Two eight ounce hamburgers.
A grilled cheese sandwich.
Two more grilled cheese sandwiches loaded with pork roll.
Bacon, coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, sauteed onions and mushrooms.
All held together by long, wooden stakes.
On the side are pickles, macaroni salad and a pound of fire fries.
Eat it all in a half an hour, and it’s free. If you don’t, you’re forking over 15 bucks.
Emeril might have been thinking “bam.” I was thinking barf.
The Before Photo (Courtesy of Rudy C. Jones)
Originally, I thought it would be a good idea to attempt the Thunder Burger Challenge, which is new for the 2009 season. I never thought I could finish it or even come close, but I thought it would make for a good story.
I’m six feet tall and have never weighed more than 130 pounds. Nobody else really seemed to think I had much of a chance, either.
For someone my size, I didn’t really feel like there was too much preparation I could do. I had remembered reading that a lot of competitive eaters expanded their stomachs by drinking a lot of water, so I tried to chug a lot of H2O on the day of the event.
I probably ended up drinking around eight bottles of water, but the only effect that seemed to have on me was needing to use the bathroom every 15 minutes or so.
Thunder media relations guru Bill Cook, who played a big part in setting this up, and I coordinated the event so that it would start around the top of the 3rd inning. As it approached, the more I thought about it, the more nervous I became about it…and I certainly didn’t need any butterflies taking up any room in my stomach.
A few minutes before I was set to head out towards a tent the Thunder had set up for me on the concourse down the third base line, public address announcer Bill Bromberg started to make an announcement that I would be taking the Thunder Burger Challenge.
It started with a comment about how I probably don’t even weigh 100 pounds and ended with a description of everything I’d be attempting to eat. It took about three batters for him to make it all the way through.
Not exactly that boost of confidence I needed.
But as he’s doing this, I can see many people in the stands have turned around and are looking in my direction in the press box. This includes many fans I recognize and even the pitchers who were charting the game behind the plate.
Not looking forward to what would be on my plate, Bill Cook and I start making the trek over to the tent. With six starters for five spots at the time, one of the Thunder pitchers in the stands could take a break from their charting duties, so Christian Garcia came up and took the walk with us.
“I just want to see how much food you’re going to have to eat,” he says.
He also jokingly says he wants the leftovers. Considering how much players at this level make, he may not be joking after all.
After waiting a few minutes, the burger is delivered to my spot in the tent by the man who made it, Waterfront Park Executive Chef, John Caiola.
According to his bio in the Thunder yearbook, he’s cooked for George Bush, James Earl Jones, Donald Trump and others. I would imagine my name will not be cracking that list anytime soon.
By this time, fans have started to gather around, as have some of my colleagues from the press box.
The rules are explained, a timer is placed on the table, and the challenge has begun.
I start my less than historic attempt (Courtesy of Bill Cook/Trenton Thunder)
I actually got off to a pretty good start and was feeling pretty good. After doing some work on one of the grilled cheese sandwiches with the pork roll in them, I decided it would be wise to try to put down the burgers. I figured that of all the things in the sandwich itself, the burgers had the most substance, and if I was able to eat them, I might actually have a shot.
Eventually, I’m able to put both burgers down. It was probably right around then that I started feeling really, really full.
It’s around this point — whether it be by coincidence or someone noticing I had that “wow, I really don’t want to do this anymore” look on my face — that a garbage can is placed next to me.
“Just in case,” someone says.
Stuffing my face with that “just in case” garbage can next to me (Rudy C. Jones)
Despite all of this, John Caiola — who kind of resembles the after picture if Kevin James were to go on a weight loss program, with me hoping I didn’t look like the before version after all of this – was still yelling encouragement in my direction, trying to convince me I could do this, when all I could do was shake my head, as if to say, “no way.”
My stomach was also starting to tell me the same thing, and my pace was definitely slowing down. Fans kept stopping by and watching, and I felt kind of like I was in a zoo. Nothing I do is worth watching, trust me…so people stopping to watch me do something as simple as eating was very, very weird.
Christian Garcia stops by again, as does Thunder clubhouse manager Tom “Tonto” Kackley. Perhaps they’ve decided to alert the rest of the team to stay far, far away from me when I’m conducting interviews after the game.
Shortly after Tonto arrives, a waiver/entry sheet of sorts is placed in front of me. The most notable thing I can remember from that is reading that any food that should happen to leave my body is “back in play” and must be eaten in order for me to win. Not that I felt much like a winner while stuffing my face, but I did have just enough sarcasm left in me to write “gross!” next to that line on the sheet.
I keep checking the timer, hoping it’s close to zero. Several times, the Thunder production staff decides to follow my progress on the scoreboard, displaying my concourse endeavor to those in the stands. I put on a brave face for them, but I honestly couldn’t wait until it was over.
I made a half-hearted attempt at double fisting some “fire fries” down my gullet, but that only led to mass consumption of water when some of the spice stayed on my lips for a bit too long.
With just a few minutes to go, John Caiola asks if I’m hurting, and I give him the honest answer of yes. It feels a little better to learn that only one person has ever completed the Thunder Burger Challenge, and he suffered an…ahem, reversal of fortune immediately afterwards. So he won, but he didn’t.
Turns out, I wasn’t going to be winning either.
The buzzer on the timer rang, and I was the humble and somewhat humiliated recipient of a half-hearted round of applause. Here’s what was left on my plate…
(Bill Cook/Trenton Thunder)
I’d eaten both burgers, one of the grilled cheese/pork roll sandwiches, all the pickles and maybe two handfuls of fries.
The look on my face is somewhat predictable after such an ordeal…
(Rudy C. Jones)
After one last update on the scoreboard and posing for a few pictures with Caiola and Boomer…
(Bill Cook/Trenton Thunder)
…I start making the slow, somewhat painful trek back to the press box so I can, you know, get back to doing my job.
Thankfully, the visiting radio booth is empty, so I jump in there for a few minutes so I can collect myself. Also, if I explode, I’m in a nice, contained area and the cleanup and subsequent effort to put me back together again wouldn’t be too complicated.
Alas, I’m fine, and I head back to my spot in the press box. For the record, like Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, I remain vomit free since ’93.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel too disgusting after all of that. I definitely felt like I’d eaten way too much, but I did make a legitimate effort to try and complete the challenge, so that was to be expected.
What wasn’t entirely expected was the reaction my efforts to do so received. As I was trying to walk off the burger on the concourse during the game, quite a few people stopped me and asked how I was doing or how well I did. I’ve received more e-mails about this than I have most stories I’ve written, and before I could even get a question out to Kanekoa Texeira after the game, he asked me how I did with the Thunder Burger Challenge.
Never again, Tex.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com