Peanuts and baseball in America have been thick as thieves since the late 19th century. At that time, baseball was widely recognized as the national past time and peanuts became a staple at ballparks. According to Bennett Jacobstein, author of The Joy of Ballpark Food, a pioneering ballpark concessioner, Harry Stevens, sold advertising space on scorecards to a peanut company in 1895. Instead of financial payment, the company paid him in peanuts, which Stevens then sold at the ballparks.
Why were peanuts such a hit at stadiums? Stevens’ grandson said, “They’ve never been popular at race tracks because people need to keep their hands free for betting. In baseball, the tension builds slowly. Eating peanuts is part of a nervous habit—it gives you something to do with your hands.”
It also helps that peanuts are delicious, slightly salty and pair perfectly with a refreshing beverage.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with its lyric of “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks” was written in 1908 and was a good reminder for fans in the seventh inning stretch to pick up these salty and sweet snacks.
The Peanut Vendor
The hawkers of these longstanding legumes—the peanut vendors—have risen in popularity over the years too. The vendor’s siren call of “Peanuts, here!" goes back to street corner vendors after the Civil War, according to Jacobstein. Although the phrase didn’t begin with baseball, it has transferred from the street corners to the ballpark.
Roger Owens aka “The Peanut Man” at Dodger Stadium is probably the best known peanut vendor, even making an appearance on The Tonight Show. Owens gained fame for his trick throws of peanut bags—behind the back, forward pass, switch shot, up to 30 rows away, according to an ESPN feature.
Peanuts at the game these days please both traditionalists and adventurous eaters. Hampton Farms, the largest supplier of inshell peanuts to baseball stadiums, sells more than four million bags of ballpark peanuts every year. Fans of the Dodgers, Royals, Astros, Angels and Mets eat the most inshell peanuts at the ballpark. At AT&T Park in San Francisco, there’s a fresh roasted peanut stand that has its own roasting machine where you can see and smell the fragrant peanuts whirling around as they roast. For a true taste of the South, boiled peanuts are offered at the Tampa Bay Rays stadium, according to Jacobstein.
Peanuts have broken out of the bag and are featured in newer, more indulgent ballpark fare too. A thick cut slab of bacon is covered with peanut butter and crushed pretzels at Pig Guy NYC at Citi Field. Peanut butter waffles are on the menu at the Waffle House at Turner Field in Atlanta.
Whether you’re a classic hotdogs and in shell peanuts fan or a gastronaut who likes to sample the latest and greatest food items, you can enjoy peanuts at the ballpark any way you like.