They are a stadium concessions staple and the subject of seventh-inning-stretch song lyrics. But for fans who are allergic to peanuts, attending the old ballgame becomes a life-or-death gamble — particularly in open-air parks where wind can carry peanut dust and shells farther than most routine fly balls.
Those willing to take the risk often resort to wiping down stadium chairs and armrests, plotting alternate routes to rest rooms to avoid piles of shells under nearby seats and asking neighboring fans not to toss shells on the ground in the first place. Often, the mere proximity to peanuts proves too intimidating. The fearful fans break for home before the onset of an anaphylaxic reaction, which may include swelling of the throat and tongue, making breathing difficult or impossible without immediate treatment.
Thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of allergic fans, several sports organizations are now addressing their unfortunate plight. On April 27, the Minnesota Twins announced they would reserve a peanut-free seating section inside the Metrodome during four games this season. Last summer, the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos for the first time played their entire home schedule in a peanut-free Commonwealth Stadium. Considered drastic by some, these measures nonetheless have created safer environments and sound public relations. According to Jamie Farber, public relations manager for the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps, fans travel great distances to attend the one game each season during which Fifth Third Ballpark is peanut-free. "We have people coming from the other side of our state and from neighboring states specifically for this game," Farber says.
The Whitecaps have been earmarking such a date on their 70-game home schedule since 2003, but not without considerable effort. Cleaning crews work well into the night on the eve of the peanut-free game, scouring the stadium for peanuts and peanut residue in the seating bowl, the press box, even front-office desk drawers. Concessions items containing peanuts as an ingredient, such as candy bars and ice cream treats, are taken off site, as are any products whose packaging includes a disclaimer that they were produced in facilities where peanuts are processed. "We really want to make it as safe as possible," says Farber, adding that the idea stemmed from a mother whose son would be unable to attend a school field trip to the ballpark due to his peanut allergy. "She asked us to consider hosting a peanut-free day, and it was one of those things that we had never thought about," Farber says. "The more we thought about it, we concluded, 'Yes, peanuts are a part of baseball, but so are little boys.' It just seemed natural to get rid of peanuts at least for one day so it will be safe for all fans to come to the game."
Farber admits that the Whitecaps can't guarantee that on that one day peanuts won't be smuggled into the stadium, even though security personnel regularly screen for carry-in food and beverage items. (In Edmonton, a P.A. announcement piped outside Commonwealth Stadium alerts fans approaching the turnstiles that they will be checked for weapons, alcohol and peanuts.)
The Whitecaps promote peanut-free day via press releases, pocket schedules and the sympathetic pen of a local sports editor whose son suffers from a peanut allergy. "We have also submitted information to different allergy network web sites," adds Farber, who says word of mouth has been a big reason why peanut-free day attendance has grown steadily over the years from just "one or two kids" in 2003. Meanwhile, allergy-free Whitecaps fans have been welcoming. "We have found our fans to be very supportive," Farber says. "People do want their baseball with peanuts, but they understand that for one game they can go without."