A small boy with a big bat hovers over home plate. When the pitch comes in, he rips it and runs to first.
While the scene looks like a typical Little League game, it’s actually taking place at the Kansas City Royals Kauffman Stadium. Behind the left-field stands is a whole area devoted to kids, including a miniature baseball field where boys and girls can see how their baseball skills measure up.
It’s all part of a trend of baseball teams trying to find ways to appeal to the entire family — making the stadium a destination where there’s more to do than just watch baseball.
“Baseball teams are delivering a little something for everyone,” said Josh Pahigian, co-author of “The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan’s Guide to Major League Stadiums” (Lyons Press, 2012). “For foodies there are ballpark gourmet items. For true baseball fans they’ve added stats like pitch speed to the scoreboards. For history buffs they’ve added historic displays and halls of fame.”
But perhaps some of the biggest changes are focused on children. As teams build new stadiums and renovate old ones, they are putting more kid-friendly features in place. For example, many ballparks now have a specialized children’s play area that offers batting cages, base running, or other baseball-related activities.
“Children’s areas are helping MLB facilities expand their business, expand their brands, and connect youth with sports,” said Greg Sherlock, a project designer and principal with Populous, a Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm that specializes in ballpark design. “The younger that teams can connect with fans, the better chance they have of growing the game.”
But Sherlock cautions against teams going too far.
“Ballparks aren’t meant to be carnivals,” said Sherlock. “Areas for children shouldn’t overpower the game itself. Instead, they should be a place where parents and children can recharge and connect with the game-day experience in different, but authentic, ways.”
These parks offer some of the best family-friendly features for fans who like to do more than just sit back and watch:
Minute Maid Park
Kids expect a baseball park to feature baseball. But in a fun twist, Houston’s park highlights trains. Built on the site of a former train station, the ballpark has a train out front and a massive, working steam engine high atop the left field outer wall. A conductor drives the train along its 800-foot track, pulling the train’s whistle at the start of each game, after each Astro home run, and whenever the team wins. Appropriately, the engine’s coal tender is filled with (Minute Maid) oranges. The park also has quirky features for kids to spot, such as an actual hill in centerfield, a flagpole right in the outfield, a huge old-fashioned gas pump that counts home runs, and a roof that opens and closes. Tickets from $1 children, $5 adults, hot dog $4.75, 501 Crawford St., 713-259-8000, www.astros.com
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The Giants put a retired cable car near the outfield stands. Kids can climb aboard to watch the game or ring the loud bell. A giant soda bottle houses two curvy tunnel slides. Nearby is a sculpture of a massive, old-fashioned four-finger glove. And since the ballpark abuts the bay, kids can watch for “splash hits’’ that fly over the stadium wall, drop into the water, and are scooped up by waiting kayakers. Tickets prices vary, but can start below $10, hot dog $5, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, 415-972- 2000, www.sfgiants.com
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
This stadium is hard to beat for kid-friendly activities. The team’s Outfield Experience area has batting cages, a timed base run, a pitching mound, a baseball-related electronic game lounge, and a full-scale carousel with galloping horses. There’s also a playground with slides and a mini ballpark where kids can try to hit four pitches. A unique attraction is an actual five-hole miniature golf course (baseball themed, of course). Tickets from $10, hot dog $5, 1 Royal Way, 800-676-9257,
MIAMI MARLINS Park
The Marlins take bobbleheads to the next level in their new ballpark. The team’s Bobblehead Museum houses almost 700 bobbleheads from different MLB teams. The entire structure vibrates slightly, leaving lots of nodding heads staring back at you. Fish-loving children in premium seats will also appreciate the wide aquariums on either side of home plate, filled with colorful fish. On Saturday Spectacular days, fans can sit back after the game and enjoy fireworks and a laser show. Tickets from $10 or $13 for most games, hot dog $6, 1390 Northwest 6th St., 877-411-2012, www.marlins.com
The Braves have one of the biggest children’s areas in baseball, starting with its Sky Field attraction on top of the outfield roof. Sky Field features a giant, LED-lighted Coke bottle, picnic areas, and a miniature base path for kids to run. A large play area called the Taco Mac Family Zone has a tree house for climbing, a giant Tomahawk, and a slide. Kids can work
off energy on the nearby miniature baseball fields or work on their finger dexterity in the Xbox Kinect area. In addition, the team’s Scouts Alley has two speed pitch and two hitting games. Tickets from $6 for
selected games, hot dog $4.50, 755 Hank Aaron Drive Southeast, 404-522-7630, www.braves.com
BOSTON RED SOX
Fenway Park hasn’t got the amusement park features found in some new ballparks, but it still delivers when it comes to kids. With a little help (and perhaps a Morse code chart from your favorite search engine) kids can try to decipher the Morse code running down the white lines on the Green Monster scoreboard. More fun can be found at Wally’s World, on Yawkey Way, where boardwalk games, a speed pitch, a bean-bag toss, and the Red Sox mascot Wally await. Wally’s World is open every Saturday and Sunday game day in June and September, and every home game in July and August. Tickets from $12, hot dog $4.50,
4 Yawkey Way, 877-733-7699,
WASHINGTON NATIONALS Park
Some teams, including the Nationals, let kids onto the field. Children ages 4-12 can run the bases after select Sunday home games. They can also cheer on racing presidents during the fourth inning of home games. George Washington, Tom Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, dressed in costumes and really giant foam heads, dash from the outfield to first base. Consider cheering for Teddy, who hasn’t won a race since they started in 2006. Tickets with a hot dog,
chips, and a soda start at $14 on Saturdays and Sundays, hot dog $4.75, 1500 South Capitol St. SE, 202-675-NATS, www.nationals.com
Even though he doesn’t drop into a giant mug of beer anymore, Bernie Brewer still lights up games for kids and fans at Milwaukee’s ballpark. After home runs, the giant, baseball uniform-clad mascot slides down a huge yellow slide onto a home plate-shaped platform. He also leads cheers during the game from his own dugout perched high above the left field bleachers. The funniest part of the game is the Famous Sausage Race, when a Bratwurst, Polish, Italian, Hot Dog, and Chorizo compete in a silly foot race. Tickets from $9, hot dog $3.25, 1 Brewers Way, 414-902-4000, www.brewers.com
The Tigers Comerica Park has a definite amusement park feel, with an actual Ferris wheel and a customized carousel. The Ferris wheel has 12 baseball-shaped cars, while the carousel features tigers instead of the usual horses. For added animal attraction, a tiger growl plays on the PA system after Tiger home runs. Postgame fireworks light up the sky after many Friday and Saturday night games. Tickets from $5, hot dog $5.50, 2100 Woodward Ave., 313-962- 4000, www.tigers.com
Camden Yards updated its Kids Corner to feature a moon bounce, speed pitch, a batting cage, and more. The park should be a favorite of baseball-crazy kids also because it’s one of the easiest ballparks to snag a real MLB baseball during batting practice or a game. “Camden Yards is the absolute best for getting baseballs,” said Zack Hample, ballhawk (over 5,000 to his name) and author of “The Baseball.” Hample offers young ballhawks a tip: Look at the starting pitchers’ stats and use them to predict where balls will go, and where you should be during the game. Tickets from $9, hot dog $2.50, 333 West Camden St., 888-848-2473, www.orioles.com
David A. Kelly, author of “The Ballpark Mysteries’’ chapter books for children, can be reached at www.ballparkmys