Major League Baseball is known as “The Big League” for good reason: It’s big stakes and big bucks—the players earn ’em and you pay ’em for the privilege of watching. “But Minor League Baseball is all about the experience,” says Josh Pahigian, author of The Amazing Baseball Adventure. Tickets are cheaper, and the parks feature playgrounds, entertainment, colorful mascots, and more. Plus, the stands are much closer to the field. We’ve rounded up eight winners nationwide.
Where: Buffalo, New York
With a seating capacity of nearly 17,000 fans, the home of the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) is the largest minor league park in the country. The Bisons Big Board, at 80 feet wide and 33 feet tall, is also among the biggest Jumbotrons in the minors.
What Kids Will Love: The annual Star Wars night, featuring character appearances and an on-field battle, as well as the Friday-night fireworks.
What Parents Will Love: During select games, the Bisons offer peanut-free seating down the firstbase line for families with kids who have nut allergies.
What to Eat While You’re There: The Original Pizza Logs, which are like pizza egg rolls; or beef on weck, a roast beef sandwich on a salt-and-caraway kimmelweck roll.
Where: Pensacola, Florida
Fans nicknamed the home field of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds) “Wahoo Stadium,” and recently voted it the Best Double-A Ballpark in Ballpark Digest magazine. While you might think the team is called the Wahoos because of the fun, a wahoo is actually a prized sport fish.
What Kids Will Love: Regular promotions that allow them to run the bases, play catch in the outfield, and get autographs after games.
What Parents Will Love: The emcees on either side of the stands, who toss prizes, lead songs, and perform other feats of derring-do to energize the crowd.
What to Eat While You’re There: Cracker Jack Chicken & Waffles—a mashup of the Southern standard with General Tso–style chicken.
Where: Tacoma, Washington
The home of the Tacoma Rainiers (the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners) is the site of the 2017 Triple-A All-Star Game, which will put it in the spotlight this summer. The circa-1960 park underwent major renovations in 2011, and the views of snowcapped Mount Rainier from the left-field grandstand aren’t too shabby either.
What Kids Will Love: Mascot Rhubarb the Reindeer, who has been known to arrive at pregame festivities by parachuting onto the field.
What Parents Will Love: Plenty of cheap parking at the high school next door—you’ll be in your seats in five minutes.
What to Eat While You’re There: Grounders garlic fries, a boat of french fries covered with a Mount Rainier–shaped helping of hot garlic bits. (Just don’t expect a kiss afterward.)
Where: Louisville, Kentucky
It’s fitting that this circa-2000 ballpark is home to the Louisville Bats (the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate), since the Louisville Slugger is one of the most popular baseball bats in America. The park sits on the banks of the Ohio River and incorporates a restored 1890s railfreight depot as the front entrance.
What Kids Will Love: Golden retriever Jake the Diamond Dog, who dazzles the crowd with tricks during weekend games, and the kid clinics with on-field tutorials from Bats players.
What Parents Will Love: The behind-the-scenes tour, which starts in the Hall of Fame Pavilion and includes a clubhouse visit.
What to Eat While You’re There: During the game, buy a fried bologna sandwich; afterward, head to Against the Grain, an on-site brewery and smokehouse.
Where: Brooklyn, New York
Coney Island comes to life at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the New York Mets. The ballpark is on the boardwalk, with views of the iconic Parachute Jump and the beach.
What Kids Will Love: The roller-coaster scoreboard, the rainbowlit concourses, and cha-cha-slide dancing on the dugouts.
What Parents Will Love: Proximity to the Coney Island amusement park, which has been restored to its original glory and is open before and after every home game.
What to Eat While You’re There: Rice balls from Arancini Bros.; the “Pizza Ball,” with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, is addicting.
Where: West Sacramento, California
The home of the Sacramento River Cats (the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) overlooks the Sacramento River in the heart of the state capital. A berm, or grassy hill, in right field is a popular spot from which to watch games.
What Kids Will Love: The adjacent “Down on the Farm” play area, which features a brand new play structure, bounce houses, and a Wiffle ball field.
What Parents Will Love: The monthly “Diaper Derby,” during which babies “race” on the field on all fours, and offseason movie nights, when you can watch a family flick on the Jumbotron.
What to Eat While You’re There: Raley Field redid its concessions menu after the 2016 season, and officials expect the new gourmet burger stand to be popular. Another new fave: the tangy Orange Freeze from Merlino’s Freeze.
Where: El Paso, Texas
Even non-baseball fans love the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres—who can resist a team named the El Paso Chihuahuas? The new ballpark is in downtown El Paso (on the site of the former City Hall), and architects incorporated a handful of old buildings into the design.
What Kids Will Love: The Hospitals of Providence Children’s Hospital Chico’s Playground Kids’ Zone, which is a playground behind the lawn seating in center field that has a splash pad and games like Skee-ball.
What Parents Will Love: The nursing station, where moms can feed babies in air-conditioned privacy. The Wooftop Deck, atop a building in right field, offers a 360-degree view of the city.
What to Eat While You’re There: Elotes, which (at least here) is a serving of shaved corn kernels in a cup with cheese and chili.
Where: Papillion, Nebraska
The home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A affiliate) boasts a statue of hometown legend (and Hall of Famer) Bob Gibson out front and a six-hole mini-golf course down the right-field line ($3 per child). Beyond center field, you’ll also find a Wiffle ball field and a basketball court.
What Kids Will Love: The Centris Family Fun Zone ($5 per fan) in left field, a playground that includes a jungle gym, inflatables, games, and a carousel. There’s also a free photo booth.
What Parents Will Love: The Atlas Autograph Bridge—a special area where fans can get player autographs before every game—and berm seating around the outfield, where families can spread out while watching the action.
What to Eat While You’re There: The Omaha Steaks Cor-Dog-O—two hot dogs, pulled pork, and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla.