A small boy with a big bat hovers over home plate. When the pitch comes, 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 skills measure up.
It's all part of a trend of 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.
"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
If your young fans have already run the bases at the Oakland Coliseum or slid down the soda-bottle slide at AT&T Park, it's time to head out of town to experience the kid-friendly features that now abound at MLB parks. Start in Detroit, where the Tigers have a 12-car Ferris wheel with baseball-shaped seats. Or head to the Miami Marlins stadium, where you can visit the Bobblehead Museum. And in Milwaukee, there's a sausage race that pits a Bratwurst, Polish, Italian, Hot Dog and Chorizo against each other between innings.
Here's a guide to the best ballparks for kids:
The Tigers' ballpark has a definite amusement park feel, with a 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 a Tigers player hits a home run. Postgame fireworks light up the sky after many Friday and Saturday night games.
Tickets start at $5; a hot dog is $5.50. 2100 Woodward Ave., 313-962-4000, www.tigers.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 start at $10; a hot dog is $5. 1 Royal Way, 800-676-9257, www.royals.com
The Baltimore ballpark updated its Kids Corner to feature a moon bounce, a 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 (with more than 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 start at $9; a hot dog is $2.50. 333 W. Camden St., 888-848-2473, www.orioles.com
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 outer left-field 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 center field, a flagpole in the outfield, a huge old-fashioned gas pump that counts home runs and a roof that opens and closes.
Tickets start at $1 for children and $5 for adults; a hot dog is $4.75. 501 Crawford St., 713-259-8000, www.astros.com
The Marlins take bobbleheads to the next level at 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 also will appreciate the wide aquariums on either side of home plate that are filled with colorful fish. On Saturday Spectacular days, fans can sit back after the game and enjoy fireworks and a laser show.
Tickets start at $10 or $13 for most games; a hot dog is $6. 1390 NW. Sixth 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 basepath 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 areas and two hitting games.
Tickets start at $6 for selected games; a hot dog is $4.50. 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE, 404-522-7630, www.braves.com
BOSTON RED SOX
Fenway Park doesn't have 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 beanbag toss and the Red Sox mascot Wally await. Wally's World is open every home game in July and August and every weekend game day in September.
Tickets start at $12; a hot dog is $4.50, 4 Yawkey Way, 877-733-7699, www.redsox.com
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 also can cheer on racing presidents during the fourth inning of home games. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, dressed in costumes and 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 weekends; a hot dog is $4.75. 1500 S. 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 start at $9; a hot dog is $3.25, 1 Brewers Way, 414-902-4000, www.brewers.com
David A. Kelly is the author of "The Ballpark Mysteries" chapter books for children. Contact him via email@example.com.