Two things I never did as a kid were summer road trips, and going to minor league baseball games.
Growing up in suburban Boston, my family’s annual summer vacation was typically taken on Martha’s Vineyard. Living 20 minutes from Fenway Park with a Red Sox weekend ticket package split with my aunt and uncle’s family, I saw lots of baseball, but it had never occurred to me to check out the minors.
Then, three things happened; (1) I moved to Texas, (2) I became a dad, and along the way, (3) the majors became super expensive – especially for seats that give kids a chance to sit close and take in the action. I can only imagine the burden for a family as big as Toby’s on the #MiLBRoundTripper!
The remedy for that? The minors!
Three seasons ago, we started taking our son to our local minor league team, the Frisco RoughRiders, and I instantly fell in love with it. Besides the low cost compared to the majors, it’s also an unbeatable family experience. There’s never a bad seat, so kids can sit close see and hear the sights and sounds of the game really well.
The players are a lot more accessible for autographs, and Minor League teams do a great job of involving kids – whether it be running the bases after games, playing catch on the field, or getting shown on the scoreboard. Promotional nights where they give out a free souvenir, dollar hot dog nights, or kids eat free games sweeten the deal further.
We have a great time at the games, but my appreciation for the minors goes beyond just the quality family time.
For me, as a kid, I always looked up to pro athletes. As a dad in my 40’s, I watch sports differently now. With MiLB, the guys are so young, and I really enjoy the chance to see them working toward their dream to make the majors. I follow the key players we’ve loved to see from Frisco when they move on.
For example, Lewis Brinson, who we had in Frisco for most of 2015 and some of 2016, just got called up to the majors with the Brewers, who he got traded to last season, and I’m excited to see how he does.
As for road tripping, having never really done it, I approached my first one a little reluctantly.
Two summers ago, my wife’s family reunion was in upstate New York, and we had two choices – fly from Dallas to NYC and dump a lot of money into plane tickets and a rental car for just a long weekend, or take extra time off, drive it, and spread that money out. Driving ended up working out great, and on the way back, we hit four MiLB games in four different cities in four nights. While not quite as ambitious as the #MiLBRoundTripper, it was really fun seeing the games and ballparks.
Fast forward to now.
My wife and I decided we wanted to go to Chicago this summer, and the first thing I did was analyze the schedules of every MiLB team on any route that would make some sense (and even some options that made no sense at all) to make sure we hit at least one game going up and another coming back.
We ended up deciding on Memphis on the way up, and our Texas League rival Northwest Arkansas Naturals on the way back. We did other things on the trip as well, but the MiLB games were a great way to add some of our national pastime into the mix.
Memphis’ Autozone Park is very cool. It’s smack dab in the middle of downtown, and draws a very diverse crowd. The left field wall is higher than center and right, and is covered by a huge video scoreboard. The outfield wall isn’t a continuous arc, and in center field it juts back, making an almost Fenway-ish triangle. It happened to be superhero night when we went, which meant lots of character appearances and special uniforms. The Redbirds won, 6-1 in an exciting game that had some great offense and defense.
Located in suburban Springdale, AR, Arvest Ballpark hosts the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Everything you’d expect at a minor league park is there. The bullpens are behind see-through fences in play down the left and right field lines. A kids play area behind left field gives young fans who might need a break from sitting a chance to move around. The night we went was Star Wars Night, complete with special uniforms, character appearances, and prizes for the first 15 kids to enter the gates dressed as characters.
After these experiences, I’ve come up with some “how-to’s” for any parent attending a game.
Jeff’s tips to get the most out of your MiLB experience:
- Check the promotional schedule for games you might possibly attend and pick the one you think will be most beneficial for your family.
- Check out sites like Groupon to see if the team(s) you are trying to see have any deals going.
- Look to see if the team(s) have a kids club, which might get your kid(s) a free ticket or other perks.
- Before the game, look at the rosters and statistics, learn about a few of the team’s key players, and let your kids know who they are. They will feel more involved if they know who to cheer for.
- Get there early and find a staff member who works with the in-game entertainment. They are often looking for kids to participate in in-between inning contests, announce a player, or say “play ball” to start the game.
- Say hi to the closest camera operator before the game and politely ask if he or she can try to get your kids on the scoreboard in-between innings. If your kids are like mine, they will love this.
About Jeff Tepper: