4-year-old daughter, loves one thing most of all our standard dinner options.
They're chicken. They're nitrite-free. They're organic. But what makes her cheer the most, come dinner time, is the hot dog.
If anything, the hot dog is under attack not from nutritional limitations -- what's a little colorectal cancer between friends -- but from alternative foods. Let's be honest: I wasn't passing up much in the way of first-class cuisine on that rainy night in Philadelphia when I ate those hot dogs. Veterans Stadium was not going to be featured on the Food Network. Nor, once I moved to New York, was Shea Stadium likely to inspire anybody from Zagat's. My wife and I merely hoped we could find a vendor capable of serving us our hot dogs before they got cold.
But this spring, when my daughter and I took in Opening Day at Citi Field, we didn't eat hot dogs. We ate Shake Shack Burgers and black-and-white milkshakes. No one can mistake that for healthy food. But when such things are available to so many, what happens to the hot dog?
The same was true in Pittsburgh -- seriously, you must eat the Manny's BBQ pulled pork sandwich with the pierogies on top -- and Camden Yards, the demarcation point of so much about the modern ballpark, where Boog's Barbeque rightfully rules.
Even Philadelphia, the place where I consumed so many hot dogs, offers alternatives like cheesesteaks and Bull's BBQ. Last time I worked a game at Citi Field, I had sushi. Sushi!
Something is lost in all this high-concept ballpark cuisine. Something more than tradition, though the fragmentation of our baseball experience is as sad in some ways as when it happened to our television viewing habits. There's no M*A*S*H series finale of national pastime meals anymore.
But recently, I went to Williamsport, Pa., for the opening of the New York-Penn League season.
Historic Bowman Field looks about as it did when it opened in 1926.
Roughly 30 years earlier, a man from St. Louis, German immigrant and owner of the baseball team eventually known as the Cardinals, Chris von der Ahe, began serving hot dogs to the masses at Sportsman's Park. Roughly 30 years after Bowman Field opened, another man from St. Louis, Danny Meyer, would be born and come to represent the biggest threat to this marriage the country has ever seen.
But on this idyllic summer night in the platonic ideal of a minor league ballpark, the food options were limited. I finished my pregame interview work and needed sustenance. It came, wrapped inside some aluminum foil.
It was a hot dog, sufficiently salty that mustard wasn't even necessary. The bun, firm enough to hold the hot dog, mushy enough to yield to the bite. It was just right, a flavor long-remembered as I watched the grounds crew prepare the mound and chalk the foul lines.