ST. PETERSBURG — Ah, opening day. Time to gather for the famous names in baseball.
Dodger Dog. Fenway Frank.
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 email@example.com or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.