Monday, July 21, 2014

Minor League Baseball Games can be an Economical & Entertaining Family Night Out

My 5 year old son and I ventured the hour drive from Detroit to Toledo, Ohio the other day to meet up with some friends for a Mudhens' game at Fifth Third Field.  It was a first trip to a minor league baseball game for both of us and I have to say we were both very impressed and had a great time.  The Mudhen's are the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate club team meaning that this team has a variety of players going up and being sent town from the Major League club.  We recognized a few names of Mudhens who we'd seen play this season in Tigers games and my buddy who was with us with his 5 and 7 year old sons pointed out a few that would probably be making their way up to the Major League before the end of the season.

Fifth Third Field is a nice 8,000 seat facility in downtown Toledo.  You can see some of the classic architecture buildings from the City's heyday as a backdrop to the outfield which provides a nice urban vibe to the stadium.  It is really easy to get to as you take a short drive right off the freeway exit that leads you straight to the ballpark.  We found a safe and secure parking lot a block away from the stadium that charged a reasonable $5 dollars.  A few days after our visit to the Mudhens game my wife and I went to a Tigers game and in comparison that same spot would have cost $30 and we ended up paying $10 at a parking lot 6 blocks away from Comerica Park.

Our seats at Fifth Third Field were $10 each and were in the second row along the first base line, probably some of the best seats in the stadium.  Those same tickets at a Tigers game probably would have been 100% more expensive.  It was great to sit back and just enjoy the great view of a baseball game.  The stadium was probably at half capacity compared to a Tigers game which probably has 30,000 to 50,000 people.  There was just this nice laid back atmosphere at the game with everyone enjoying a nice summer evening outdoors and appreciating watching some baseball.  In addition to  close up views of the players, we also had a lot of interaction with the various mascots that attend the games.  Muddonna spent most of the game either sitting by us interacting with fans or dancing on the dugout in front of our seats.  We could spot her husband Muddy flying around the stadium throughout the game thrilling the kids in attendance.  Also present at the game were the mascots for the Toledo Walleye Minor League hockey team which has an arena a couple blocks from Fifth Third Field, Cattrick and Spike.  My son was laughing and pointing out these characters the whole game...although he still is a little afraid of these type of costumed characters and didn't want them to get too close which made for some interesting moments when the mascots wandered over to say hello.

I know that a basic hotdog with mustard on a steamed bun is standard baseball fare but we splurged a little bit enjoying some of the alternatives they had at Fifth Third Field.  My son enjoyed a Mac & Cheese Dog which is a grilled hot dog covered in macaroni & cheese and bacon while I had the Chicken & Waffle Bites with warm maple syrup for dipping.  Unfortunately, the Mudhens menu prevented my daughter from joining us on this fun evening.  Like Comerica Park and most other ballpark venues Fifth Third Field was littered with peanut shells and the risk of absorbing the oil from these shells contaminating seats and other fixtures of the stadium is too much of a risk for our daughter who has a severe food allergy where exposure could be deadly.  Unfortunately we have to take her to games where special accommodations to avoid peanut interactions are available which are often very seldom and limited opportunities which unfortunately really reduces our ability to go on a family outing to the enjoy America's pastime.

My son is more interested in getting out of the house at his age than really sitting down to watch a baseball game so what was nice about this experience was there was a variety of things to do and the price tag didn't break the bank.  We sat down for awhile and watched the game with a great view.  Because of how close we were to the action,  I was able to point out numerous things about the game play and what the fielders, batters and base runners were doing to explain him the game.  My son was also excited to see all the "baseball players" right up there in front of him.  We had some fun watching the mascots and eating our dinner.  Than my son and his friends headed over to the nice playground the stadium has behind center field, Muddy's Marsh, to play for a few innings.  We wrapped up the night with a visit to the gift shop picking up each of us a really nice fitted baseball caps from my favorite hat manufacturer, 47 Brand, for about half the price a similar cap would cost at a Tigers game, plus these were also slightly lower in price and minus the shipping of the Mudhens caps I'd seen for sale online.  Of course my son wanted me to buy him one but than wouldn't wear it during the game, though he has been wearing it around the last few days.

The Mudhen's are known for having some interesting promotions: Star Wars Night, Ghostbusters Night, Christmas in July for example.  We went on LEGO night.  They did a really nice job of having Lego themed images and videos on the scoreboard during the game.  My son won a contest where he made the most "Lego hotdogs" within a minute and received some stickers and temporary tattoos as a prize.  It was sad though that the PR department for the team went all out to market this event to kids and parents promoting they were giving out a special Lego minifigure at the gates when you entered.  They didn't order enough and although we and our friends arrived at the game well before the first pitch none of the children in our group received these toys.  So I have to give the promotions team a thumbs down.  It is one thing to have great promo themes but if you can't properly execute them than you are just lame.  The kids were disappointed not to get a Lego but fortunately this didn't damper their enthusiasm or fun at the game and all had a great time despite this let down.

The most important part of the night was that it put a smile on my son's face and we had some nice bonding time.  I'm thinking of buying tickets for the Mudhen's Star Wars Night next season and if they have a peanut free night maybe we'll take the whole family out for a night at Fifth Third Field.  Based upon the fun we had at this minor league game, my wife and I know the Whitecaps, the Tiger's Class A minor league team in Grand Rapids, Michigan, holds some peanut free games each year and we're considering a roadtrip to go to one of them in 2015.  Just a note to teams that are thinking of holding peanut free games, many of these events are held in early weeks of season when attendance is low, please consider some summer nights that are convenient to families who have to struggle with the challenges of food allergies.

Minor League Baseball games can really be an economical and entertaining family night out.  If you haven't been to one yet or lately I'd recommend going out to one of these ballparks for a fun time.

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