A trip to the ballpark is a rite of passage for American children. Whether you’re going to indoctrinate them into your tribe or just need to kill an afternoon, there are some tips that should help every ticket holder. This has very, very little to do with on-field action. Most of these tips are applicable for professional basketball, hockey and soccer games. Football games are an entirely different beast. Here are nine do’s and don’ts to make your outing to the ball game a home run.*
1. Do expect to leave early.
Most adults I know don’t love sitting through nine innings of a last place team (the Nats are in last place as of press time). Don’t expect a very young child to sit through six innings of baseball. If you want to see the bulk of the game, aim for 10 minutes after first pitch. If you want to see the end of the game (or post-game fireworks on July 1), aim for an hour after first pitch.
2. Don’t arrive early.
You have a 90-minute window to enjoy this experience. Make sure you see at least one inning of the game. Gates open 90 minutes before first pitch. If you don’t plan ahead, you may have to leave before anyone says, “Play ball!”
3. Do take the kid to the playground within the park.
And don’t be surprised if they don’t want to leave the playground. The Nats have a pretty good playground for kids behind center field. It’s a hit even when there isn’t a game. My kid wouldn’t leave the playground during Enchant. For the unfamiliar, Enchant is a massive light spectacular aimed at the Christmas crowd. It’s an attack on the senses, targeted toward forming minds. Did my kid want to run around the lights? Say hi to Santa? Dance on a glowing dance floor? Only after they spent 20 minutes in a playground, a playground slightly above average in the D.C. region. Try to remember when you were a toddler. Did you have more fun climbing up and sliding down or watching grown men make their clean, white pants dirty by sliding into second?
4. Don’t test your kid’s peanut sensitivity for the first time.
The song — you know the one — explicitly demands you eat peanuts and Cracker Jacks. If you don’t know your kid’s allergy status, do not test out their nut durability at the park. Just because you sing some lyrics doesn’t mean you need to live the lyrics.
5. Do let your kid eat from a popcorn bucket larger than their head.
If your kid can handle the kernels, let them eat their weight in popcorn. It also makes for a cute photo.
6. Don’t let your kid play with your phone.
You’re going to need it for most everything in the park. Your phone now has your ticket. You’re going to use your phone to buy food and drinks. You’re going to use your phone to buy souvenirs. Don’t let your kid use your phone if it’s under 20% battery. Letting them watch “Bluey” or “Peppa Pig” may keep you disconnected from an extremely connected ballpark.
7. Do attend a Sunday game.
If your kid doesn’t nap, Sundays are ideal. Kids run the bases after the game and that should make them tired enough to make bedtime somewhat normal.
8. Don’t attend any Sunday game.
If your kid does nap, you may only want to consider 4 p.m. games. There are no 4 p.m. games on Sundays this year at Nats Park. There are two June 4 p.m. games: Saturday, June 11 at 4:05 p.m. against the Milwaukee Brewers (with a The Unstoppable Josh Bell MARVEL Super Hero™ Bobblehead giveaway) and Saturday, June 18 at 4:35 p.m. against divisional rivals Philadelphia Phillies (with a Kids 2006 Ryan Zimmerman Jersey T-Shirt giveaway). There are two more 4 p.m. Saturday games in July. The first is Saturday, July 2 at 4:05 p.m. against the Miami Marlins (with a kid’s bucket hat giveaway) and Saturday, July 16 against World Series Champion Atlanta Braves (with a Juan “Solo” STAR WARS™ Bobblehead (!) on Star Wars Day (!!!). These are the best four Nationals home games for toddlers this season. They have little to nothing to do with what happens on the field.
9. Do buy them something.
Let’s be honest, this is about indoctrination. The best way to make a kid like the thing you like is to get them a toy. So if you’re a fan of the Nats, get them a Nats branded toy or hat or shirt. Let them pick it out. If you’re a fan of the opposing team, get them your team’s hat or shirt and let them know they’re more special than the other kids because they’re different.
*Don’t promise your kid they’ll see a home run.
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