Autism at the Ballpark: Frederick Keys

It’s occurred to me that with all of my travel reviews and whatnot, I don’t actually talk about the ballparks we’ve visited this year. (This is the fact that came into my mind while I was sitting at the stadium yesterday, in the drizzle.)  Given that several of these games have been courtesy of either Pathfinders for Autism or our local Autism Society chapter, it seems like a weird omission on my part.

So per my usual: we were fortunate to win tickets in Pathfinders’ lottery for the Frederick Keys game.  (Tickets are, otherwise, very affordable.)

The Frederick Keys are the Baltimore Orioles’ “high-A” minor league team, playing in the Carolina League.  Their home games are played at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, approximately 45 minutes west of Baltimore, which is a nice, intimate minor-league park with some reserved seating closer to the field and large portions of bleacher-style (with backs) general admission seating along the baselines.  The park has free parking in a good-sized lot, and is easily accessible from I-70.  Unlike other minor league parks we’ve been at, the covered portion of the concourse is fairly small, perhaps half-way down each baseline, but it’s broad enough that you have room to walk around if your child needs a break… and like most Orioles’ affiliates, they have a children’s play area down one baseline, with a merry-go-round and a few other diversions.

The stadium offers a good variety of food at reasonable prices, including the option for gluten-free pizza at one of the stands for those who go that direction.  Our children are voracious hot dog eaters, and for them, there’s a stand over by the merry-go-round that had child-sized portions for cheaper prices than the full hot dogs at the regular stands.  (And then for the adults, there’s a good selection of locally available wine and beer, as well as half-pound hamburgers and crab cake sandwiches.)

Something important that I never used to think to check before having a child on the Spectrum – the restrooms.  Both the men’s and women’s restrooms do have changing tables in them, near the entrance, in case your child is still small enough to be lifted onto one.  The men’s room had two handicapped stalls – very useful when you have a child still in the midst of toilet training at the Monster’s size – though all of the toilets are equipped with automatic flush devices.  The sinks, too, are automatic, but there are paper towel dispensers rather than blow-dryers (which is very good since that’s one of the Monster’s triggers at the moment).

Being a minor league baseball park, you’re looking at a park that seats 5,500, but it was largely empty yesterday on account of the weather – it was perhaps mid-70s and raining when the game got underway.  This also meant that the noise was very manageable and there was plenty of room between families so our children were not a distraction on the few occasions where they got loud.

Now, the most important part – to me at least – is the game.  The Monster will tolerate watching any sport for short periods, so a lot of the game was with him otherwise peering around the crowd and the stadium.  (One good thing about going on an Autism awareness day is that there were other families who were in the same boat as us, with children in headphones or other soothing devices visible throughout the crowd.)  As I mentioned, it’s a small stadium – the PA is loud enough to be heard, but not booming and overbearing, and there are only two video boards, so I can imagine they’re not too distracting in darker circumstances.  There is the usual danger of foul balls in a minor league park, so if you’re not sitting right behind the plate, make sure you’re paying good attention to where the balls are flying.  Our child likes loud noises, so he was shouting every time a foul ended up hitting seats near us (or off the PA speaker the one time it hit one nearby).  And the Keys won, which is always good.

We didn’t take the kids to run the bases – R’s not big enough, and I wasn’t at the time sure that I could run alongside the Monster (which is the only way to ensure he’ll stay on the basepath).  As we were walking out, I did see a few parents running alongside kids, so I believe that the Keys would very happily allow the parent of a child on the Spectrum to be accompanied out if one wanted to do it.

But, as I’ve said before – minor league baseball is definitely worthwhile checking out if you like sports, and want to ease your kids into going to these kinds of events.

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