With both the visiting Aberdeen Ironbirds and the home team birds, Sandy and Pee Wee, looking on, Sunday was truly a ‘fowl’ day at Keyspan Park, as the ballpark was the site of the second annual Applebee’s Boneless Chicken Wing Eating Contest.
The event was staged on the field behind home plate, at a spot not much more than the distance of a mighty Tyler Davidson blast from Nathan’s, the location of the famous hot dog-eating contest every July 4.
But more than a two-block stretch of Surf Avenue separated the two contests.
The Nathan’s gig is limited to professional eaters from the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). In addition, the Nathan’s competition lasts 12 minutes.
The Applebee’s contest, on the other hand, is sanctioned by the upstart Association of Independent Competitive Eaters (AICE), which allows amateur eaters — in this case, Cyclones fans — to partake in the contest, which lasted six minutes.
As the eating tables were set up, the first chair on the third base end was occupied by Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman, currently ranked No. 15 by the AICE. Chapman works as a counselor for the New York State Commission for the Blind.
When asked about his prospects in the upcoming battle, Chowhound said, “I’ve trained hard and I intend to eat my way to victory.”
Further down the tables, Eddie “The Geek” Vidmar, a relative newcomer to professional eating and a Vietnam veteran who works as a computer consultant, took a low-key approach to predictions by not making any.
On the first base end of the tables was “Gentleman” Joe Menchetti, ranked No. 7 by the AICE. Menchetti’s eating resume includes championships in beef patties, sweet corn, conch fritters and fried cicadas. On the day before the contest at Keyspan, Menchetti had won a hot dog-eating contest in Belmar, New Jersey by downing 15 jumbo franks in 10 minutes.
Menchetti was asked if yesterday’s Belmar contest had left him in a sated and weakened state for today’s rigors.
“We’ll just have to see,” he enigmatically answered, leering at the just-delivered chicken wings.
Interspersed with the professional gurgitators were a few Cyclones fans, including Eddie Mark, and Patrick Witt, the latter having brought a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a package of Tums along.
In the minutes before the Cyclones game, platters of boneless chicken wings were delivered to the competition area. Sandy and Pee Wee, the Cyclones bird mascots, watched from halfway between the plate and the mound, a safe distance from the avian carnage.
The Cyclones and Ironbirds watched from their dugouts, but Clones hitting coach Donovan Mitchell and Mets minor league hitting coordinator Mickey Brantley seemed to slink out and approach the feeding tables behind home plate. Walking on cats’ feet, the two hitting gurus were soon positioned within a 10-foot range of the platters of chicken wings.
Apparently these veteran minor league coaches had analyzed the situation and determined that even with the seasoned professional eaters and the hungry amateurs doing their best, piles of wings would remain after the contest and they were ready to sweep in at its conclusion.
At the judges’ signal, the contest began. Of the pros, Menchetti started off fast, as did Chapman. Of the amateurs, Witt was working hard and Mark was eating moderately, not out to set any records.
The battle moved along and into its final minute. Chapman began bobbing his head, kind of eating like a chicken himself, in a furious pace, swallowing the wings without much chewing.
At the end, Chapman had eaten (or swallowed) 57.3 ounces of chicken wings to win $200 in cash, a $75 Applebee’s gift certificate and the trophy.
Patrick Witt was the leading amateur eater with an estimated 50 chicken wings devoured.
Mitchell and Brantley didn’t get any chicken wings while they were on the field, but they left smiling. Somehow, a few plates of wings were said to be headed to the Cyclones clubhouse.
Witt wasn’t smiling too much. He looked a little green around the gills. He took his Pepto-Bismol and his Tums and headed away from his seat.
Glory always has its price.
The weight and color of it all
Ambiorix Concepcion has been on a tear for the Cyclones, taking his average up to .318 with six home runs and 37 RBIs. The tear may have been partially the result of a recent purchase by the Clones outfielder.
Concepcion ordered some lumber from Controlling the Game Athletics company in the Bronx.
One Cyclones fan, Marty Bromberger, recently noticed that Concepcion often swings several different bats during a game.
“He uses a red bat, then a black one, then one with a white handle with a black barrel, and then one with a black handle and a white barrel,” said the observant fan. “If he doesn’t hit the ball well, he switches bats.”
When Tony Tijerina was informed about Concepcion’s predilection for switching bats, the manager smiled and raised an eyebrow, well aware of the superstitious nature of ball players.
Later, Concepcion said that he doesn’t switch bats because of superstition. He does it to use what he feels is the correct bat for the particular pitcher he’s facing.
All of his bats are 34 inches long, but that’s where the similarities end. Concepcion has a 30.5-ounce red bat, a 31-ounce bat with a white handle and a black barrel, a 31-ounce bat with a black handle and a white barrel, and a 32-ounce black bat.
“I use a light bat for a fast pitcher, a heavy bat for a slow pitcher, ” said the outfielder.
When then told that Concepcion says he switches bats not out of superstition, but to match a bat to each pitcher, Tijerina laughed and said good naturedly, “That’s even crazier than the first reason I heard.”
In the sixth inning of that night’s game, Concepcion stepped up to bat, using his bat featuring the white handle and the black barrel. This bat promptly propelled the ball over the left field fence.
Concepcion was running out his home run, and as the outfielder got to third, Tijerina, coaching at the hot corner, was grinning as he slapped the outfielder on the back.
Tijerina may not be sure why Concepcion uses each bat, but the manager is smart enough not to force him to make an explanation for his bat rotation, but rather to let his bats do all the talking.
Home runs make for pretty good soliloquies.
August 21, 2004 issue