The Birds Nest

Hot Dog Race at Camden Yards Inspires a Fandom All Its Own

The Orioles production team explains the process behind the condiment race.

While the Orioles on-the-field performance this season has elicited plenty of anxiety, regulars of Camden Yards are also wondering about another lackluster performer: mustard.

One of three condiments that competes in an animated video after the second inning of every Orioles home game, mustard has yet to cross the finish line before ketchup or relish in 2018.

“The fact that mustard has yet to win is mind-boggling,” says Orioles fan Richard Gorelick, who started a Facebook page dedicated to keeping track of  hot dog race stats. “It seems deliberate because surely the people operating know who’s going to win.”

In fact, while no one on the Orioles production staff has skin in the game, they do know which Esskay hot dog will take the crown before the videos are aired. An external production company produces the animation and they collaborate with the team on ideas for unique versions. (This year, there are three different race “types” with two more on the way.)

“We typically provide the video operator with the honor of choosing the winner, as long as they are fair and keep the competition alive,” says Mike Stashik, director of Orioles production. “We all remain surprised about just how engaged the fans are during the race, and it was that enthusiastic fan reaction which inspired us to keep track of the winners.”

Similarly, Gorelick keeps track of the winners every home game, with the help of friends who message him results when he can’t make it to Camden Yards. By his calculations, the three condiments split the races equally last year (27 wins a piece), but the Orioles decided to hold a tie-breaking race and had the staff in the control room vote on a winner, crowning mustard the 2017 champion.

“For me, it’s really a parody on how absurd baseball statistics can be,” says Gorelick, who pulls for relish for its color and underdog status. “You’ll have people measuring a team’s win-loss record during Thursday day games on artificial turf. This is just a play on that idea.”

That love of obscure statistics is what got Gorelick calculating a couple of seasons ago. Not only does he keep track of the condiment results, but he also correlates those with how the Orioles are performing. (So far, he hasn’t found any noticeable patterns.)

The hot dog race tradition actually dates back to Memorial Stadium, but got reinvigorated in the early 2000s and has decidedly become a fan favorite. A trio in condiment constumes was even seen running the Baltimore Marathon last fall. Also this past season, Gorelick posted a video of one young fan brought to tears when his beloved ketchup didn’t win—though his mom was quick to send a follow-up video of him elated after different results.

“Unlike, say, the crab shuffle, this animation gives people something to root for,” Gorelick says. “I really enjoy watching families and friends who have designated one of the condiments as one of their favorites and root for them just as passionately as their home team.”

But, yet, how to explain the six-game drought mustard has experienced so far this season? Stashik of the Orioles—who likes mustard on his hot dog, ketchup on his cheeseburger, and relish on both—has one idea.

“Coming off a championship season, you always have a big target on you back,” he says. “It’s never easy to repeat, but there are still plenty of races left.”