Before Bryan McKernan took his 6-year-old daughter, Brynn, to her first Orioles game Tuesday, he made sure to tell her about Camden Yards’ traditions. He specifically mentioned the Hot Dog Race; after all, he was wearing his Relish shirt to the game, the product of a giveaway on National Hot Dog Day a couple of seasons ago.
McKernan, Brynn and that green shirt ended up on the Oriole Park scoreboard shortly after Tuesday’s edition of the Hot Dog Race, with the 38-year-old Glen Burnie resident appearing both frustrated and bewildered as his go-to condiment continued to put the 1988 Orioles to shame.
“I thought today was the day!” McKernan screamed from the stadium’s upper deck.
The Hot Dog Race is a Camden Yards staple, with three animated hot dogs — one each donning ketchup, mustard and relish with an appropriately colored cap — circling the bases on the center field scoreboard between the second and third innings. Mustard’s narrow victory Wednesday improved its lead of Ketchup to 17-15.
Relish is 0-32.
“Disheartening,” McKernan said from his seat in Section 340. “We’ve got to get one on the board. We’ve got to get a win once, right?”
Greg Bader, the Orioles’ Senior Vice President of Administration & Experience, said fans such as McKernan should know that Relish remains in the hunt.
“Like the MLB regular season, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Bader said. “I am confident that Relish is not out of this thing yet.”
Reminded that it actually is a sprint in Relish’s case — at least in terms of cartoon ballpark fare’s ability to do so — Bader agreed but made clear there’s plenty of time to catch up.
“It is 81 sprints, and so far, the first third have not gone well,” Bader said. “But I’ve heard that when the summer months start heating up, not only do the balls fly out of Camden Yards, but Relish has a tendency to perform better in the warm weather.”
Of course, it’s not the climate holding Relish back. In his duties, Bader oversees the club’s creative content department, saying Vice President of Creative Content Tyler Hoffberger, In-Game Entertainment Producer Ben Epstein and In-Game Entertainment Coordinator Emma Meck work with other staff to get the Hot Dog Race onto the scoreboard each night. The Orioles team with Ohio-based Jamination Productions to create each race, with a priority of keeping the suspense throughout the virtual 360-foot trip around the bases.
Bader said each year, the team scripts out the Hot Dog Race “narrative” in advance of the season. This year’s happened to include Relish losing every race through five homestands.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Bader said reassuringly. “I can’t imagine a scenario where Relish doesn’t win at some point. Listen, Baltimore loves an underdog, so we’ve got a good storyline here that Relish is way behind. I would not count Relish out, just as I would not count this city out.”
Along with the Hot Dog Race, Oriole Park’s in-game entertainment features include the Crab Shuffle, a regionally themed Three-card Monte, and Orioles Draw, where players have been tasked with drawing the team’s logo, a crab and the state of Maryland, often unsuccessfully.
But no video-board regular has had more failures than Relish. There have been some close calls, with competitor Ketchup occasionally spoiling Relish’s pursuit of victory by bumping it aside as the two prepare to round third base. Relish led for most of Wednesday’s race but couldn’t hold on down the final stretch. Tuesday, the Oriole Bird showed up and turned the lights out, with only three pairs of eyes appearing on a dark screen for most of the race. On rainy nights, the hot dogs have circled the bases via boats.
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It might take a plane for Relish to break its streak. But Bader declined to share details of the team’s plans for when a first win might come — and what kind of celebration would follow.
“If we tipped our hand for the outcome, I think it would spoil it,” Bader said. “It’s very possible that Relish struggles throughout the year, there’s no doubt. But I don’t anticipate 0-81. It’s also a possibility that it gets back in this thing and runs off a nice winning streak, and we’re talking three months from now about how Relish has put itself back in the pennant race.”
McKernan said he’s “always been a relish guy” when it comes to hot dogs, both the racing and edible kinds. He retains hope that the Orioles’ script doesn’t include a winless finish for Relish.
“We’ll get there,” McKernan said. “It’s a rebuild.”
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