NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera spent his entire two-decade career pitching in ballparks around the Majors, but until Friday night, the legendary closer didn't realize just how much he missed over the years.Rivera was among the celebrities in attendance at Opening Night of the MLB FoodFest, a weekend-long event on
NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera spent his entire two-decade career pitching in ballparks around the Majors, but until Friday night, the legendary closer didn't realize just how much he missed over the years.
Rivera was among the celebrities in attendance at Opening Night of the MLB FoodFest, a weekend-long event on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that features one signature concession item from each of the league's 30 teams.
"I thought there would be more junk food, but it's not," Rivera said after stopping at a few different stands to sample some of the offerings. "It's interesting. I'm going to enjoy this."
In the mood for a New England Lobster Roll from Fenway Park, Cheddar Beer Bratwurst from Miller Park and a Churro Dog from Chase Field? That would normally require a lot of flying -- and some precise scheduling -- but at MLB FoodFest, those items - and 27 more - were all available in the same room.
The item that drew the most attention? The toasted grasshoppers from Safeco Field, of course.
"I've never had a chance to taste all that stuff; today I got to taste it -- and it's good!" Rivera said. "I don't know about those grasshoppers, but the rest of the stuff is amazing."
Each team was given a concession stand in the room, allowing fans to taste one item after another.
"They did a nice job creating a ballpark-like feel with the walk-up stands," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Maybe the best part of the whole thing has been the effort the clubs put into deciding exactly how the club was going to be represented. It's exciting for us. It gives us a chance to maybe attract some people that are not in our traditional hardcore fan base and maybe they see how good the food is and they consume a little baseball, too."
Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was also on hand for Opening Night, joining Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch, 10-time Nathan's Hot Dog eating champion Joey Chestnut and supermodel Christie Brinkley, whose "Bellissima" prosecco was also being served at the weekend event.
"This is unbelievable, man," Ortiz said. "As a player, you get involved into the game all the time. You don't know what's going on outside the clubhouse. Some of us would discover some type of food that is going on and sometimes between practice and the game, some guys would order some food. But seeing pretty much everything, I feel bad that I retired because I didn't know what was going on in these stadiums."
Ortiz jumped behind the Red Sox concession stand to hand out Lobster Rolls, while Rivera did the same at the Yankees station, serving "Adobo Bao" (chicken and pork rinds in a bun) to fans. Finch handed out "Cheeto-Lote" (corn covered with chipotle mayo, parmesan, tajin and Flamin' Hot Cheetos) at the Dodgers stand, going back to her Los Angeles roots.
"This is like a dream," said Finch, who listed the classic Dodger Dog as her favorite ballpark food. "I grew up in ballparks as a Dodger fan. The best part is eating, enjoying and finding all these food from all different areas -- it's so much fun."
Rivera opted not to try the Seattle grasshoppers, but both Ortiz and Finch thrust their fears aside and tried something new.
"I went for it," Finch said. "They had a light, crunchy spice kind of flavor."
"I got myself prepared to try one," Ortiz said. "It's like sunflower seeds, basically. It's crazy."
Each club designated one concession item to represent them at MLB FoodFest, including Cleveland's "Flamethrower" pulled pork sandwich, Oakland's "Monte Khrush Davis Cristo" sandwich and the aforementioned Yankees and Brewers offerings, all of which were introduced at their respective ballparks for the first time this season.
"If you think about all the great ballpark foods that we're used to -- the popcorn, the peanuts, the Cracker Jacks -- those are still baseball staples," said Barbara McHugh, MLB's senior vice president of marketing. "But we thought, why not bring all 30 ballparks and a favorite food selection from each of those unique ballparks here under one roof?"
In addition to the food available, MLB FoodFest features interactive exhibits and art, including the Hot Dog Room presented by Nathan's Famous, the official hot dog of MLB. There's also a Popcorn Pit, a Clubhouse Bar serving craft and light beer selections from Anheuser-Busch and a great baseball-themed lounge to eat and drink. Fans attending the event are encouraged to post their experience and images with #MLBFoodFest.
"The whole goal was to make it an interactive, immersive experience for fans," McHugh said. "Fun; really an Instagrammable, social experience."
For more information, visit mlb.com/foodfest.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.