Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack? Not anymore at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, where the Hartford (Connecticut) Yard Goats play.
This season, the Class AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies is becoming what’s believed to be the first professional sports venue to go completely – and permanently –peanut-free.
Peanuts are one of the most common and deadliest allergies in the U.S, especially among children, like seven-year-old Henry Blakesley of Wrentham, Massachusetts.
“Baseball games are really challenging for someone with a nut allergy, because everyone’s throwing shells around,” said his father, Ben. “For my son, if he has any kind of contact, if he steps on a peanut and takes off his shoe, he could go into anaphylactic shock. A lot of people think if they have an EpiPen, they’re fine, but it’s not enough. If the airway closes, that’s it for them.”
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The Yard Goats’ decision stemmed from conversations with local parents who have kids with peanut allergies, according to team president Tim Restall, who was moved by stories of trick-or-treating with gloves on, bringing one’s own cupcakes to classmates’ birthday parties and sitting in a separate area of the school cafeteria. Like other teams in pro sports, the Yard Goats had previously held the occasional peanut-free game, which included banning the offending legumes and doing a deep clean of the stadium.
“They can still eat peanuts at home,” he said. “We want this ballpark to be everyone’s ballpark. … If we can make their experience at the ballpark normal, but eliminate one food item, it’s the right thing to do.”
Dunkin’ Donuts Park sells more than 200 foods and beverages, Restall added. In addition to peanuts and Cracker Jack, a peanut topping for sundaes was also eliminated and the Yard Goats checked with the company whose name is emblazoned on the venue to make sure the food it serves there doesn’t include peanuts. Plus, fans, whose bags are checked upon entering, are not allowed to bring peanuts in from outside.
In the U.S., 2.2 percent of children and 1.8 percent of adults have peanut allergies, according to the Virginia-based advocacy group Food Allergy Research and Education.
Peanuts are among the eight foods that account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found.
The Yard Goats are losing money from the decision, Restall said. The ballpark’s food-service contractor gives the team a percentage of what’s sold and last year that included 10,432 bags of peanuts at $4 each and 2,262 boxes of Cracker Jack for $3.75 a pop – more than $50,000 in snacks.
The larger economic impact of the peanut ban remains to be seen. It could increase sales – due to the national attention and the influx of allergic fans making the trek from other states – or cost the team money as a result of irate team supporters directing their devotion elsewhere.
“There’s social value in being sensitive,” said New York University marketing professor Henry Assael. “I view it as a trade-off as publicity for a minor league team that’s not very well known, latching on to a particular health issue, versus possibly alienating some of their fans, because peanuts are a food traditionally associated with baseball.”
Plenty of people on social media booed the Yard Goats’ announcement. Some mocked the decision — like by demanding vegan hot dogs be served in the ballpark, too — while other were mad that the iconic experience of watching America’s pasttime, as memorialized in the 1908 Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer classic song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was going the way of flat bats.
Ben Blakesley is a big baseball fan, as is his son, but until now, he could take his first-grader to a game only when he had access to a suite, where he could make sure no peanuts were served, or on the couple of peanut-free games held throughout the season.
“This is a huge opportunity to expose him to the game at the professional level. He plays Little League. I coach his team,” Blakesley said. “If they get down to a personal level and they met my son, Henry, would they be OK with saying, ‘I don’t care about putting your life at risk, because I need my peanuts’?”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer