by Anton Foat
The Florida marlins are playing their last season in Sunlife Stadium, just a hop over the county line. Next year, they are scheduled to move south into their new $515 million facility with a retractable roof, under construction near downtown miami.While the new facility will have much to offer, proximity is not one of those things.So as the countdown continues on the number of games to be played in the only facility the team has ever called home, this summer is a great time to head to the ballpark and root, root, root for the home team.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU TAKE THE KIDS OUT TO THE BALLGAME
Everyone knows a kid who needs to go to a ball game.Maybe he lives down the street. Maybe your neighbors’ kids have never been to a game.Maybe you have nieces & nephews who haven’t been to a game yet. Or maybe it’s the kid in the bedroom just down the hall from yours.
Taking a kid to a ball game can be one of the most enjoyable experiences anyone can have.To be able to see the look on a kid’s face when he or she sees that first home run is priceless.But if you do it wrong, taking a kid to the game can degenerate into three hours of pure agony.Making a few easy preparations can not only make your day at the ballpark a lot easier, it can turn a summer afternoon into a memory that will last a lifetime.
A successful day at the ball game starts way in advance for the responsible adult. Sure, we’ve all had tickets drop into our laps at the last minute, and then we just grab the kids and go. But those times that can be planned in advance will surely go more smoothly than the spur of the moment games.
CHOOSE THE GAME CAREFULLY. For example, if a particular rival team is coming to town and drawing thousands of unruly rival fans (we’re not naming names here), that may not be the best game for your child’s first time. Instead, choose a game that promises to be less rowdy in the stands.Also, if it is a game that is important to you personally, bringing a young child may Not be the best idea, as you may miss a lot of the action. No kid is going to have a good time if he or she has to sit and be quiet all the way to the end so you can see your favorite closer. (I have been known to set the DVR for a game I’m taking the kids to, just in case I actually want to see what happened on the field.)
CHOOSE YOUR SEATS WITH THE KIDS IN MIND. Stay away from areas frequented by the beer man. Nothing ruins a memory of a first game like the recollection Of the drunk guy who kept yelling profanities two rows back. Probably the best place in the stadium for young kids would be right up front or in the upper deck. Up front, the kids are close enough to see all the action. Up top, the kids have a wide variety of things to look at — like the scoreboard and the mascot — as well as the game. If you’re going on a Sunday afternoon, you may want to consider seats under the overhang to stay out of the sun, which can be absolutely brutal. Oh, and bring sunscreen, a hat, and a rain poncho.
LOOK FOR DISCOUNTS, such as the Two for Tuesday promotion, in which you can get two Bullpen Box seats for the price of one. On Fridays you can take advantage of the 4 for $54 Family Four Pack, which includes four Fish Tank tickets, four hot dogs, four soft drinks and two Marlins game programs. (You can also upgrade the package to Infield Box, Field Box, Bullpen Box, Outfield Terrace, Upper Deck A Or Upper Deck B.) There is the very strong possibility that you will need to bring a child home early, and you won’t feel so bad about missing half the game if you didn’t pay full price.
PACK A BAG, but be prepared to have it inspected at the gate. Kids need to keep hydrated on a hot day, and need to drink fluids more often than adults. My kids are very happy to pack a sack of peanuts and a package of juice boxes to bring along, as a whole bunch will fit into a backpack while not violating the common stadium rule prohibiting bottles and cans. Go ahead and get some ballpark food at the stadium, like a hot dog or some popcorn, but also pack some snacks from home. Your child will have a better time with more frequent snacks, and you won’t end up paying a full day’s wages to the concessionaires. A few trinkets to keep kids entertained might come in handy, too.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD FOR THE GAME EXPERIENCE. Most kids do better being told of their upcoming trip to the ball game very shortly before the game itself. To a young child, waiting a week to go to the game is roughly the equivalent of wondering how soon Christmas is going to come. Save yourself a lot of aggravating questions like “When do we get to go the gaaaaaaame?” by giving out information on a need-to-know basis. Explain to the youngster about the size of the crowd and the din of the cheering. My kids love that part the best — the ball park is one of the places they are allowed to yell as loud as they want — but some children may find it overwhelming.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. Let the child know what kind of behavior is expected at the park. This is usually best reinforced in the stadium parking lot. It’s best to stick as closely to whatever rules and discipline that you use in everyday life. Some kids will need to try something just to see if the same rules apply in the new setting.Jump on the first infraction quickly, and it will greatly cut down on any subsequent tomfoolery. Just like in any other situation, threaten only the consequences that you are willing to follow up on. Any kid will likely figure out that you’re not going to get up and go home right away, so don’t tell them that unless you are fully prepared to do it.
