Wineka column: Legion volunteers help us relish the games, hot dogs at Newman Park
SALISBURY — Harry Agner and his crew open the window to the Newman Park hot dog stand at 6 p.m.
By 6:20 and into the second inning or so, lines form in front of the two windows for orders. You get your hot dogs the way you want them here. Most people like their dogs all the way — which is mustard, chili and onions.
But you could have just plain mustard or ketchup or even a “naked” dog if that’s the way you roll.
Many years ago, people called these hot dogs “Pinky dogs,” in honor of legionnaire James P. “Pinky” Trexler who for decades oversaw the hot-dog concession at Rowan County American Legion baseball games.
In fact, some people still might come by the concession stand, once known as “Pinky’s Joint,” and ask for “two Pinky dogs, please.”
Trexler, 92, continues to help out, wrapping hot dogs for about an hour before every home game. In 1988, he was inducted into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame for his devoted support of baseball here — but mainly for the hot dogs.
Agner has been the chief dog going on 18 seasons now.
“I guess I love it,” Agner says of his own devotion as a volunteer.
Pinky used to incorporate red hot dogs into his buns, and many people assumed it was how he got his nickname. Agner learned from Pinky himself that the nickname actually comes from Trexler’s middle name, which is “Pinckney.”
After Agner took over, he switched to today’s all-beef hot dog.
Though this Harold B. Jarrett Post stand also sells hamburgers, chips and drinks, it’s the hot dogs people usually demand.
Agner, who also manages the Salisbury Farmers Market Wednesday and Saturday mornings, is a numbers man. Over his 18 years at Newman Park, season sales have ranged from 13,000 to 18,000 hot dogs, depending on how far the team went into the playoffs.
There have been times when one game’s totals went over 1,000 hot dogs.
In an eight- to 10-week period — again, depending on how far the team goes into the playoffs — Agner counts on at least 20 home games.
He warns the other faithful Legion volunteers who work with him that the hot dog stand is a real commitment.
“Your time is not your own during the eight to 10 weeks,” Agner says.
Six American Legion posts in Rowan County combine to sponsor the legion team in Salisbury. And those posts have different responsibilities at the Newman Park games — from tickets to concessions. The workers are all volunteers.
Another concession stand in the ballpark, for example, sells only peanuts and popcorn. One post is responsible for going through the crowd and selling half-and-half tickets.
Agner actually relies on three crews of about five men each to help him on the Harold B. Jarrett Post’s hot-dog side of concessions. They change shifts about every hour or hour-and-a-half.
Standing on the concrete floor can take its toll, says Agner, who is 82 himself.
The hot dogs sell for $2 each; hamburgers, $3. (The price went up this year.)
On the day of games, Agner routinely shows up at Newman Park at 4:15 or 4:30 p.m., and he starts chopping onions, heating chili and getting the bread warmer going. The first crew reports at 5:30 p.m., and hot dogs are being made and wrapped by the time the windows open at 6 p.m.
Many fans plan on eating the hot dogs as their supper.
“We’ll have people order as many as eight to 10 hot dogs,” Agner says. “One man ordered six and ate them all himself.”
After each home game, players and coaches also receive two hot dogs and a drink for free.
Agner says he orders and picks up all of his supplies from Sam’s Club or Orrell’s Food Service in Linwood. He might buy 2,000 hot dogs at a time from Orrell’s, he says.
Some fans will take hot dogs home with them on the way out to their cars at night. Agner says sportscaster Howard Platt encourages folks to do just that as they’re listening to the games on the radio.
Things such as hot dog and ticket sales are crucial to the baseball association the posts formed to run the American Legion baseball program.
The posts actually sponsor two teams — the “A” and “B” (Junior Legion) entries. The big crowds and loyal fan following are associated with the “A” team.
Each team has three coaches, who are paid salaries. At each home game, two umpires get paid $88 each. Playoff games have three umpires.
Bus transportation to away games runs about $10,000 for a season. The legion’s baseball association also must pay for the Newman Park’s cleanup after every home game.
Agner says the legion posts buy 50 dozen baseballs for the two teams. In addition, at the end of the year, they hold a team banquet for the players, coaches and parents and a dinner for all the volunteers and their spouses.
The legion’s baseball association also awards a $1,000 scholarship to each graduating player who is headed off to college.
It’s an impressive operation, co-managed this year by Voight Basinger and Mark Cauble and for many years by Bob Lowman.
“We feel like we’re one of the top five legion programs in the state,” Agner says. “I’d like to say we’re the top.”
But Agner worries a bit about how long the legionnaires can keep things going without some new blood.
Recently, during a slow period in the middle innings, Agner looked around the hot dog stand, and the five guys inside ranged in age from 75 to 87.
What’s going to happen in five or 10 years, he asks. Who will be the people available to carry on this legion legacy?
With Newman Park, one of the oldest surviving baseball grandstands in the country, Salisbury has its own Fenway Park.
The young legion players sometimes play before crowds larger than those attending minor league games. Few professional teams, let alone legion baseball teams, have two radio stations and a newspaper covering their games.
So something special happens here every summer, and it’s worth taking in now and then.
Just like an all-beef hot dog with mustard, chili and onions.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.