The 2011 All-Star Home Run Derby went down Monday night, and it was a grand old time. Expensive beer flowed; Little Leaguers raced across the field on tiny legs in attempts to catch fly balls; the stands of Chase Field, packed to capacity, rose and ebbed as Adrian Gonzales and Robinson Cano blasted white asteroids into the stands
And thanks to my Big Unit, I was there.
Flashback: remember when I told you guys the Big Unit was my favorite hot dog in town? That was before I had to scarf it.
I'm at Alice Cooperstown in downtown Phoenix, baking under the heat of the midday sun on a raised stage erected specially for this event: the Bases Loaded Hot Dog Contest. Nine other competitors and I, randomly chosen from entries online and at the restaurant, are here to see who can eat a Big Unit the fastest.
But this is not the regular Big Unit. Oh no. This was made special for Adam Richman during his visit in 2010. Now on the menu as "Adam Richmond's (sic) Bases Loaded Big Unit," this behemoth sports a 22-inch frank served on a whole baguette and loaded down with chili, bacon bits, cheese sauce, sauerkraut, chopped jalapenos, diced tomatoes, onions, sweet relish and shredded cheddar, with a grip of French fries on the side. Three pounds of wiener, bun and toppings, to be eaten lickety-split.
The prizes? The three fastest finishers get their choice of tickets to the MLB All Star Game or Home Run Derby. Everyone else who finishes gets a $100 VISA card. I've done way more for way less.
The ten dogs are carried out to us to a chorus of alarms that ring every time someone orders a Big Unit at Cooperstown. W're counted down and the battle begins.
It's always fun to watch the differing eating strategies at group events like this. A guy at the end of the table is attempting to eat the Big Unit like a regular hot dog; no easy task. The man next to me is eating the meat first, then drenching the remaining starches and toppings with water so he can mash them all together with his fingers and scoop them in his mouth. Aside from being a novel and seemingly fast approach, it's also giving me the chunders. For my part, I use my utensils to mince the dog into teeny bites while I chew. Compared to the guy next to me, I look like a regular Miss Manners.
As happens with most foods, the ingredients that lend the Big Unit any redeeming nutritional value are what make the experience sickening. This thing has more sweet relish and sauerkraut that a man should be forced to eat in a month, let alone half an hour. And let it be known far and wide I am no fan of jalapenos. Juice squirts from the diced tomatoes as I chew. I almost lose it several times, but I carry on, slowly but surely.
Fellow competitors, unaware of what they were getting into, start to drop like flies. Two back out before I'm halfway through the dog. Another two drop a few minutes later. All look seriously unhappy with whatever's going on in their stomachs.
As time goes on, front runners emerge. Jason, the beast to my right, is in the lead. It appears his soggy strategy paid off; about half an hour after we began, he takes his last bite and grabs a pair of tickets to the All-Star Game.
First place now locked, I want to back out VERY badly. But I have an audience, and a group of kids right in front of me, cheering me on. I have to do it for the children!
Now standing, sweating and in major gastric distress, I nonetheless power through and take the final few bites to secure second place. It's amazing what you can do with the crowd's support. I look down at the tattered remains of the checkered paper the Big Unit was served on. Big chunks are gone -- in my zeal, I'm fairly certain I ate two or three bites of it.
I exit the stage -- slowly, food-drunk -- to claim my prize of derby tickets and a tiny brown gift basket of mystery treats. Soon after, Stephanie -- the only woman with a unit big enough to compete -- eventually grabs third place.
I open the gift basket, which holds breath mints, gum and Tums. All will be useful. And the Home Run Derby tickets? Those came in handy, too.