Minor league baseball is major league fun in Maryland

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Frederick Keys Minor League BaseballBy Karen Gaspers

The members of the Youngblood family of Linthicum are no strangers to the Bowie Baysox minor league baseball.

"We've been so often that a lot of players know my son," says mom Mary Youngblood. "That's a neat feeling for him."

The Youngbloods are big baseball fans. Wherever they live, they always look for minor league ball.

Jack Youngblood with Baysox Mattt WeitersJack, 10, loves going to games to meet future baseball stars and get their autographs.

But if Molly, 7, and Julia, 4, get bored during a game, there's always the merry-go-round at the ballpark's kids area to keep them entertained.

"It's a fun, economical family event," Youngblood says.

The Youngbloods aren't the only family enjoying an afternoon or evening at the ball field rather than the movie theater or adventure park. Minor league baseball, a system for developing talent and preparing players for professional play in the Major Leagues, has become incredibly family-oriented in the past 30 years.

According to Adam Pohl, assistant general manager for the Frederick Keys ball club, it's no longer just about the game. It's become an event.

"With Major League baseball, fans go to see the players and to see world-class baseball," Pohl says. "But many people coming to the minor leagues are looking for a fun, entertaining night out."

Ball clubs work hard to give families a fun time that engages all ages and interest levels, from kids clubs and fun zones to over-the-top promotions and fireworks. They also keep it affordable, with general admission ticket prices topping out at $16.

For family members who love the game, the minor leagues offer the chance to experience baseball in an intimate setting, says Brandon Kaiser, director of marketing for the Bowie Baysox.

"At Camden Yards in Baltimore or Nationals Park in DC, you might be way up in the bleachers, hundreds of feet away," Kaiser says. "Here [at Prince George's Stadium], you are right on top of the action."

The atmosphere at minor league games is also more conducive to learning the sport, says Nancy Parode of Millersville. She and her husband began taking their kids, now 21 and 15, to ball games when they were each just a few months old, first to the Norfolk (Va.) Tides and later to the Bowie Baysox.

"Minor league fans are more laid back, so if the kids get the wiggles and want to run up and down the steps in the aisle, no one minds," Parode says. "Or it's just a few bucks to take them to the kids section for a quick ride."

But as families return season after season, kids pick up more and more. By age 11, it's as if they've learned baseball by osmosis, Parode says. "Before you know it, they are in their seats watching every pitch."

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