RubberDucks begin season with limited capacity, new food offerings

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
RubberDucks General Manager Jim Pfander speaks during the team's media day at Canal Park.

AKRON – This week, the Akron RubberDucks returned with a new (and they hope, temporary) normal.

The team began its 2021 season after missing out on any kind of season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and while that missed season is in the past, the lingering impacts of the pandemic can still be seen around Canal Park.

As the new season began, RubberDucks general manager Jim Pfander kept his sense of humor while also recognizing that the past year has been hard on people across sports and society.

"The weather," he joked when asked about the biggest challenge leading up to this season. "The biggest challenge for us is it's been 600 days since we've last had a RubberDucks game and getting up to speed with different health and safety protocols for Major League Baseball and the minors."

Part of the challenge for the RubberDucks is the seating pods the team has had to create around the stadium. Seating capacity to begin the season will be 47 percent, or approximately 3,600 fans.

As part of that, pods will divide fans much like they do at restaurants and other public spaces where people have returned as vaccines begin to slow the spread of the virus and allow for a turn toward normalcy.

Pfander noted that per local health and safety guidelines, the seating pods range between two and six people and that the team is hopeful that higher side of the range will soon increase to eight by June.

Even during the week, the effects of the pandemic are felt around Canal Park as the second floor of the venue is for team staff members in the front office, media relations, promotions and food service areas of the organization and the ground floor is for players, coaches and other personnel who need direct field access and contact with one another.

That separation will continue not only within the facility and between groups of fans during games, but throughout the park on game days.

"For the month of May, we'll have no on-field contests, ceremonial first pitches or national anthem singers," Pfander explained.

Instead, those activities will move from their normal on-field locations to the concourse. Ceremonial first pitches will take place in the area of the concourse where the team has a pitching area set up to allow fans to throw and see the velocity on their pitches thanks to a radar gun. Likewise, on-field promotions such as sumo wrestling in giant inflatable sumo suits will happen on the concourse until health and safety guidelines allow for their return to the field.

Despite all of the new protocols in place, both fans and the team itself are happy to have baseball back and to see one other in person again after so much time apart.

"It has been a very long year," Pfander said. "We missed it ... we missed our fans. We had our first season ticket holder event on Saturday and it was emotional. They're like family."

On the menu

At the team's annual media day earlier this week, Pfander and other team personnel debuted this year's additions to the team's well-known Extreme Foods menu. Past creations have included a five-pound helmet of ice cream known as The Screamer, a hot dog stuffed inside a bratwurst stuffed inside a kielbasa and known as the Nice 2 Meat You and numerous other calorie-heavy, tasty culinary creations.

This year, the additions to the extreme menu include the Dog Check Roll and the WONE Waffle Rockwurst by Spatz & Amanda.

The Dog Check Roll is a footlong all-beef hot dog stuffed with a mix of white cheddar Mac and cheese and pulled pork, wrapped in a puff pastry with the whole entree baked and cut into small pieces, drizzled in barbecue sauce and Cusabi sauce and served with chopsticks for $14.

The Dog Check Roll is a footlong all-beef hot dog stuffed with a mix of white cheddar Mac and cheese and pulled pork, wrapped in a puff pastry with the whole entree baked and cut into small pieces, drizzled in barbecue sauce and Cusabi sauce and served with chopsticks for $14.

This year, the additions to the extreme menu include the Dog Check Roll and the WONE Waffle Rockwurst by Spatz & Amanda.

The Waffle Rockwurst, meanwhile, is a bratwurst served in a Belgian waffle bun and topped with caramelized onions and the stadium's specialty house mustard, served for $8 at the Bier Garden concession stand. One "cap casualty," Pfander noted, on the extreme menu is the OBJ Dog, named after Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and served the past three seasons.

Also of note on the culinary front is the team making an app available for fans to order food from their seats and have it delivered – with a convenience fee applied to the order. They can also order conventionally at the stand itself. It's all part of the new normal for now at Canal Park, but the bottom line is that as of this week, baseball is finally back in downtown Akron.