Baseball still exists in Charleston, contrary to the lack of big league boxscores and youth league activity.
You can feel it, smell it, taste it. Almost every day.
Or did you miss late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel interviewing Bill Murray, Facetiming in from a bathtub last week and chatting up the Charleston RiverDogs’ “To Go from The Joe” menu?
Murray, a RiverDogs co-owner who dabbles in film stardom when’s not at the ballpark, correctly identified the menu highlight when quizzed by Kimmel.
Yeah, right. Like Bill Murray doesn’t know the giant Homewrecker hot dog from an Alehouse Brat, Black & Bleu Bacon Burger, Pulled Pork Potato Skins or Smokin’ Wedge Salad.
What do you think, he just rode in on a corndog truck?
Murray also knows the star of the RiverDogs’ effort to keep a little bit of baseball alive and help the community during the coronavirus is a super chef living his dream.
Josh Shea, in year seven as Vice President/Food & Beverage, is in charge of the minor league baseball team’s effort to make the RiverDogs’ famed concession stand fare available from Tuesday through Friday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Riley Park with a DoorDash delivery option.
There are few better ways for baseball fans to endure a pandemic than by biting into a Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich or Summer Berry Salad.
Who better to serve you than Shea, a 37-year-old Abbeville native who grew up playing baseball before taking a twisty path to the kitchen of dreams.
“I never knew that such a job existed where you could come to the ballpark and create culinary fantasies,” Shea said. “Not just a great hot dog but more than one genre. I can have Asian influence, Southern influence, classic American influence and then just the wacky fun themes, too.”
Shea after earning an Economics degree at Clemson with a minor in International Trade went to work for DHEC in Charleston inspecting housing sites. When the housing market took a mortgage scandal dive, he set out for the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Tech.
That led to a job at Hall’s Chophouse, which led to a new professional life as a personal chef and caterer with expertise in barbecue and meat smoking.
The RiverDogs recruited Shea.
“Josh is incredibly creative and incredibly hard-working,” RiverDogs President/General Manager Dave Echols said. “He is indispensable to our operation. Under his guidance, the ball park food and beverage operation has reached new heights, and he’s not done yet.”
The “To Go from The Joe” menu includes 23 items plus bulk options for family dinners.
It’s the latest treat from a New York Yankees’ affiliate with concession-stand fare celebrated in major food network and magazine reviews.
“We want to keep that fun ballpark vibe going,” said Shea, whose wife, Jennifer, is a teacher in Berkeley County. “Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s busy, but our Thursdays and Fridays have been really good. We get to keep having fun and people get to come and see what we’re looking at doing with our menu in the future.”
Professional baseball in Charleston has such a rich past. Hank Aaron, Vladimir Guerrero and Derek Jeter appeared in visitors’ dugouts. Recent RiverDogs rosters have included Yankees stars Aaron Judge, Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez.
Ted Williams is among the former Major League stars who participated in exhibition games at College Park. Jackie Robinson was part of a barnstorming group of black all-stars who played in Charleston.
This season, pandemic relief takes its place among the contributions. “To Go from The Joe” takes Mondays off to deliver lunches to an MUSC coronavirus testing facility, a fire department, a police department and other honorable places.
Shea also is making sure the RiverDogs’ 200 seasonal employees, sidelined without games, get help. Ten of those people are invited each day to pick up family-style meals.
A Mount Pleasant father and son recently sampled some “To Go from The Joe” lunch items, including the Classic Cheeseburger, Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls and Smoked Brisket Melt.
Service: Courteous curbside; excellent.
Food quality: Very good
Value: $8.99 to $10.99 per item (Kids Meals $4.99-$5.99) and most with fries; above average.
Ambience: Could be better, should have had baseball music blasting loud enough from inside the ballpark to be heard at the pick-up site, with cuts from public address icon Ken Carrington saying things like “Now batting … Aaron Judge!”
Extras: One ticket voucher for a 2020 game and a free RiverDogs plastic cup included with each item; nice touch
And if you’re not able to use that ticket for an actual game this season, at least you can bring your own beverage, bring a baseball and a few gloves and play catch outside The Joe before having a picnic.
Which sure beats no baseball at all.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff