Take Me Out to the Ballgame

on 11/20/2002


How to take a kid to a baseball game.

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 grandchildren or neices & nephews who havn'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 the kid's face when he sees his 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 to bear, it can turn a summer afternoon ito a memory that will last a lifetime.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker-Jack

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, & than 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 geographic rival is coming to town and bringing thousands of unruly rival fans with them, 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'll miss a lot of the game. No kid is going to have a good time if they have 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 VCR for a game I'm taking the kids to, just in case I actually want to see what happenned on the field.

Choose a seat location with the kids in mind. Stay away from areas frequented by the beer man. If you don't mind a one game prohibition, see if your stadium has an alcohol free section. 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 places in the stadium for young kids would be right up front or way up 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. And look for your home team's discount games. 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 only paid half price for the tickets.

Pack a bag. Kids need to keep hydrated on a hot day, and need to drink fluids more often than adults. My kids are very happy to bring 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.

Dress for the climate. No one likes having to placate a child who is too warm or too cold, so just get a good look at what they're wearing and match it against the weather report before you go. Also, if you are a fan of the visiting team, don't make the child wear the hostile colors to the game. So you Cardinal fans who plan on visiting Wrigly, leave the Redbird stuff at home when toting the little ones. And pack a change of clothes in that bag. Nothing is more frustrating than paying $100 for a team logo sweatshirt when there's a whole closet full of perfectly good sweatshirts at home.

Be sure to prepare the child for what they will experience. Most kids do better being told of their upcoming trip to the ballgame very shortly before the game itself. To a young child, waiting a week to go to the ball 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 few places they are allowed to yell as loud as they want.

Let the child know what kind of behavior is expected at the park. This is usually best done 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 quick, 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 use. Any kid will likely figure out that we're not going to have to get up and go home right away, so don't tell them that unless you are fully prepared to do it.

The rules of baseball can be a bit overwhelming for a young child, so keep your explanations basic. 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 ove rthe finer points of the sport of kings. Don't try to make them learn it all in one day.

Keep the kids safe at the park, especially the preschoolers. When I took my three year old daughter to her first game, I introduced her to one of the ushers and told her to find someone wearing this uniform if she got lost. Also, not a bad idea to stick a piece of paper in the child's pocket with your name and cell phone number on it.

Root, root, root for the home team

A souvineer can go a long way in cementing a kid's first ball park experience as a fond memory. Also, giving the child something to remember the day can be a good way in developing their loyalty for your favorite team. A cap with the logo of your favorite team is a perfect item to give the child at the game. And 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 souvineer stand in the stadium. If they already have a cap, maybe a few baseball cards that picture the players that will play on that particular day. And don't forget the fun kids have waving a pennant at the game. I took my five year old son to the All Star Futures Game, and he was perfectly happy having an American Flag to wave for the home team. A souvineer could be as small as the miniature batting helmet that the ice cream came in, but it will mean a lot to the child.

Prepare the kids for what's happening next in the game. 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 knowledgable baseball fans, but let them be kids at their first games.

Go ahead and visit whatever kid friendly attractions are in your stadium, but be careful how you do it. For example, if you are going to Comerica Park in Detroit, by all means take the kids on the tiger carousel. But don't go anywhere near there until you are ready to be done watching the game. Maybe your kids will be fascinated with the speedpitch, or maybe there's some playground equipment inside the park. But save those things for when you are leaving. Remember, the last thing you want to do is be pulling the child off the slide to go back and watch some more of the dumb ol' baseball game.

I don't care if we ever get back

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. However, say you're attending the game in Milwaukee and you think your child would really like to see the roof open and close at the end of the game. A simple solution would be to show up in the 5th inning. Never, ever allow your child to utter the words "I'm bored" at the baseball game. If you let it get to that too many times, the kids just aren't going to want to go to the game anymore.

Explore all the baseball options out there. My kids are just as happy to go to a little league game as they are to see the major leaguers. There are probably a few high school teams that play near you. Church softball leagues and town teams are good options also. And be sure to support your nearby minor leage teams as well.

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.