Baker baseball team hits Maple Leaf homerun with Cherrito’s meats
The Maple Leaf Festival offers visitors plenty of opportunities to satisfy their hunger. There are food stands offering the usual festival fair of funnel cakes, kettle corn, walking tacos, brats, barbecue, hamburgers and the always popular turkey legs from Baker University’s Kappa Sigma fraternity.
The most visually striking food booth is that of the Baker University baseball team, located just east of the Baldwin City Post Office on Seventh Street. Providing the visual spark are the lemons and limes for the cherry lemonade and limeade available at the booth. That color helps attract thirsty festival visitors to the booth, said longtime BU baseball coach Phil Hannon, but adds that Frank Cherrito, provider of the large Italian sausages and jumbo dogs the food booth serves, has another trick to reel in customers.
“He told me once, ‘Here’s a little secret. You can make people hungry by blowing that smoke into the crowd,’” Hannon said. “He directs his fan to blow the smoke from the smoker into the crowd.”
Customers do respond to the scent, and the booth often has hungry festival visitors lined up 50 to 75 feet deep waiting to order. The demand can be overwhelming when the crowd starts moving westward from the parade a block to the east, said Baker senior Frank Thompson, of Overland Park, who has worked the stand for four years. That’s a good thing for the busy baseball team members, he said.
“It’s a good team bonding event because we have to work as a team and trust each other during the busy times,” he said. “It’s a fun time. You get to interact with the Baldwin City community and the students from Baker. I always see people from Overland Park.”
Helping the ballplayers get through the rush periods is the knowledge that four-member crew will work only two hour shifts before being relieved by a fresh crew, Thompson said.
Hannon, who started his new job last spring as the school’s assistant director of special gifts and is turning the job of running the stand to new baseball coach Ryan Goodwin, said he traditionally scheduled upperclassmen to work the peak festival periods and broke in two freshmen with a couple of upperclassmen during slower hours.
Also relieving the pressure on team members is the active participation of Cherrito, his mother, sisters and children. They do the cooking, leaving it to the baseball players to serve customers and collect money, Hannon said.
The baseball team formed its successful festival partnership with Cherrito nine years ago, Hannon. Before that, the team tried selling baked goods parents made, but despite the hard work of parents and players it “wasn’t worth the hassle” because baked goods were available so many other places at the festival.
The connection to Cherrito was made through a former Baker athletic trainer who was a member of a competitive barbecue team. After meeting Cherrito at an event and learning he wanted to add the Maple Leaf Festival to those he attended, the trainer suggested Hannon get in touch.
Cherrito’s foot-long sausages or jumbo dogs piled high with onions and peppers have been a hit since. Hannon said the sausage maker brings 50 cases of meat with 24 dogs each to the festival.
“There’s not many times he takes more than five cases home,” he said. “There’s times someone will buy a case from him. He gives us a portion of that, too.”
Cherrito also provides the limeade and lemonade sold at the booth, Hannon said. That has been big during the hot festival days of the last few years.
“When people get hot and thirsty, that can make the booth go above and beyond good to great,” he said.
He used money from the stand last year to buy team equipment, Hannon said. New coach Goodwin has indicated he’ll use the money to take the Wildcats’ junior varsity team on more road trips, Hannon said.
With Hannon stepping away from the food booth, the new coach will get an introduction to festival crowds. It can be a cultural shock, Thompson said.
“The first year of the festival, I thought it wouldn’t be that big,” he said. “I looked outside my dorm window during the parade on Saturday morning and thought ‘Oh my god.’ I was in complete shock. It’s way different. You can walk around Baldwin on many weekends and see maybe two or three people. It gets so crowded during the festival sometimes, you can’t even walk.”