Presidents, Pierogies and Other Strange Things That Race at Ballparks
The 39,000-plus—President Bush included—who packed Nationals Park last Sunday night experienced a new, beautiful stadium and the same, ugly result. Oh, Ryan Zimmerman and the Washington Nationals christened their new digs with a dramatic 3-2 win, but Teddy Roosevelt remained 0-for-ever in the mid-game Presidents Race. Here's a closer look at Teddy's struggles and some of the other popular (non-pennant) races at baseball stadiums across the country.
The John Hancock moment of Stan Kasten and Ted Lerner's first season as president and owner of the Washington Nationals, respectively, came on July 21, 2006. During a come-from-behind win over the Cubs, giant costumed caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt dashed out of the rightfield tunnel and raced toward home plate, turning what originated as a computer-generated race on the RFK Stadium scoreboard into a live-action event. Consider it Mount Rushmore incarnate.
Teddy soon established himself as the lovable loser of the group, failing to win a race that first summer. By the middle of the 2007 season, Washington's last at RFK, the buzz about Teddy's futility reached fever pitch. The former Rough Rider developed an intense following and Teddy campaign paraphernalia dotted the stands (You can buy 'Let Teddy Win' shirts, hats and tote bags.) Meanwhile, the 26th president continued to lose in every way imaginable.
There was rampant speculation that Teddy would finally end the streak on his very own bobblehead day, but an unfortunate fall off a platform crushed those hopes. When he roams the concourse after a race, fans alternatively encourage and berate Teddy, whose winless streak now spans 118 official races. He remains unfazed and his expression unchanged, embodying the spirit of the saying, "Run slowly and carry a big stick."
Long before the Racing Presidents, there were Milwaukee's Racing Sausages. Baseball's most recognizable racers first appeared in the early '90s and, like their presidential brethren, evolved from a virtual representation on a scoreboard. Early on, the Bratwurst, Italian Sausage, and Polish Sausage ran on select Sundays at County Stadium during the season, but the race became a permanent fixture in 2000, by which time a Hot Dog had been added to the race.
The tradition continued when Miller Park opened in 2001 and the race received national attention on July 9, 2003, when former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon smacked the Italian Sausage with his bat. Simon was cited for disorderly conduct and fined $432 for the act, which caused college student Mandy Block—the woman inside the Italian Sausage—to fall, taking another racer down in the process. Simon, who last played in the majors in 2006, later autographed the infamous bat and gave it to Block.
The Chorizo (at right) signed a contract with the Brewers in 2006 and joined the race full-time at the start of the next season. The Hot Dog won a sausage-high 23 races in 2007, while the Bratwurst, evidently hampered by unhealthy eating habits, won only 10. The Sausages are available for rent at rates only slightly more expensive than the concession stand: $100 per sausage. How good does a Klements hot dog sound right about now?
The exact origin of pierogies, dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with any number of different fillings, is a Dietribe for another day. The Great Pierogie Race, however, began in Pittsburgh in 1999, a celebration of the city's Slavic influence. The first race featured the delightfully tacky Sauerkraut Saul, Cheese Chester, and Potato Pete. Jalapeno Hanna was later added and Oliver Onion replaced Potato Pete.
The Pierogies emerge from the rightfield gate and make their way toward homeplate as an announcer speaking exaggerated "Pittsburghese" narrates the race. When the Pierogies race the Sausages each season for the Golden Skillet trophy, it's all business, but the group also knows how to have a good time. Witness the four of them dancing to the wildly popular Peanut Butter Jelly Time song. Those are two ingredients that don't belong in a pierogi.
4. Colored Dots
What's sillier than cheering for moving colored dots on a scoreboard? Cheering for running colored dots on a field, of course. The Rangers poke fun at an age-old scoreboard tradition with the Dot Race in Arlington, Texas.
A few minor league teams, including the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, feature a mid-game Eyeball Race.
6. Chili Peppers
Racing Chili Peppers entertain the fans in Toronto.
7. Seals & Elephants
And finally, there's this classic tricycle race between Oakland A's mascot Stomper and San Francisco's Lou Seal, with a surprise appearance by Crazy Crab.