published Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Wiedmer: AT&T part of a dog's life for Tom Lohr

Since he has eaten close to 80 hot dogs and visited nearly 60 major and minor league ballparks since April 12, you'd think the last thing Tom Lohr would want to do before rating the tubesteaks at AT&T Field on Monday night was to sample similar fare elsewhere in our fair city.

Yet there he stood in AT&T's concourse 40 minutes before the Chattanooga Lookouts would take the field against Montgomery, his torso clad in a bright red Griffin's Footlong Hotdogs T-shirt ("The Original since 1939") as he discussed an afternoon visit to Engel Stadium.

Never let it be said that Lohr doesn't practice what he preaches.

"There have been people who've rated ballpark food before," said the 52-year-old retiree who spent 24 years in the Navy. "There have been people rating stadiums before. But I wanted to eat a hot dog in each of the 30 major league parks and at least 30 minor league parks and rate both the hot dog and the overall baseball experience."

The basic hot dog he purchased for $3.25 at AT&T Field initially appeared as if it might draw a bit of a mixed rating from Lohr, who posts his assessments daily on his blog at ballparkdogs.blogspot.com.

"There's a special place in hell for people who put condiments in packages," he said as he tore open the tiny plastic pouch containing relish. "They've got mustard, ketchup, relish, onions. No kraut. No jalopenos. Not really great."

The perfect dog -- which Lohr says he found at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play -- must score a flawless 5 in six categories: bun, taste, toppings, price, portability, it factor. The ballyard experience beyond the hot dog also falls into six categories: location, access, cleanliness, ambiance, ticket price, fans.

Camden Yards remains the only location Lohr has visited that he rated perfect in both the hot dog and overall experience for an overall score of 60.

Surprising or not for Braves fans, his Sunday visit to Turner Field netted a 28 for the $4.25 dog he bought and a perfect 30 for Turner Field.

Asked his thoughts on the Braves abandoning The Ted for the suburbs, Lohr couldn't have been more frank: "Abomination."

Yet as his dissection of AT&T's coney continued, he softened his critique.

"The bun gets a top score, soft and steamy," Lohr said. "The price gets a 4.5. Portability's a 5. Taste ... not too bad. These are Tyson wieners. Pretty tasty."

Though his overall rating wouldn't be tabulated until long after my deadline, he seemed pretty pleased with his day in Chattanooga, which also included a drive up Lookout Mountain.

"Nice town," he said. "And this isn't a bad ballpark. The brick on the outside is nice. All the advertisements along the outfield fences give it some ambiance. The video board's a little small. Some of these minor league parks now have some ginormous Jumbotrons, especially in Florida."

With all 30 major league parks visited and only a handful of minor league sites remaining -- including Nashville tonight and Memphis on Wednesday -- Lohr's next adventure is to write a book about the 18,000 miles he will have added to his 2008 Toyota Rav4, which he's slept in most nights, including Sunday after leaving Turner Field.

"I'm going to New Mexico when all this over -- I've got some friends who have a cabin I can use -- and try to write," he said of the book tentatively titled "Gone to the Dogs," which is almost certain to have a chapter, "Footlong and Fancy Free."

"They actually have a two-foot dog at Texas that feeds two people," Lohr said. "It weighs 2 pounds and costs $26.

Then there's the D-bat that the Arizona Diamondbacks sell for $25. It's an 18-inch wiener stuffed with jalopeno cheese, wrapped in bacon, then deep-fried after being dipped in cornmeal.

"The ultimate corndog," he said.

The most expensive hot dog was in St. Louis at the new Busch Stadium ($8).

He rated the "Fenway Frank" as the worst dog: "Looks like a wiener on a slice of Wonder Bread." Then again, Boston always has been a bean town.

All of it has made Lohr somewhat famous, with people from the New York Daily News to the online edition of Smithsonian Magazine writing about him. And he's tried to accommodate every request, even driving most of the night after the conclusion of a night game at Wrigley Field in order to make an 8 a.m. television interview in Minneapolis.

Yet as much as Lohr has relished the experience, he's also ready to leave his dogs life behind for a time.

"I may need to do a cleansing," he said. "The people I'm visiting in New Mexico, she's vegan, so I may go meatless for a week or so."

Whether he can go cold turkey byproducts when it comes to thinking about the hot dog is another matter. His biggest question regarding AT&T Field -- and a good one for the new owner's suggestion box -- was this: "Why aren't they serving Griffin's hotdogs at Lookouts games?"

Throw in a giant video board and you get the feeling Lohr might rate AT&T Field the minor league version of Camden Yards the next time he visits.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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