The Great American Pastime
If the title of this article suggests to you that this will be a discussion of Baseball, you are badly mistaken. Beyond the mere similarity of being played on a field, soccer has little in common with what I used to think was America’s pastime. Over the past decade or so, the rampant invasiveness of European football has taken over my family’s life, like Kudzu creeping over an abandoned outhouse. Believe it or not, soccer is now America’s pastime.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love soccer. Really I do. The non-stop action with little or no scoring. The non-ending season that goes from the blistering heat of summer to the rain and sleet of snow (only lightning stops a soccer game) to the indoor season that takes over the winter months. I’m tremendously fond of my daughters’ commitment to play on travel, school, and club teams, each with their own practice schedule, game schedule, and tournament schedule. The time commitment frees me of the painful chores of planning family activities, meals, and events. That’s all taken care of, thanks to this invasive European contest. But, I love it. Really I do. I mean, why would anyone want to spend Father’s Day fishing, golfing, or napping when there’s a weekend soccer tournament to be enjoyed?
“So, what does all of this have to do with your normal culinary discussions, Chef Geoff?, the reader may inquire. Well, interestingly enough, there was recently a conjunction of three unlikely cosmic elements: Baseball, soccer, and Chef Geoff.
Lakewood High School has been very fortunate to recruit a new, dynamic head coach for the women’s soccer team. Lorain native Coach Josh Thornsberry, recently a successful coach in North Carolina, joined the Lakewood system this fall. He brings with him an enthusiasm and belief that he can build a strong program for the Lakewood Schools. The team needed warm-ups, to at least look the part. And warm-ups cost money, more than what can be raised in a season of car washes. Enter into the equation baseball. The Cleveland Indians have a policy of making concession stands available to local non-profits for fundraising. The group staffs the stand and gets a cut of the sales. And Coach Thornsberry had gotten LHS Soccer stand number 7 for ten dates. Enter into the equation Chef Geoff.
Friday night, Indians versus the White Sox. Equipped with ID badge, Indians issued cap, and a very ill-fitting green polo, along with 10 other parents and players at 4:00pm, we took the field at the Jake. Well, actually we took concession stand number 7. There was much work to be done before the gates opened to a sellout crowd at 6. Every hotdog, bun, pretzel, and cup had to be counted. A similar count at the end of the night would be the basis for calculating sales. There were hot dogs to be made and bagged, popcorn to pop, and shelves and racks to stock. And there was pizza to be made. My assignment: Keep the pies comin’.
My pizza oven was a huge and very hot stack of four slowly moving conveyer belts running through a blast furnace. The uncooked pies arrived on a 6 foot high rack, sauce and cheese in place. The process appeared simple enough. Artfully crimp the edge of the dough, add pepperoni or sausage, put it on the conveyer, and VOILA, 7 minutes later, remove it from the other side, put the pie on a cardboard disc (this step was deduced by Senior Captain Hillary Vigh), and cut into 6 roughly equal portions with a pizza wheel. From there, into the rotating display warmer. Repeat as needed. Even with no direction, it seemed simple enough.
Except that the top oven turned out rare pizzas, and the bottom oven reduced the sausage to cinders. Except that Sports Service had forgotten to stock us with sausage topping (and you know how those White Sox fans love their sausage). Except that the water line to the pop dispenser had a constant leak providing an already slippery floor with an added film of water. Not a problem. If I can turn out a pizza in the North Woods, I could surely do it here.
And so it began. A 5-hour period of pizza preparation. The water leak was repaired, the sausage appeared, and pizzas in the top oven were slid back in for a few more minutes, while those on the bottom were pulled out a bit early. Then the rush hit. Friday night has always been pizza night at my house. Little did I know that the same held true at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie. As fast as they came out, they were gone. I was running, grabbing a couple raw pies, less than artfully crimping the edges and throwing them on the conveyor, and the neat arrangement of sausage or pepperoni got considerably more random. I turned out a lot of pies that were double or triple pepperoni. By 7, the first rack of 36 pies was gone and we called for backup.
And so it continued, unabated, until finally, around 9:30, the crowd started to slack off. The pace became a bit less frantic, the crimping a bit more artful and the toppings more evenly distributed. As the Friday fireworks boomed over the Jake, it was finally time to close stand #7, and pull down the steel shades. A couple last pieces of pizza to a few stragglers, and it was over. Our stadium supervisor told me I had done a really great job. No drops, two errors (the fault of the previously mentioned upper and lower ovens) and only 2½ pies left at closing. She told us to mark them down as “waste”, and then pass them out to the workers. It was actually pretty good pizza. Not as good as mine, made from scratch, but pretty good. But, we were actually REALLY hungry. We had done pretty well. We made around $600.00 for those new soccer warm-ups while cooking at a baseball game. The conjunction was good. At that point, our Sports Services supervisor pointed out that the 68 pizza pans, along with the 34 trays all needed to be washed. But, that was okay, even after 6 hours of sweating in front of those ovens. Because I like soccer. I really do.