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The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge

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The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge
News

News

The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge

2024-04-22 23:21 Last Updated At:04-23 00:43

PHOENIX (AP) — Danielle LaFata's been around major sports ballparks and arenas most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a pro sports event.

Don't.

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Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, left, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PHOENIX (AP) — Danielle LaFata's been around major sports ballparks and arenas most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a pro sports event.

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Churro Dog HQ concession vendor offers new menu items like the Apple Pie Chimichanga and the Churro Sundae Parfait at Chase Field prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Churro Dog HQ concession vendor offers new menu items like the Apple Pie Chimichanga and the Churro Sundae Parfait at Chase Field prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Korean Pork Belly Nachos, left, and the Millionaire Steak Sandwich, right, two of the new menu items available for fans at concession food vendors at Chase Field, are displayed prior to a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Korean Pork Belly Nachos, left, and the Millionaire Steak Sandwich, right, two of the new menu items available for fans at concession food vendors at Chase Field, are displayed prior to a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A Four Bagger hamburger is shown at Truist Park before a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Atlanta. The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A Four Bagger hamburger is shown at Truist Park before a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Atlanta. The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A fan looks at the Farmer's Fridge food vending machine on the ballpark concourse at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

A fan looks at the Farmer's Fridge food vending machine on the ballpark concourse at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Workers prepare sushi at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off stadium foods Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Workers prepare sushi at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off stadium foods Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A general view of the Visiting Vegan food stand is shown at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

A general view of the Visiting Vegan food stand is shown at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Some sushi is seen at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off some foods that fans can get at a game Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Some sushi is seen at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off some foods that fans can get at a game Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Ben's Chili Bowl stand at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Ben's Chili Bowl stand at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Chicken is for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Chicken is for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cotton candy for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cotton candy for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Fans hold food items, including a Broomstick hot dog, on the main concourse at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024. Danielle LaFata’s been around major sports ballparks and arenas for most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a Major League Baseball game this summer. Don’t. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Fans hold food items, including a Broomstick hot dog, on the main concourse at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024. Danielle LaFata’s been around major sports ballparks and arenas for most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a Major League Baseball game this summer. Don’t. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Hot dogs at Nationals Park before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass

Hot dogs at Nationals Park before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass

“Go ahead and have your burger, have your hot dog, have your couple of slices of pizza,” LaFata said.

LaFata — the director of performance and nutrition for the NBA's Phoenix Suns — says her advice is simply practical and based on her own appetite. Over the past 20 years, the culinary game across the baseball landscape has exploded, with offerings like The Renegade in Pittsburgh, The 4 Bagger in Atlanta or a Polish Sausage topped with smoked brisket and spicy BBQ sauce in Chicago.

Even glancing at the pictures feels like it can raise cholesterol.

Yes, there are a few health(ier) options, particularly in places like San Francisco, where the Giants have a place called The Garden that highlights “sustainability, urban farming, and healthy eating.” Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little.

But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy.

The food offerings reflect those cravings.

Baseball occupies a unique space in the sports food world because of a few factors. For one, the 162-game regular season means each team has 81 home games, so there are lots of opportunities to sell. There's also the sport's relatively slow pace, which permits plenty of time to down a hot dog or five.

Juan Villegas Sr. walked through the Chase Field concourse — home of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks — with a big tray carrying two items called an XL Footlong Sonoran Style Dog and some Korean Pork Belly Nachos.

“Usually, I’m more of a classic guy, you know, like a regular hot dog,” Villegas said. “But me and my son had to give these a try. I’m about to devour them.”

LaFata said she likes to use an 80/20 rule when it comes to a diet, eating healthy 80% of the time while indulguing in some comfort food for the other 20%. The nutritionist said if a person knows they're going to a sporting event, they should spend the previous few days eating healthy so they can enjoy themselves.

That means plenty of veggies and lean meats like fish.

“This is going to be my 20% day, or my junk food day,” LaFata said. “Thoughout the whole week, you’re eating your 80%, you’re eating clean, you’re eating often, you’re doing all the good things you need to do for your body.”

Most customers aren't counting calories at the ballpark — and in fact, calorie counts frequently aren't even posted. Diamondbacks executive chef Stephen Tilder said Chase Field offers a handful of healthy options, but the top five sellers are almost always some variation of hot dogs, chicken tenders, popcorn, soft pretzels and nachos.

“That’ll be 90 percent of your sales at any stadium and arena, because that’s just traditional fare," he said.

There do seem to be a few exceptions in places like San Francisco, but most cities are more like Milwaukee.

“We had Impossible (Meat) at our taco stands, and we just found that it wasn’t very successful," said Loren Rue, the executive chef at the Milwaukee Brewers' ballpark. “We offered it at multiple locations, and the sales just weren’t there to prove that it was worth keeping on.”

Even so, Rue said people don't have to pack on the pounds when watching the Brewers.

“It’s not that we’re trying to limit those options,” she added. "We still have veggie dogs. We still have veggie burgers. There are options that are available to our guests. It’s just making sure the menu speaks to what the fans want.”

