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Maker of Fenway Franks provides signature dog for Tampa Bay Rays

Tyler Swinehart hands off a Kayem hot dog to Bill Hundt before the Rays spring training game against the Mets at Tropicana Field on Friday.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Tyler Swinehart hands off a Kayem hot dog to Bill Hundt before the Rays spring training game against the Mets at Tropicana Field on Friday.

ST. PETERSBURG — Ah, opening day. Time to gather for the famous names in baseball.

Dodger Dog. Fenway Frank.

Rays dog?

It lacks a snappy name — that will come in time — but the Trop's pitching a new beef frank you'll one day see in supermarkets.

At the sold-out game tonight against the Baltimore Orioles, fans will see the same old fixings, but a custom dog, deep pink and juicy in three sizes.

It's made just for the Tampa Bay Rays. There's a $3 version for kids, not quite 6 inches. There's a regular, 7-inch $5 dog. Then there's the footlong, a quarter pound of beef in a bun for $6. (Never mind that it's actually 10 inches.)

Will fans notice the switch as they pile on the sauerkraut and shuffle to their seats?

In 1998, the new Devil Rays put a losing team on the field and a $2.50 Lykes hot dog in the concession stands. Times food critic Chris Sherman wrote the best thing an adult could say about them was "free sauerkraut."

By 2004, they signed with Hebrew National, the kosher dog of the New York Yankees. Rays execs say the company was a great partner.

But contracts expire, and Rays ambition grew. It was time to extend the team "brand" — and what better way than with a true team hot dog?

"People joke about apple pie, hot dogs and baseball, but it's true," says senior vice president Mark Fernandez.

(This year, ballparks will serve more than 20 million of them, enough to round the bases nearly 30,000 times. The Rays are projected to sell 300,000, but say they might sell 1 million.)

They talked to Kayem. New England's No. 1 hot dog company makes the Fenway Frank.

The Boston Globe described in intimate detail a new version that debuted last year, with distinct flavors of garlic and smoke, blended traces of mustard and onion.

Matt Monkiewicz, Kayem's vice president of marketing, joked at the time:

"What's difference between a Yankee dog and a Fenway Frank?

"You can get Fenway Franks in October."

It's predicted to be this season's bestselling hot dog. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says Fenway may serve 1.7 million of them.

The Red Sox boast a projected $170 million payroll (the Rays' is $73 million). They finished second last year in the American League East to the world champion Yankees, leaving the Rays third. They boast better attendance, a more lucrative TV contract.

But both teams will have a signature hot dog.

Kayem retooled its Chelsea, Mass., manufacturing plant to accommodate the new Rays franks. Kayem senior brand manager Bob Kufferman calls them well-balanced, mildly smoky, boldly seasoned and juicy, but not overpowering. He talks about the texture, the bite. A secret spice blend flavors butcher-grade cuts of beef. At the ballpark, you can ignore the footlong's 30 grams of fat (or opt for the kids' dog, with 12 grams). In the stadium Brewhouse restaurant, you can order the Evan Foot "Longoria" Dog with fries for $11.

Kayem and the Rays hope you like it enough to buy it when it shows up at Sweetbay.

For now, they'll take sales at the park.

Friday, Tropicana Field opened for the last night of spring training. It was an early debut for the Kayem beef frank.

"Juicy, flavorful," said Jim Staack, a Seminole lawyer and season ticket holder, standing outside concession stand Fan Favorites. "I like it."

Seven-year-old Sammy Riccobono of Sarasota, in a well-worn Rays jersey, walked through the Tropicana Field atrium with his mother, Jill.

"What do you want?" she asked. "A dog?"

"I want a dog!" said Sammy.

Of course, any old dog tastes better in October.

Becky Bowers can be reached at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.

Tips for the season opener

The Rays open their season at home for the first time since 2005.

. 'Run the bases': Businesses along Central Avenue invite fans to "run the bases" between noon and 3 p.m. Grand Central District's First Base location of 30th Street and Central Avenue will offer family fun and games. Slide into Second Base for pregame food and drink specials on Central between 24th and 25th streets or get a free Rays haircut at Third Base on Central Avenue between 20th and 21st streets, before sliding home for the season opener block party.

. Block party: Activities start in downtown St. Petersburg at 2 p.m. in the Grand Central District between 11th and 13th streets with bands, food, art displays and entertainment and continue into the Edge business district, including a visit from Raymond and the Rays Street Team before the first pitch at 7:10 p.m.

. Shuttle: Service will begin at 5:10 p.m., stopping one hour after the game ends, and running every five minutes. Shuttle stops are at the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street, and drop off at 16th Street just south of Third Avenue S. Additional information can be found at stpetetrolley.com/Events.html

. Traffic: Motorists won't have access to Central Avenue from 11th to 13th streets. The city suggests these routes to avoid issues: Fourth Street from the north or 16th Street and Fifth Avenue S from the south. Southbound interstate traffic may exit early at 54th, 38th or 22nd avenues N and travel east to Fourth Street then approach the ballpark from the east. Northbound traffic can exit early on 31st Street to Fifth Avenue S and approach from the west side of the ballpark to avoid traffic tieups.

Source: City of St. Petersburg

Maker of Fenway Franks provides signature dog for Tampa Bay Rays 04/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 2:01pm]

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