Just back from Raley Field, where from high in the park I looked down on spring. For the first time in seven years, the entire infield and outfield has been resodded. Just like baseball in the spring, it's bright, fresh and thick with hope.
But I wasn't there for the grass. I was grazing upstairs. Officials of Centerplate, the company that runs Raley Field's concession stands, had convened a tasting of the park's new foods, which will make their season debut two weeks from today when the River Cats play host to their parent club, the Oakland A's.
And if I'm there then, I'm getting a "Sicilian po' boy sandwich" ($7.50), to this palate the most promising player in the lineup of rookies. Thick with honeyed ham, prosciutto and spicy capicola, sweetened with roasted red peppers and a balsamic vinaigrette, it's tall, dense with flavor and refreshing, the latter being just why Centerplate's executive chef, Grant Miliate, added it to the menu. It's replacing a fat old veteran of the park, the Italian sausage. Miliate figures that in the middle of a Sacramento summer fans will go more for the cool po' boy than the hot sausage.
Other promising prospects include a husky tostada salad, a fried tortilla bowl filled with a choice of chicken or beef, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce and salsa ($7.50); rice bowls of either teriyaki chicken or shredded pork ($6.50); and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches of grilled steak, peppers and onions, finished with nacho cheese ($7.50).
Other switches this season include a build-your-own burger, hot dog and Polish sausage stand in the far left-field corner, where the barbecued chicken and ribs formerly were available. There, spectators will start with a half-pound hunk of meat they can top with such additions as housemade chili, guacamole, pickle chips, peppers, onions and bacon ($8.25).
For the first time this year Centerplate is eliminating frying oils with trans fats, and while some foods will continue to include trans-fatty acids the company also is working with purveyors to replace those products with more healthful alternatives.
Prices will be up 25 cents for several items, in part to compensate for higher produce costs but mostly to help offset skyrocketing expenses for fuel and petroleum-based packaging, says Miliate. So far, however, the company hasn't found alternative utensils, plates, cups and so forth that meet its standards for attractiveness, durability and cost. "If it's pretty and sturdy, it's costly," Miliate says. "But we want (packaging) that is pretty and sturdy. It's all about getting people in here and making them happy."