One of America’s favorite pastimes is attending major and minor league baseball games, and with four major teams spring training in Palm Beach County, checking out a game is easier than ever.
Before you and your family head to the ballpark, consider how to make it a more memorable experience.
“If your child isn’t an avid fan of any particular team, choose one nearby that is having a good season or has several star players to keep it interesting,” said Chris Kemple, a minor league spokesperson. “Next, get on the team’s website to see which games offer special promotions for kids — either in giveaways, pre- or post-game events or discounted tickets.”
That’s what Deborah Rowe does. As former minor league team booster members, she and her husband have always enjoyed attending baseball games. “When our daughter came along, we wanted to give her that same opportunity,” she said. Her daughter is now 5. “Hannah and I sit at the computer and go over which games have special promotions so she can pick the ones she wants to see.”
To build excitement for attending games, play catch with your child, watch televised games together and discuss fundamentals of the sport. If your child hasn’t signed up to play in an area league, encourage participation.
Bill Mitchell has done this. By the time his son was 3, Mitchell was taking him to major and minor league games. “When our team wasn’t home, we’d watch the major leagues on TV,” Mitchell said of his now-11-year-old son. “He’d ask questions about the game, and we’d discuss different players and their positions. Now he’s a newspaper and internet guy. He loves to read the stats and go online to see how different teams and players are doing.”
Following teams online is easy.
“Nearly all major and minor league teams have websites with pages designed specifically for children. Some are simple, others are more detailed,” said Meghan Essman, a major league fan development and educational programs administrator. “The elaborate ones teach children about the team and the sport on their level. Some even have video clips kids can watch and word searches, coloring pages or wallpaper downloads.”
Spring training in February and March brings plenty of teams to South Florida. Websites such as springtrainingconnection.com/jupiter give families the details of the ballpark in Jupiter and the spring training schedules of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins. For the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and the schedules of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, check out springtrainingconnection.com/west-palm-beach.
Families should also join team-affiliated kids’ clubs, which are a good way to introduce children to baseball and build enthusiasm for attending games. For a minimal cost, kids can join and receive discounted tickets, invitations to special events, newsletters, a membership card and team-related sundries.
Before leaving home, encourage your child to dress in team attire. Mitchell does this. “He has several team jerseys, so he’ll find out which one the team is playing in and wear his like it; he wears his cap, too,” he said of his son. “When he was younger, the players called him the bubblegum kid because he’d tote along a container of bubblegum and offer them some as they went onto the field. This made him feel really special.”
Some children make signs for their favorite players to cheer them on. Others do face painting, either at home or when they get to the park.
“I suggest kids bring along a glove in the event a foul ball heads their way,” Essman said. “Don’t forget your camera either.”
Whatever you do, arrive early. “Most stadiums open their gates 60 to 90 minutes prior to game start so patrons can find their seats, avoid food and concession lines, receive limited giveaway items and watch pre-game events and batting and infield practice,” Kemple said.
That’s how Hannah Rowe landed several signature balls. “We always arrive early so we can watch the team practice,” her mother said. “It’s also the best time to get the players’ autographs. One time before a game, Hannah was standing by the guardrail asking for autographs when a player came up and signed her ball. She was so excited and started hollering, ‘Look what I got! Look what I got!'”
Game programs can be used to enhance the experience, too, Kemple said. “They are usually filled with rosters, stats and profiles of home team players and may even contain a score card so children can learn to follow and record plays.”
Above all, bear in mind your child’s age and attention span. If he grows restless of watching the game, look for other activities to provide a diversion.
Most ballparks today offer non-baseball kids’ interactive games and activities such as bounce houses, playgrounds, speed pitches and virtual games. These may enable you to stay until the game ends so you can cheer your team on and take part in any post-game events, most of which are geared for families.
Although the Rowes arrive early for games, they almost always leave before that final out. “Hannah loves the whole ballpark ambiance, but by the seventh inning, she’s ready to go,” Rowe said. “I know as she gets older and learns more about the game, she’ll enjoy it even more. For now, she just likes watching the team play, seeing the mascots and special events and receiving the giveaways. It’s what keeps her coming back for more.”
Denise Morrison Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and has four grandchildren.