LaFata — the nutrionist — said there are some tips for those who don't want to pig out while watching a baseball game. Among them, it's a good idea to walk a few laps around the park, getting an idea of the selection and what options might be better than others.

Healthy options are usually clustered in a few parts of the venue.

She also suggested eating before attending the game, so you're not starving when staring at a display for an Apple Pie Chimichanga.

Though there are certainly ways to cut caloric corners, LaFata suggests it's better to quit worrying. Those who have paid to attend a sporting event might as well spend their money on the good stuff.

“Sure, we could do a bunless hot dog, or a bunless burger, and that might save 100, 150 calories if we're looking to do it that way, or if we're following a specific paleo or keto type diet and trying to cut the carbs," LaFata said.

“Or you can just take away the bun to make room for your beer!”

AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Milwaukee and Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, left, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, left, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Tim Suwinski, father of Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Suwinski, and grandson Will Hackl, both of Chicago, share a Renegade hot dog before a baseball game between the Pirates and the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Churro Dog HQ concession vendor offers new menu items like the Apple Pie Chimichanga and the Churro Sundae Parfait at Chase Field prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Churro Dog HQ concession vendor offers new menu items like the Apple Pie Chimichanga and the Churro Sundae Parfait at Chase Field prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game against the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Korean Pork Belly Nachos, left, and the Millionaire Steak Sandwich, right, two of the new menu items available for fans at concession food vendors at Chase Field, are displayed prior to a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Korean Pork Belly Nachos, left, and the Millionaire Steak Sandwich, right, two of the new menu items available for fans at concession food vendors at Chase Field, are displayed prior to a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A Four Bagger hamburger is shown at Truist Park before a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Atlanta. The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A Four Bagger hamburger is shown at Truist Park before a baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Atlanta. The culinary game at MLB ballparks has exploded in the past 20 years. Eating healthy is a challenge. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A fan looks at the Farmer's Fridge food vending machine on the ballpark concourse at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

A fan looks at the Farmer's Fridge food vending machine on the ballpark concourse at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Workers prepare sushi at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off stadium foods Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Workers prepare sushi at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off stadium foods Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A general view of the Visiting Vegan food stand is shown at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

A general view of the Visiting Vegan food stand is shown at Globe Life Field before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Some sushi is seen at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off some foods that fans can get at a game Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Some sushi is seen at American Family Field in Milwaukee during an event to show off some foods that fans can get at a game Thursday, March 28, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Ben's Chili Bowl stand at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Ben's Chili Bowl stand at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Chicken is for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Chicken is for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cotton candy for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cotton candy for sale at Nationals Park in Washington before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Fans hold food items, including a Broomstick hot dog, on the main concourse at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024. Danielle LaFata’s been around major sports ballparks and arenas for most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a Major League Baseball game this summer. Don’t. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Fans hold food items, including a Broomstick hot dog, on the main concourse at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, before a spring training baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 25, 2024. Danielle LaFata’s been around major sports ballparks and arenas for most of her adult life, so the nutritionist has one word of advice for those who want to eat healthy when attending a Major League Baseball game this summer. Don’t. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

Hot dogs at Nationals Park before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass

Hot dogs at Nationals Park before an exhibition baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Nationals Futures, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. Most parks and arenas have a handful of areas that offer salads, gluten free or vegan offerings if fans are willing to hunt a little. But the vast majority of people attending baseball games aren't necessarily looking to eat healthy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass

Next Article

Trump holds a rally in the South Bronx as he tries to woo his hometown

2024-05-25 00:18 Last Updated At:00:21

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump has campaigned in one of the most Democratic counties in the nation, holding a rally in the South Bronx as he tries to woo minority voters days before a Manhattan jury will begin deliberations on whether to convict him of felony charges in his criminal hush money trial.

Trump on Thursday addressed supporters in Crotona Park, a public green space in a neighborhood that is among the city's most diverse and its most impoverished, a change from the majority-white areas where the Republican holds most of his rallies. While the crowd was not quite as diverse as the South Bronx as a whole, it included large numbers of Black and Hispanic voters, and Spanish was heard throughout the crowd.

Trump, in his speech, cast himself as a better president for Black and Hispanic voters than President Joe Biden as he railed against Biden on immigration, an issue Trump has made central to his campaign. He insisted “the biggest negative impact” of the influx of migrants in New York is “against our Black population and our Hispanic population who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose."

Some in the crowd responded by chanting, “Build the wall,” a reference to Trump's push while in the White House to build a U.S.-Mexico border barrier.

With Trump confined to New York for much of the last six weeks because of his trial, the presumptive Republican nominee’s campaign has planned a series of local stops across his hometown before and after court. He visited a bodega in Harlem, dropped by a construction site and held a photo op at a local firehouse.

But the Bronx rally was his first event open to the general public as he insists he is making a play to win an overwhelmingly Democratic state that hasn’t backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Besides creating a spectacle of rallygoers and protesters, the rally also gave Trump an opportunity to highlight what he argues are advantages on economic and immigration issues that could cut into key Democratic voting blocs.

“The strategy is to demonstrate to the voters of the Bronx and New York that this isn’t your typical presidential election, that Donald Trump is here to represent everybody and get our country back on track,” said Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds, a potential Trump running mate who grew up in Brooklyn.

