Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don't care if I never get back.
1908 Tin Pan Alley song
Of course, peanuts and Cracker Jack aren't going to cut it for today's baseball fans. They want more than just a hot dog and a beer, too.
As the Grapefruit League season opens Saturday in Clearwater and Dunedin, the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays are ready to get things cooking. They know that, other than the action on the baseball field, the second-most important thing for fans is the concession stands.
On Thursday, the Phillies unveiled their new menu for Bright House Field, expanding on the ballpark's customary mix of Philly favorites and Florida flavors.
New options this year include Lee Roy Selmon's barbecue, Tastykake snacks, Boar's Head Cuban sandwiches and chocolate bananas, along with healthier choices such as fresh fruit, sweet potato fries and gluten-free fare. Their food stands already sell cheesesteaks, pizza and knishes — round breads with meat, cheese and potato fillings.
"With fans' palates becoming more sophisticated, we want to offer them more choices," said Bruce Leith, the Phillies' concessions manager. "We want them to come early, soak up the atmosphere and stay later."
Meanwhile, at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the Blue Jays' spring home in Dunedin, the team from Toronto has a stockpile of Canadian beer ready for its far-traveling fans. Beer carts at the Dunedin stadium sell bottles of Labatt Blue to help fans wash down their chicken sandwiches and assorted other grub.
"Veggie burgers have become a big seller for us," said Craig Durham, the team's communications coordinator. "Another big draw is the Canadian beer."
For spring training, both the Blue Jays and the Phillies draw a mix of locals, vacationers and hardcore fans from up north who make the trip to watch their teams train in Florida.
The two franchises are in the middle of long-term contracts with Clearwater and Dunedin, and they have no plans to move their spring training sites. The Phillies have trained in Clearwater since the 1940s, and the Blue Jays have trained in the same stadium since the team was founded in 1977.
Both teams expect to draw good crowds over the next month.
"We have two additional home games this year — 17 compared to 15 last year," said the Blue Jays' Durham. "We have two games with the Yankees and Red Sox, and the Rays coming up on a Friday."
At Bright House Field, the Phillies have worked to create a relaxed atmosphere on game days, with a large tiki bar in left field, postgame concerts, and hundreds of spectators sitting on the stadium's grassy outfield berm.
On Thursday, the Phillies' merchandise manager, Robin Warner, showed off colorful new shirts and caps for sale at the ballpark this year, including a line of clothing just for women.
Leith, the concessions manager, talked of the healthy, gluten-free options available at the food stands. But then he added: "At the end of the day, 80 percent of our sales are cheesesteaks and beer."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.