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CROWE'S NEST

Half of baseball buys into her idea for veggie dogs

July 22, 2008|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers is being introduced before last Friday night's game against the San Francisco Giants, and Johanna McCloy, otherwise preoccupied at AT&T Park, lets out a yelp.

"Yes," she cries. "Vegetarian."

The Berkeley-based McCloy, a self-appointed advocate for meat-eschewing baseball fans, has crossed the San Francisco Bay to promote her dreamer's quest: to add veggie dogs to the menu at every major league ballpark.

Eight years into her mission, the 43-year-old actress and Duke graduate is halfway there, with Dodger Stadium among the first to sign on and Angel Stadium still a holdout. Fielder's decision to give up meat has been a welcome shot in the arm to the cause, which has encountered pockets of hostile resistance.

Last month, after an article about McCloy appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, reader Marc Kimberly of Concord wrote: "For goodness' sakes, is there no limit to which annoying vegetarians won't go in their efforts to try to convert people from enjoying meat in favor of the bland mishmash of unappetizing and virtually tasteless 'food' these elitist snobs choke down their gullets?"

McCloy says she was equally dumbfounded when, during an appearance on a Denver radio station, her efforts were labeled un-American. Her only objective, she says, is to give fans a choice.

"I said, 'How more American can you get?' " McCloy says of her Denver radio experience. "This is a nation of immigrants, this is a nation of diversity, this is a nation of opportunity, this is a nation of saying 'yes' to everybody. How are you threatened by a couple of people to your left at a baseball game choosing to eat something other than what you're eating?"

McCloy, who lived previously in Mount Washington, was introduced to baseball by a former boyfriend and says it was while attending a game at Dodger Stadium in 2000 that she hatched her idea of promoting meatless alternatives to standard ballpark fare.

"I was blown away by the size and scope of a baseball stadium," she says, "so I thought when it came time to eat, 'There's going to be plenty of options,' and there weren't. I was a vegetarian, and I was naive."

She says she walked throughout the stadium and discovered that even a Subway sandwich stand offered no meatless choice.

The next day, she called the concessions manager.

"He said, 'You're right about the subs. We'll start doing that,' " McCloy recalls. "I thought, 'Wow.' That was really reinforcing for me because I realized all I had to do was call and now all these people can have a veggie sub.

"That kind of got me going."

Through research, she found that no big league stadium offered veggie dogs. Encouraged by vegetarians and animal-rights supporters, she launched a website, soyhappy.org, and started lobbying concession managers.

"I just thought it needed to happen because there was a certain percentage of the fan base at any given stadium that probably would not be eating at all, would bring their own food or would resort to eating only peanuts," McCloy says. "It seemed like it made good business sense. It never dawned on me that it would take off like it did. I got this following -- it was bizarre -- and I went with it."

As an actress who says her main claim to fame was a guest spot on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" -- "I was one of only two women who made out with Worf in seven seasons," she says -- McCloy was used to unconventional followings.

But this was different.

The Chicago White Sox were the first big league team to offer veggie dogs, McCloy says, and 14 more followed, among them the Giants.

"She's such a good advocate that she sort of makes it competitive between ballparks, which is cool," says Sandie Filipiak, director of concessions at AT&T Park. "It's like, 'Who's got the most vegetarian choices?' "

Through her efforts, McCloy has developed an unexpected affinity for baseball and, since her move to Berkeley in 2002, the Oakland A's.

"I've never become like a huge, avid, have-to-read-about-it-everyday kind of fan," she says, "but I really enjoy it. And I love everything about the A's. I love what they represent. I like rooting for the underdog."

She says she's drawn to the A's pluck and resourcefulness, two attributes that could be ascribed to McCloy in her nonprofit, uphill endeavor.

"I'm pretty proud of it," notes McCloy, who says she cried in 2001 when she bit into the first veggie dog served at Dodger Stadium. "I didn't realize what a big deal it was going to be, and then when I realized that it was, at first I was kind of embarrassed. But then I realized it truly was important to a lot of people and then I thought about the big picture and how this was kind of a revolution."

Will it end with veggie dogs in every stadium?

"Absolutely," McCloy says. "I think it's inevitable."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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