Stephanie Hayes sig

ST. PETERSBURG — The footlong tater tot glistened under the field lights, $13 of life questions covered in bacon, sour cream and a cascade of slumping cheese. In a tank below, sting rays circled interminably, around, around, around, saying, what have you done? What have you done? What have you done?

The potato log’s considerable length was the selling point, but a foot is too long for a tater to be a tot. A tot, by definition, is … Hold on.

[noun]

— a small child.

— chiefly British: a small portion of a beverage, especially a dram of liquor.

— a small quantity of anything.

There, that last one. Small. This tater tot was a tater lot. Twelve inches of hash brown. It tasted good, in that alkaline, unrelenting way fried things taste good. But the surface area eliminated the most archetypal quality of a tot, and that is the CRONCH. A technical term!

The Tampa Bay Rays baseball season has opened at Tropicana Field. I attended the April 11 game against the Oakland Athletics, a dreadful game, oh, just a mess. The Rays lost 13-2, and Ji-Man Choi did not even notice me holding up a cellphone photo of his Pomeranians for encouragement. Tragic.

I thought I might bop around for a tour of the new gimmick foods, though. It’s a fun tradition for athletic stadiums to release a slate of new snacks to make sports fans sick and poor. With all the trend analysts forecasting a new American Gatsby party vibe, 2022′s offerings are no exception.

Indulge, dare ye, in the tot (lot) at Pig & Potato, or the burrito-sized sushi roll from Pacific Counter, or the ice cream nachos at Beans & Barlour. That last one joins their preexisting (condition) boozy milkshake with a Cracker Jack rim.

Tempting, all! I wanted one of those milkshakes but was at capacity due to a simple, emulsified truth sitting in my stomach beneath the remains of a footlong tater tot.

A hot dog. Friends, it’s the only good and just ballpark food. I take mine with a single squiggle of ketchup and nothing else. Mustard people are readying pitchforks, of course. While we’re here, yes, a hot dog is a sandwich!

Look, I don’t even like hot dogs that much. The Trop sells Nathan’s hot dogs, which are, by most accounts, high quality. But they are still hot dogs. I would prefer not to think about the hydrolyzed corn protein inside, much like I prefer not to think about what is going on inside the Tampa Bay Rays organization, or what might happen to our beloved team after years of “WE’RE OPTIMISTIC” headlines, or whether this stadium, which has always felt a bit like a Home Depot, is dying in broken cup holder increments right before our eyes.

Nay, look away, look toward the dog. A hot dog is all you need at a baseball game. It is snappy and palm-sized and portable. It is half the price of the potato tree trunk last seen on a semi in Twin Peaks. It is nostalgic, an emotional memory.

Distractions are everywhere, but those who come here seek the purity of sport. We come to yell “You couldn’t even get a grand slam at Denny’s!!!” We come for a break from the rigors of life, from our FOOTLONG PROBLEMS, and we come for denial. We come for hot dogs.