A Lesson in the Economics of the Ballpark Frank

On the eve of the Mariners’ opening day, Joe’s Grilled Gourmet Dogs owner Joe Bernstein has high hopes and a lot of hot dogs.

Joe Bernstein has been slinging sausages since before the Mariners last went to the playoffs—which, as anyone who suffers the affliction of being a fan knows, is a long time. Having started selling pizza with his father in the old Kingdome days, Bernstein has become a fixture of the game-day experience. Fans who pass by Joe’s Grilled Gourmet Dogs outside Safeco Field might find the Seattle native holding a particularly beefy dog in his tongs and declaring “Would you look at the size of this one?” In anticipation of the Mariners’ home opener this Friday, we asked Bernstein about business and baseball.

Last year was a pretty huge disappointment for Mariners fans. How did it impact business? It was one of the best years we had had in 10 years, actually. Everybody had high hopes and it didn’t stop until reality struck, which was about the end of August. Then it went down to nobody going. But if you take a look at the attendance numbers, it was crazy.

Do you think that last year’s poor showing is going to affect business this season? No, because I still get people walking up to my hot-dog stand at other events and saying “Are you ready for the Mariners?” Of course, some say “Here we go again.” But my response is “Look at it this way: We have hope this year. We’ve got a whole brand-new team, lots of new players. Nobody can name ‘em, not quite yet, but there are high hopes.” Sure, last year we had high hopes too, and when you look back at the debacle of getting Richie Sexson and Adrián Beltré, we had high hopes then. But the thing is, how many teams have no hope whatsoever? You can name a lot of them. How many teams suck and they sucked last year and they’re going to suck next year and they know it?

We still have high hopes. That’s what’s exciting about it. I still haven’t figured out why. Again, the talk of the town is that the Mariners can go to the playoffs again, just like last year. Though last year they screwed up.

How do you prepare for baseball season? Well, I’m pretty seasoned, to tell you the truth. We’ve already had Sounders, which started two months ago, so it’s not like back in the old days before we had Sounders and before we had WaMu Theatre. It’s a pretty active lifestyle down in SoDo right now, just about year-round. But for baseball there is a different kind of buzz. Each sport has its own buzz, but there is nothing like baseball and springtime at the same time.

What is your routine for opening day? Opening day is like the first day of school. I won’t sleep. I’ll get there super-early. I’ll probably be there at 6 o’clock in the morning, get everything set up and just get ready.

Have you been keeping track of the off-season moves? No. But they’ve been making so many moves, not even the big fans can keep track. Everyone seems to think that it’s looking good, though. It’s lookin’ real good. But, you know, they said the same damn thing last year at this time, and we were real good. And we should have been in the playoffs last year, except that damn, what’s his name, Rodney? The closer? I blame it on him. How many saves did he blow? Take away 50 percent of those blown saves and we’re in the playoffs.

You name your hot dogs after players. Do you think you’re going to be adding anyone to the menu this year? How I do it, nowadays, is that they’ve gotta earn it. In the old days, I immediately jumped on the Sexson and Beltré bandwagon, put their names up there. I ended up putting my foot in my mouth. People would walk by and say, “Oh, yeah, the Sexson dog, eh?” So the rule now is that they’ve gotta earn it. The names do matter. When you’ve got a bad name up there, nobody buys it.

Do you have a prediction for this season? I’m gonna say we’re gonna get 89 wins. I feel it. I feel the buzz. E


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