SPLURGE A LITTLE. A souvenir can go a long way in cementing a kid’s first ballpark experience as a fond memory. Also, giving the child something to remember the day can help toward developing their loyalty for the team. A cap with the Marlins logo is a perfect item to give the child at the game. But don’t go paying stadium prices for logo stuff. Your boy or girl will be just as happy with their prize if they get it in the car in the parking lot as they would have been if they got it at the souvenir stand in the stadium. If they already have a cap, try a few baseball cards of players who will play on that particular day. A souvenir can be as simple as the miniature batting helmet that the ice cream came in, but it will mean a lot.
KEEP EXPLANATIONS BASIC. For a young child not familiar with the sport, the rules of baseball can be a bit overwhelming.Start by explaining that the man at the plate wants to hit the ball so he can run to the base. Then the best thing you can do is resist the urge to fill them up with every bit of baseball knowledge imaginable. They will come to you with the questions. Keep the explanations simple.When the child asks why the batter got to go to the base even though he didn’t hit the ball, explain that four bad pitches lets the man walk to first base. Then stop explaining. Kids don’t hear much beyond what answers their questions, so any additional explanation will be wasted, along with making the game seem like another day at school. There will be lots of games, both at the park and on the TV, to go over the finer points of the sport. Don’t try to make them learn it all in one day.
KEEP THEM POSTED on what’s happening next. Point out to them that if the man at the plate gets a hit the runner from third will score. Let them know that you expect the runner to attempt to steal. The more you keep their heads in the game, the better time both they and you will have. But also let the kids experience the other aspects of the stadium experience. Play the scoreboard games with them, take them to see the mascot, dance with them to the music. The kids need more than just the game to have a fun day. Raise them right and they will grow into knowledgeable baseball fans, but let them be kids at their first games.
LEAVE THE KIDS WANTING MORE. No self respecting adult baseball fan should ever leave a game early, but with kids it’s a different story. The attention span of a child is about as long as a sacrifice bunt. Never wait until the child wants to go. The objective is to have someone to attend countless games with over a lifetime, and that’s not going to happen if they get to the point of being bored at the ball game. Never, ever allow your child to utter the words “I’m bored” at the baseball game.If you let it get to that point too many times, the kids just aren’t going to want to go anymore.
Remember that the main goal is to make sure the child has fun. Make sure that your kids enjoy baseball when they’re young, and you’ll spend a lifetime enjoying the game together.
This story was adapted from a piece that originally ran on Brewerfan.net. Reprinted by permission.
Kids can join the free youth fan club called Billy’s Bunch, which includes a welcome letter from Billy The Marlin, two free vouchers to attend a 2011 Marlins home game, a Billy’s Bunch family Sunday Passport, a Billy’s Bunch drawstring bag, a free kids meal from duffy’s Sports grill, a gaby Sanchez Poster, a Billy’s Bunch dog Tag, an official Billy’s Bunch Membership Card, and a chance to win prizes. It’s free for kids 12 and under who live in Miami-dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Collier and Monroe Counties. See www.marlins.com and click on fans.
Billy the Marlin’s Stats
8 feet tall
(in bare fins)
44 inches from tip of the bill to tip of back fin
Made debut on
February 25, 1993
A Fish Called Wanda
FAVORITE TV SHOW
Tuna and sardine sandwich
Bark at the Park
Going to the game is such a family affair, the Marlins invite fans to bring the four-legged members of their clans to the park.
For two Friday nights — June 3 and August 12 — fans can bring their dogs to the game as part of a fundraiser that benefits the Humane Society of Broward County. All of the proceeds from the dog tickets sold in advance at the shelter will benefit animal welfare and rescue programs. Ticket are $6 for dogs (and kids), $12 for adults. For more information call 954-266-6818 or see www.humanebroward.com.
Family Fun at the Ballpark
Weekend Marlins games feature pre-game parties at The Strike Zone (Gate H). Arrive early for:
• Celebrity, player and alumni autograph sessions
• Appearances from Billy The Marlin, Lil’ Billy, the Mermaids and Manatees
• Interactive games, music and family activities before the game
• Giveaways of promotional items, from hats to backpacks. For giveaway schedule, see www.marlins.com
Kids’ Stuff at the Ballpark
• To build excitement for attending games, play catch with your child, watch televised games together and discuss fundamentals of the sport.
• Encourage your child to dress in team attire, paint baseball items or the team’s logo on his face and make signs to cheer on his favorite player.
• Use your programs to enhance the experience. Programs are filled with pictures, rosters, stats, profiles of players and a score card so children can learn to follow and record plays.
• Arrive early. This will enable you to find your seats, avoid concession lines, watch batting and infield practice, and take part in pre-game events. Arriving early also increases the likelihood of receiving limited giveaway items.
• Teach your child the words to the “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” song so you can join in during the seventh inning stretch — if you last that long.