Autism at the Ballpark: Southern Maryland Blue Crabs

If it’s summer, it must be time to go catch a ballgame.

As I mentioned multiple times last season, I do love baseball.  I grew up mostly listening to baseball on the radio – I still don’t exactly “get into” watching it on television – but there’s still just one real way to experience the game, and that’s at the ballpark.

Parents know that going to a baseball game can be fraught with peril when you have a child with Autism.  There’s stimulus galore: unfamiliar noises of varying volumes, costumed characters, the heat of the sun overhead (or cold rain if you’re unlucky), unusual food, and wide-open spaces generally where they can go running.

Thankfully, a local organization – Pathfinders for Autism – provides tickets several times a season to local ballgames by lottery.  The first game they’ve offered this season was for a team that we’ve never managed to get to previously: The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

So per my usual: we were fortunate to win tickets in Pathfinders’ lottery for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs game.  (Tickets are, otherwise, reasonably affordable.)

The Blue Crabs play in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, an independent minor league that’s not associated with Major League Baseball.  The team has been around since 2008, playing their home games at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, Maryland, which is about an hour and a half from our home.

The drive to the stadium is a little roundabout for those of us up in Baltimore, since it involves going down US 301 and then off on sideroads for a little bit to reach the stadium, but nothing about the drive is difficult (and indeed, with a minivan and a DVD player, the kids held up very well).  The parking lot at the stadium is very spacious and parking is free, with a large number of handicapped spots close by for those who have need of them.

Regency Furniture StadiumThe stadium is somewhat small compared to the Orioles’ farm teams’ parks, with a listed seating capacity of 4200.  (The crowd was significantly below capacity, but still fun.)  It makes for a very intimate baseball experience, with a seating section that curves in towards the infield – it may make seeing some of the plays in deep left and right fields difficult, but it ensures that every seat of the stadium has a good view of the infield.  In left-center field, there’s an old-fashioned manual scoreboard, while the video board is elevated in far right field, out of the way and in a position where it can’t distract too much from the game.

The concessions are concentrated in the grandstand behind home plate, and offer a variety of ballpark fare, from hotdogs and hamburgers, to pizza, to chicken, to ice cream.  There are no gluten-free options at their concessions, but they do offer veggie-burgers, and I imagine one could ask nicely for a burger or dog sans bun if one needed.  (For the parents who care – their alcohol selection is surprisingly fairly broad.  If you’re into that kind of thing, there are multiple beers available at different stands, and one stand behind home plate even offers cider and wine.)

As in all of my reviews – the bathrooms.  Special needs parents know that this is often a problem for our children, and I don’t generally go somewhere expecting anything in particular with the restrooms.  Regency Furniture Park, though, was very pleasantly surprising – changing tables in the mens’ room and plentiful stalls and urinals, with paper-towels for drying hands.  (The Monster reacts poorly to air dryers, for those who haven’t read my reviews previously, so believe me when I say that I appreciate when there is a non-electric option.)  The ballpark also has family restrooms for those who need to give more assistance.

Regency Furniture Stadium - right fieldFor those with children who do need to run, the stadium has a playground area down the right field line.  We were fortunate to go on a day when the Kid Zone was free, but it’s nominally a small charge for kids to be able to go run around within it.  If you have larger children, there are bumper boats out in left-center field to let them cool down on those hot days.  (It’s a neat feature – admit it, you want to go ride in them too.)  We didn’t wander out to the boats, but the kids had a good time working off some energy during the fourth and fifth innings on the jungle gyms and slides.  Don’t worry about missing the game while you’re chasing your kids – the view from the playground is still sufficient to keep an eye on the action.

The game did feature a lot of distractions – games or other wackiness after almost every half-inning – and some of the music was a bit loud compared to other parks we’ve been to.  None of them really distracted the Monster, since he’s hardly sensory-averse, but the nice folks at the stadium did give Pathfinders a “cooldown suite” just behind home plate for any child who got overwhelmed, with a private bathroom.  We did retreat to the suite after eight innings, but that was more a factor of how tired both the Monster and R were getting, rather than anything having to do with the Monster’s Autism. (The game started at 2:05 PM, and R did not have a nap.)

Now, the other adaptations:  The Blue Crabs’ website states that they do not allow in outside food or beverages.  The ticket taker didn’t give us any trouble about bringing in our boys’ cups, though, so as long as you’re reasonable, I think they’ll let you slide just a little bit on the rules.  We didn’t push it at all with trying to bring in food for the kids… but then again, my children will also eat what’s available at the ballpark.  When in doubt, give them a call and ask – they seem very reasonable.

It’s a bit of a schlep for us to get to, but I can easily imagine going to another Blue Crabs game if the opportunity presents itself.  (Though next time, we’ll try to go to a fireworks night there, since the Monster likes fireworks…)

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