62 Days of Summer
The goal of the Tri-City ValleyCats — and minor league baseball teams from coast to coast — is to groom tomorrow’s all-stars, but for the Capital Region’s lone professional baseball team, grooming tomorrow’s fans seems almost as important.
And the ’Cats believe in starting them young and giving children plenty to do once they step through the gate and into the ballpark.
My wife and I brought my twins, then 7, to their first games at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium last season, as the ValleyCats were on their way to winning the New York-Penn League championship. But as much as they put a winning product on the field, they did every bit as much in the stands. From a Kids Zone in the left-field corner to fun on-field contests to pre- and post-game activities, a day or night at the ballpark is more than an excuse for bored kids to fill up on peanuts and Cracker Jack and hope they never come back.
Our first visit to see the ’Cats this season came last Sunday, and for good reason. Sunday home games are “Sunday Funday,” with a four-ticket package that also includes four hot dogs and four sodas. There are children’s activities, including a chance to read with two of the players, play catch on the field before the game and run the bases after. And with a 5 p.m. start, we knew we’d be able to get through the game before the little ones started to get tired and cranky.
Cats crew club
When we got to the ballpark, we also signed them up for the ’Cats Crew Fan Club. For the price of a single T-shirt or cap, they each got a gift bag with a T-shirt, autograph book and mini baseball, along with a membership pass that provides benefits like admission to a special picnic with the players, free tickets to a game and the chance to sit in the dugout during post-game fireworks.
First up was the pre-game reading program, in which each child got a baseball-themed children’s book, “Flat Stanley at Bat,” and read along with players Joe Musgrove and Adam Nelubowich — of course, the kids also had them sign their new books. From there it was over to the Kids Zone, where they jumped and bounced and threw rings and hit Wiffle Balls to their hearts’ content.
Then there was the game itself, where the ’Cats roared out to a big lead behind home runs by Ryan Bottger and J.D. Davis. But the real excitement for the twins came when one of their reading buddies, Musgrove, came in to pitch the sixth and seventh innings of the 11-3 win over the Lowell Spinners.
I have great memories of watching a New York-Penn League team from another era, the Oneonta Yankees, with my dad and seeing young players like Don Mattingly and John Elway before they became household names — yes, John Elway actually played professional baseball.
Who knows if my twins will be able to say they saw J.D. Davis or A.J. Reed before they became big league stars? I just hope they’ll remember these trips to the ballpark when they’re my age as clearly as I remember ones I made more than 30 years ago.
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