The former president opened his rally with an ode to his hometown, talking about its humble beginnings as a small Dutch trading post before becoming a glamorous capital of culture that “inspired the entire world.” While Trump established residency in Florida in 2019, he reminisced on Thursday about his efforts to revitalize Central Park's Wollman Rink and people he knew in the real estate business.

“Everyone wanted to be here," he told the enthusiastic audience. “But sadly this is now a city in decline."

“If a New Yorker can’t save this country," he went on to say, “no one can.”

Trump called several people with local ties to the stage, including Donalds and the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a former New York City Council member. He also brought up the local rappers Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow, who were indicted last year for conspiracy to commit murder by the Brooklyn district attorney's office.

Hours before Trump’s rally was set to begin, a long line of supporters decked out in red “Make America Great Again” hats and other Trump gear snaked around the park, waiting for security screening to begin. People were still entering the park well into Trump's speech, with some eager supporters sprinting up a hill toward the rally site after getting through security.

The Bronx Democratic Party protested Trump's appearance with its own event at the park.

Members of multiple unions were present, holding signs that said “The Bronx says no to Trump” in both English and Spanish.

“We are used to elected officials, to government officials, to opportunists of all kinds who come to our community and use our painful history,” said Democratic State Rep. Amanda Septimo, who represents the South Bronx. "They talk about the Bronx and everything that’s wrong with it, but they never get to the part that talks about what they’re going to do for the Bronx and we know that Trump is never going to get to that part in his speech.”

But some locals in the crowd Thursday disagreed.

Margarita Rosario, a 69-year-old who has lived in the borough for more than 60 years, said she saw Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on television the night before suggesting that the Bronx wouldn't support Trump. It spurred her to show up, holding a Trump flag and a poster that said, “Make America Great Again.”

“I got so annoyed with that. I said, ‘How dare she speak for the whole Bronx?’” Rosario said.

Muhammad Ali, a 50-year-old who lives in the Bronx and said he planned to vote for Trump in November, said he once used to think the former president was a racist but his views have changed.

“We need a patriotic president at the moment and I find Donald Trump more patriotic for the moment than Joe Biden,” said Ali, an immigrant from Bangladesh and worker for New York’s transportation agency.

At least one New Yorker in the crowd said he knew Trump from his days as a local billionaire real estate developer.

Alfredo Rosado, 62, said he’d been a Trump supporter since 1998 when he worked for several months as a fill-in summer doorman at Trump’s Trump Tower building.

Rosado recounted how Trump had asked his name and stopped to chat. “He’s the same person you see,” he said of the former president.

Trump’s campaign believes he can chip away at Biden's support among Black and Hispanic voters, particularly younger men who may not follow politics closely, but are frustrated by their economic situations and drawn to Trump’s tough-guy persona.

He's also argued the indictments he faces in New York and elsewhere make him relatable to Black voters frustrated by the criminal justice system, a statement that was harshly criticized by Biden's allies.

Biden’s campaign on Thursday released two ads aimed at undercutting Trump’s attempts to make inroads with Black voters, highlighting his propagation of the “birther” conspiracy against former President Barack Obama and his calls for the death penalty for five men wrongly convicted of rape in the 1989 Central Park Five case. A radio ad fictionalizing a conversation between a Trump campaign volunteer and a Black voter will air on national Black radio stations while a shorter television spot will air in major cities, in swing states and on digital platforms, aiming to reach voters in the Bronx near Trump’s rally.

The rally comes during a pause in Trump’s criminal hush money trial. Court will resume following the Memorial Day weekend with closing arguments. The jury will then decide whether Trump will become the first former president in the nation's history to be criminally convicted and whether he will be the first major party presidential candidate to run as a convicted felon.

The Bronx was once the most Democratic borough in the city. Barack Obama won 91.2% of the borough's vote in 2012, the highest in the state. Biden won 83.5% of the borough in 2020. Trump garnered only 16% of the vote.

The area Trump visited is overwhelmingly non-white — a departure from most of his rally locations. About 65% of residents are Hispanic and 31% Black, according to the U.S. Census data. About 35% live below the poverty line.

As he wrapped up his speech, Trump said he woke up Thursday uncertain of the reception he'd get in the Bronx.

"I said, ‘I wonder, will it be hostile or will it be friendly?’" he said. "It was beyond friendly. It was a lovefest.”

This story has been corrected to show the rappers were charged last year, not this month.

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington and Liset Cruz in New York contributed to this report.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump prepares to speak at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump prepares to speak at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gather ahead of a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gather ahead of a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of the Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gather for a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of the Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gather for a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former Rep. George Santos, right, takes pictures with supporters outside a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former Rep. George Santos, right, takes pictures with supporters outside a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

A banner in support of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is set up before a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

A banner in support of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is set up before a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of the Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump pick up posters ahead of a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Supporters of the Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump pick up posters ahead of a campaign rally in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, May. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with construction workers at the construction site of the new JPMorgan Chase headquarters in midtown Manhattan, April 25, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with construction workers at the construction site of the new JPMorgan Chase headquarters in midtown Manhattan, April 25, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

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