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 PHILADELPHIA, July 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Fifty-cent nights. Aging,

wooden dugouts. Sitting close enough to the diamond to slap the runner's hand as he crosses first. This is minor league baseball.
 But so are skyboxes, club level restaurants and espresso bars.
 The eight minor league stadiums across the country served by ARA Services are an anachronistic blend of Norman Rockwell's America and state-of-the-art marketing and amenities. The same goes for the ballpark fare -- everything from the traditional 'dogs and peanuts to the latest taste trends.
 Take, for example, MacArthur Stadium in upstate New York. ARA General Manager Ken Wood concedes that the stadium is "right out of Bull Durham," complete with original wooden dugouts and the deepest center field fence in professional baseball -- 434 feet. Fans of the Syracuse Chiefs are renowned for their love of the ubiquitous hotdog (consumed here at a 23-to-1 ratio to hamburgers). Yet, they also enjoy current fads like pouched bags of sunflower seeds, initiated by major league ballplayers in place of the less refined chaw of tobacco.
 Progress may come to the 70-year-old ballpark, but some menu items will remain timeless. "When we get our new multipurpose stadium in '94, we'll have a restaurant and Astro Turf," says Wood, "but we'll still serve our 'white' Coney dogs on New England style buns with brown mustard the way we always have."
 Who Does "Al Fresco" Play For?
 Rival Triple A team Richmond Braves play out their season at The Diamond in Virginia. The game may be minor league but the restaurant overlooking the field easily ranks with its major league competition. The Diamond Room's lush, green carpeting, wood trim finishes, tuxedoad waitstaff and lavish buffets are the setting for a relaxing day or evening at the old ballgame. A solid glass wall gives diners an uninterrupted view of the proceedings as they nosh on carved roast beef, ham or turkey, salad bar fixings and a loaded dessert bar.
 "Our restaurant has been rated one of the best in minor league baseball," said ARA General Manager Dean Bernardo, "but we'll always do well with our concession serving popcorn, cotton candy and pretzels. We make sure we have something for everyone."
 The same holds true at Bush Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Indians. While fans have made successes out of the "Grand Slam Cafe" and "Backstop Grill," the popularity of the homestyle picnic has been increasing steadily each year. Located behind the left field line, with a smaller area over on the right field side, the picnic sites offer up to 600 fans an all-you-can-eat-and-drink smorgasbord of tradition fare like potato salad, coleslaw, hotdogs and hamburgers at one package-deal price.
 According to ARA General Manager Roger Glick, "Coming out to the ballpark is a social event in this town. The picnics have a genuine family atmosphere to them. People even come up to me and give suggestions and advice on my cooking!"
 Bring the Family
 Oftentimes, the minor league stadium is the only source of live sports action or entertainment in town. It becomes both community center and theater to the family-oriented crowd. From grandparents to grandchildren in strollers, the fans turn the stadium into a microcosm of the neighborhood. And with attendance hovering around 3,000, regulars are easily spotted and rapport easily developed.
 For example, at Oklahoma All Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City, there vends a hawker by the name of Adam. Adam has been a fixture at the stadium since opening day in 1962, and many fans will walk around the park to buy a beverage from Adam's cart and chat about the day or the team's chances.
 Al Wolfe, ARA's general manager at the stadium, readily admits that the family atmosphere at minor league parks affects his marketing strategies. "We have a concession stand called the Tiny Niner Diner, named after the Oklahoma 89ers ball club. It's specifically for the children, with nothing priced over $1.50."
 Something Different Every Night
 Creative marketing becomes even more important at Double A ball fields, where the teams are not always an automatic draw. Dave Atwood, ARA general manager at Hoover Stadium in Hoover, Ala., is assured of SRO attendance whenever the Birmingham Barons play an exhibition game against their affiliate team, the Chicago White Sox. However, the fans sometimes need a little encouragement to come out to regular series games.
 Atwood, booted "up" to the minors as a general manager after a stint as an assistant at Wrigley Field, continually works with his suppliers and vendors on new promotions to tempt the crowd. This year, fans will be introduced to spicy Cajun Peanuts along with "Turkey-dog Tuesday," when turkey hotdogs cost a quarter all day long.
 Move down a league and add an extra $.25, and you'll find yourself at one of the infamous "50-Cent Nights" at Spokane Indians Ballpark at Spokane County Fairgrounds in Washington. Hotdogs, sodas and ice cream sandwiches are yours for a half-dollar each as you cheer on the Spokane Indians in their Single A league championship guest.
 On these Fan Appreciation evenings, hotdogs move at a rate of five per fan -- and it's not hard to guess why. Economically irresistible? Yes. But who could resist the sight and smell of six grills a 'grilling the moment you enter the main gate? "We go through 250,000 hotdogs per season," answers ARA General Manager Jay Smith, "and I know it's because no one can walk by those grills without getting a hotdog!"
 Smith also offers chocolate dipped strawberries, deli and Mexican fiesta platters, and buffalo wings in the 10 skyboxes -- and is considering the addition of an espresso bar.
 21st Century Ballpark
 If an espresso bar at a single A stadium surprises you, consider the ballpark of the future. It may very well be Cashman Field Complex, home of the Triple A Las Vegas Stars.
 As more minor league ballparks are renovated to meet Professional Baseball Association requirements, or rebuilt as multipurpose facilities, managers must be able to handle catering and convention foodservice as adeptly as concession fare.
 Keith Hedrick, ARA general manager at Cashman Field, understands this. "It's not unusual for me to provide food services to thousands of baseball fans, a Broadway play audience and a state legislature seminar in a single day."
 Hedrick is introducing a frozen yogurt stand and the International House of Sausages to Stars supporters this year. Returning for another winning season is Itza Pizza, a fresh-dough pizza that has proven to be extremely popular with fans and ballplayers alike. Last year, more than 18,000 of the six-inch "Solo" personal-size pies were consumed by fans, and an additional 7,500 by the Stars team alone.
 Keeping The Dream Alive
 The architectural confines of minor league baseball are certainly changing, and in some places disappearing. This is the last season for the Denver Zephyr's at Mile High Stadium. After hosting the city's new major league team (the Colorado Rockies) for two years, Mile High will be replaced by Coors field as the site of America's favorite pastime.
 ARA general manager Albert Valdes is currently supervising more than $300,000 of renovations to the concession area. Several of ARA's "Restaurant Collection" of branded concepts will be added; Grille Works and Deli Corner among them. In anticipation of the larger crowds drawn by a major league team, Valdes is adding a roster of "rookie" menu items to the upper level concession areas. Heading the list this year are bratwurst, tacos, burritos, fresh pretzels and barbecue sandwiches.
 Some say that minor league ball is for the true baseball fan, and Valdes certainly is one of them.
 "All I ever wanted was to be involved in baseball. As a kid, I sold popcorn at stadiums by day so I could see that night games for free. Now, I manage foodservice at Mile High and the Cubs training camp in Arizona.
 I got my wish."
 -0- 7/23/92
 /CONTACT: Tita Cherrier of ARA Services, 215-238-3324/ CO: ARA Services ST: Pennsylvania IN: SU:

CC-JS -- PHFNS1 -- 2231 07/23/92 07:33 EDT
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Date:Jul 23, 1992

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