Take me out to the ballgame

Isabelle finally had a dream come true on Sunday: Baseball! Ever since watching a Barney video for the first time, she has been into baseball. Of course, it doesn’t help that her parents are die-hard Cubs fans, even in the land of Philliedom.

One of our summer fun list activities was minor league baseball, so on Sunday, we traveled to Lancasater for a Barnstormers game. They were playing the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots. Our seats were on the lawn, so we brought a blanket, and sat near the fence, right behind the opposing team’s bullpen. Phil described it as being like a kid in a candy store for him. So close to the action we could talk to the pitchers. And we did.

But that’s getting a little ahead of myself. After Isabelle and I scoped out the food, Phil noticed that people were gathering on the field to play catch. So, he took Isabelle out to the outfield to have a catch with her. It was more like target practice for Isabelle. He said she stood a foot away from him and hurled the ball as hard as she could. But she was adorable in her Wrigley Field shirt and too-big Cubs baseball cap.

We wandered around the concourse for food and made our selections before heading back to the blanket. Just after we sat down, one of the pitchers handed a ball under the fence to Phil for Isabelle. Just like that: Isabelle had an official Atlantic League baseball. We didn’t know until later what a valuable gift we’d been given. We had to guard it from ambitious older kids who had their eyes on it.

Here she is showing it off while swinging the bucket her kids meal came in.

Corban wanted to get in on the action, too.

Hey, Dad. Gimme some of those fries. Good fries, by the way. Excellent food all around, but maybe the ballpark atmosphere contributes to that.

So, even before the actual game started, we were sold on the Lancaster Barnstormers ballpark experience and vowed to come back as long as we live in the area.

Between innings, we got to know our pitcher “friend” a little better. As all of us were decked out in Cubs attire, he asked why we weren’t home watching Lou Piniella’s last game. Then, he asked Phil if he was a die-hard fan, to which Phil replied, “If by diehard you mean we like them even when they suck and we hate the White Sox, then yes.” Turns out he was in spring training with the Cubs but was released after an injury. Before we left for the night, I asked his name and we figured out later he was Jeff Kennard.

He was kind to the little ones on the lawn, making good on his promises to give the next foul ball to whoever’s turn it was, handing out bubble gum and teasing the overeager boys who would do anything to get a foul ball.

We also got to watch a former Big Leager pitch in Jason Simontacchi, who used to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. My husband, the baseball almanac, told me this.

One of the great perks of this park is its kid-friendliness. Playground equipment — three big sets of it — free for all to play on; a carousel and bouncy toys for a one-price, play all game fee; and bumper boats. The latter my husband was looking forward to, so he and Isabelle made the trek to the other side of the park, only to find out she was too small to ride them. Phil was disappointed, but he made it up to her.

She’s No. 1! She can’t hurt anyone with it, I don’t think, and she can wave it around like crazy, which she does. Corban’s already taken a small bite out of it, so it’s fun for everyone!

We left before the game was over but spent almost four hours at the ballpark. Is there a better way to squeeze the life out of summer? Phil’s classes start on Thursday, and we have one more day trip planned before we settle in to a school routine.

I think a trip to the ballpark is a must-do every summer. It’s nothing like Wrigley and the Cubs, but it’s a start.

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