My eyes are bigger than my stomach

Published 8:40 am Monday, July 6, 2015

A few months back, I was approached by a friend who works for the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. He told me about a co-worker who travels to different minor league stadiums in search of the greatest ballpark food known to man.

In doing so, he would eat some of the most outlandish dishes and attempt to devour the most grotesque challenges. His desire was to document the full range of what each park had to offer, and he rarely — if ever — turned down the food.

Unfortunately, he developed celiac disease and had to maintain a gluten-free diet. For those unaware of celiac disease, it’s a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. That means that pretty much everything he was determined to consume was completely off limits. No hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, sausages, pretzels, nachos or beer, and nothing breaded or fried — pretty much everything on the menu. He refers to this as delicious irony.

But he didn’t let his dietary limitations stop him from getting the scoop, thus he developed the “designated eater.” Although he couldn’t eat the food, he would do so vicariously through someone that he recruited at each park… and this is where I come in.

A food connoisseur of sorts, I jumped at the chance to be his designated eater when he came to Norfolk’s Harbor Park last weekend. On the menu: the “Salute to Pork Challenge.” Twelve mouthwatering Smithfield pork wings, four sizzling Cajun-smoked sausages, four meaty pulled pork barbecue sliders and two-plus pounds of bacon and chili cheese tater tots. I was in heaven… until I got about 45 minutes into the challenge.

In one hour, I was expected to eat more than five pounds of food. That’s 5,900 calories! I was stupid for even trying.

What was the point of my gluttony, you may ask. Aside from the delicious food, if I were to complete the challenge, I would receive four tickets to a future Tides game, a T-shirt commemorating the event and my picture on the Hits at the Park Restaurant’s Hall of Fame. Only three people have that honor; meanwhile, more than 50 people — now including myself — are forever enshrined in the Hall of Shame.

As time expired, I couldn’t help but feel something deep in my stomach. It wasn’t the aching pain that befell the other competitive eater who found a trash can about halfway through. No, it was pride. I may have not eaten the whole dish, but it was a gallant effort nonetheless.

As the chef boxed up the four pork sliders and spoonful of tater tots, he said that I had less than a pound remaining. “If only I had a little more time…,” I said to myself as I pinned my picture front and center on the restaurant’s Hall of Shame.

The Norfolk Tides’ “Salute to Pork Challenge” is available at every home game throughout the season in the Hits at the Park Restaurant. Designed five years ago as an appetizer to share between four people, it almost immediately turned into a challenge item. Executive Chef Steve Gillette drew up rules and it took off from there.

For those interested in taking the “Salute to Pork Challenge,” or for more information, call the restaurant at 624-9000. I encourage you all to attempt the challenge, but if you don’t think that you can finish the meal yourself, it’s more than shareable. More than likely, you’ll end up with leftovers either way.

Andrew Lind is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or