How Nachos Became A Ballpark Staple

At major league ballparks, in the middle of the seventh inning, the crowd will stand and sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," a ditty celebrating (among other things) the joy of peanuts and Cracker Jack. The world has moved on since 1908 when the song was written. Sure, both concessions staples are still available (although the latter may now be called by the more egalitarian moniker of Cracker Jills ), but fans have a much wider array of ballpark foods from which to choose. Among fancier offerings such as lobster rolls, elk sausages, and ice cream-topped churros, there are a couple of staple offerings: popcorn, hotdogs, and nachos. Well, one particular type of nachos — the appropriately named "ballpark nachos" that were invented at Arlington Stadium (home to the Texas Rangers until 1993).

The original nachos were invented by accident, they say, when a bunch of hungry military wives walked into a bar. The proprietor, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, didn't have much on hand with which to feed them, so he improvised with tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeños. This style of nachos as well as more elaborate versions with meat, beans, and such over-the-top ingredients as pineapple, sauerkraut, and scrambled eggs, can easily be made at home or in a restaurant kitchen. However, they don't lend themselves well to being eaten from a plastic tray at the stadium. Enter ballpark nachos, the brainchild of a man named Frank Liberto. What was Liberto's contribution that turned nachos into a ballpark staple? Two words: cheese sauce.

What makes ballpark nachos different?

Ballpark nachos, as opposed to traditional nachos, typically don't have cheese or other toppings baked on top. Instead, the naked chips come in one compartment of a tray, with a puddle of goopy orange sauce in another. Pickled jalapeños and more cheese sauce may be scooped over the top, but these additions typically don't spend enough time in contact with the chips to make them soggy.

The reason Liberto, an Arlington Stadium concessionaire, invented this dish was not so much out of necessity as expediency. The quicker the snack is to make, the more customers you can serve, and the faster the lines will move. He introduced his cheese-sauced chips in 1976 and they soon became the park's most popular snack — fully 40% of patrons were buying them. Beverage sales also went up, thanks to the thirst-inducing jalapeños. Two years later, nachos were being offered at Dallas Cowboys games. It was there that announcer Howard Cosell discovered them. He started talking them up in his own inimitable (but oft-imitated) way, and before long, they were on everyone's radar. Now you can find ballpark nachos not only at sports stadiums, but at movie theaters, convention centers, and any place else where basic concessions are sold. Still, the best way to experience them is at a ballgame — for preference, served up in a souvenir plastic batting helmet.