There’s a conspiracy against mustard. There has to be. Steve Physioc is certain of it.
“I just think there’s been some political maneuvering away from Mustard,” the Royals broadcaster says.
The Teenie Weenie Hot Dog Race is held during every Sunday home game at Kaufmann Stadium. And on this particular day, Ketchup extends its lead on the pack in the Hot Dog Derby standings, while Mustard falls flat on its face in front of 36,450 fans.
The outcome prompts a 173-word rant (tongue somewhat firmly planted in cheek) from Physioc about the Royals rigging the race.
“Ketchup always gets the best athlete,” Physioc says. “And that is unfair.”
During the week, the Hot Dog Derby consists of jubilant, animated hot dogs prancing around the bases on the giant video screen that looms above center field. On Fridays and Saturdays, the races are run live by costumed adults.
Sundays belong to the kids.
All who run the race in the bright red, yellow and green costumes are drenched in sweat by the time they reach the finish line — if they reach the finish line at all.
Here’s the truth for Physioc and anyone else who thinks the results of the races are a farce: They aren’t. Well, that’s mostly true, anyway. The outcome of the live races is almost entirely random, but the animated races are slightly tainted.
The outcome of each live Derby race has been random since the event’s inception in 2003. And it’s stayed that way despite the fact that the Royals’ event team gets about five calls each week asking how someone — adult, kid — can be a participant in the race (answer: hopefuls can secure a spot by buying one, with proceeds donated to charity).
On this Sunday, the role of Ketchup is played by Alora Happy, an 11-year-old who sold enough cookies to attend Girl Scout Day at The K. She caught the eye of members of the Royals’ events staff, who search the first-base concourse wearing powder-blue Royals shirts and khaki-colored shorts.
Alora is the right height for the kids’ suit, which is somewhere between 4-foot-6 and 5 feet even. She wears tennis shoes, a must for racing along the Kauffman Stadium dirt. And she’s a girl — all the contestants in a given race must be of the same gender.
After Alora is picked, her dad, Darrell, turns to her with a smirk on his face. “You have to be ketchup,” he says. “Ketchup always wins.”
And so she is. The next girl with the right height and tennis shoes wants to be Relish, anyway, and the third seems happy to be Mustard.
“They just asked us, and we were all pretty good about it,” says Mark Moreno, who raced as Relish the day before. “But I think it’s rigged.”
“Now you know it’s not, though,” a Royals staffer counters.
“I’m talking about the computerized one,” Moreno says, laughing. “I know what you’re doing there.”
Fair enough, for this is where Physioc and his fellow conspiracy theorists have a point.
The Royals admit that the outcome of the animated races on the video board aren’t random like the ones on foot. The club wants the standings for the digitized races to be close when the end of the season approaches; this way, the final race determines the season-long champ. Mustard, by the way, is the winningest condiment in the race’s history, with six championships under its belt.
“They will work out to even the score,” says Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of community affairs and publicity. “They’ll do the math and figure out at some point that Ketchup, Relish and Mustard have to win this many times for it to be a three-way tie going into the end of the year.”
In a sense, the races on the board are still random. Relish could, hypothetically, expand its lead. And the 30,000 or more in Kaufmann Stadium don’t know the outcome of the race before it happens.
“It should be random,” says fan Kyla Griffitt, an avid Relish supporter. “It just really isn’t a true race — it’s fixed; it’s not fair.
“Why not just see who the real winner is?”