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Florence Freedom baseball is all about the fun.

Regardless of the score, players’ statistics, and a 96-game schedule, the Kentucky member of the Frontier League, a 12-team Independent Professional Baseball League established in 1993, wants their guests to know that fun is the name of the game.

From the first pitch thrown to the last out called, Florence Freedom and its immaculate Champion Window Field are geared to good times.

A children’s play area, with primary-colored inflatables and climbing structures, keeps kids entertained before and during the game. Prizes are lobbed into the stands and goofy contests—like who can jump into a condiment costume first—are held between innings. Special promotions have included Bark in the Park (bring your dog to the game) and the Diamond Dig, where women dig around in the infield for buried diamond necklaces.

Wacky is the Watchword
The person in charge of maximizing the Freedom’s fun factor is Kevin Schwab, whose title is, fittingly, Director of Fun. Building on past promotions, Schwab says the park’s theme nights, such as the always-popular $1 beer night for Thirsty Thursdays, will be back for this season.

Saturday nights will again be jazzed up with live musicians, including the Sonny Moorman Group, a Cincinnati-based blues/rock band, and rock cover band Jack Trigger performing following the game.

“But of all the things we do in terms of entertainment, nothing touches the fireworks,” says Schwab. “There’s just something about a Friday night fireworks show that people love.”

Schwab is also adding themed events to the lineup, including Superhero Night, a Toga Party, and a Mister and Miss Freedom Pageant, as well as a Hillbilly Weekend, complete with Cow Patty Bingo, the latter scheduled for post-game Saturday, June 7.

“The winner will be the person who has planted their flag closest to where the cow plops,” he says, noting that fans will “mark their spot” in the outfield. “We’re trying to add a little bit of silliness to what is already a great value in northern Kentucky.”

Kid Spin
Fun runs at a fever pitch at the ballpark, with much of it revolving around the youngest fans. Indeed, the organization works tirelessly to make Champion Window Field family friendly. Children can be seen throwing out first pitches, dragging the field, cleaning the bases, and giving the Kids Zone—a playground with bounce house and speed pitch—an extremely vigorous workout.

The entertainment zips along nonstop throughout the game. At half innings, there are contests on the field that kids enthusiastically throw themselves into. Favorites include the head-spinning dizzy bat race, ice cream eating contests, and sumo wrestling. There are also the coveted toss-outs that have kids scrambling in the stands in order to catch one of the prizes.

“Everyone loves it when our Freedom Belles (the organization’s promotional team) get up on top of the dugouts to toss out Freedom visors, sports duffle bags, Frisbees, t-shirts, or any number of things provided to us by sponsors,” says Ashley Thompson, manager of broadcasting and media relations.

Additionally, there are the occasional skits from national entertainers who travel from ballpark to ballpark throughout the season. Past acts have included the Blues Brothers, the zany, kid-pleasing ZOOperstars!, and Myron Noodleman, a nerd’s nerd who bills himself as the “new Clown Prince of Baseball,” to name a few. A minor league sensation, the buck-toothed Noodleman with oil-slick coiffure goofs on fans in the stands and busts a move, albeit on two geek feet, out on the field.

“Throughout every game, you’ll find kids running to snatch up foul balls and waiting at the wall to get autographs from their favorite players,” says Thompson. “Our players are very good about making time to sign autographs before and after the games, and they also are in the community throughout the season making appearances and participating in parades.”

Good Eats, Great Seats
A smorgasbord of ballpark fare is available, from burgers and hot dogs to pizza, popcorn, and hot pretzels served with just the right amounts of salt and softness. At the far end of the stadium on the third-base side of the concourse is Sweet Street with ice cream and candy. Flanagan’s Front Porch is a full-service bar, and for adults there’s the Miller Lite Beer Garden. A Bruster’s Ice Cream cart is near the Kids Zone, and other vendors are available throughout the stadium.

Opened in 2004, Champion Window Field officially seats 3,300 people, but can accommodate a sell-out crowd up to 4,158. Seating is clean and comfy, with each and every seat having a good vantage point of the action on the field. The blue and green VIP seats behind home plate include in-seat wait staff service. There is picnic table seating in the Eagle’s Nests, behind home plate open-air suites with pub-style tables and chairs, and enclosed luxury suites with air conditioning (sheer heaven during the dog days of August) and sofa seating. No smoking is permitted in the seating areas, although it is at Flanagan’s and the beer garden.

Roger Redmon, the Freedom’s play-by-play announcer, describes the atmosphere as similar to other professional baseball parks with music, the crack of the bat hitting the baseball during batting practice, and myriad voices all speaking at once.

“The difference comes when you enter the stadium and you see how close the field is to any seat location in the ballpark,” he says. “It’s not unusual to see a cluster of fans gathered around ballplayers, getting their autographs and just swapping small talk. Instead of stadium seating just outside the left field line, you’ll see a lawn filled with kids at play, complete with an assortment of playground equipment.

“It’s professional baseball with an interactive twist.”

It is also a professional, well-manicured setting. Champion Window Field is the home of the frontier league’s two-time groundskeeper of the year, Lyle Travis, who was awarded the honor in both the 2005 and 2006 seasons. This field of dreams is clean, green, and free of debris.

Don’t Forget the Players
The players hail from cities across the country. With salaries starting at just $600 a month, they are put up by host families in the northern Kentucky area from mid-May until just after the last game in September. Hosts come in all shapes and sizes—older couples, young families, singles—and have two things in common: a desire to “adopt” a player and a fierce love of the game.

“Host families have to agree to furnish the player(s) a bedroom (or twin beds in the same room for some), access to a bathroom, and access to the laundry room,” says host coordinator Shirley Brown. “They are not required to furnish a car, food, or anything else, but it has been our experience that, after 20 minutes or so with their player, families change their eating times to accommodate their player and will buy their favorite snacks and drinks.

“Most families treat the players like their own family and the players feel the same way. They quickly bond—and when a player gets released or traded, the families usually call us, very upset, and want another player quickly.”

In addition to placing the players, Brown and other volunteers meet in March to make plans for spending any monies raised for the players. This has included stocking food on the buses for away games and laying in a supply of toiletries in the clubhouse, as well as providing travel money for each player for going home after the season. Last season, the host program organized an outing for the players to Kings Island.

Brown became involved in the program when her daughter, Lori Snider, hosted a player a few years ago. Snider has since hosted 15-20 players, including one, Mark Ihlenburg, who maintains contact with Snider and invited her, mom Shirley, and her Aunt Beverly Snider to his wedding in September.

“I joked with Mark that we’ll be crashing at his place and told him we appreciate his making the wedding date after baseball season,” says Snider.

Adds Brown: “We fell in love with Mark immediately and have had a wonderful time with the players Lori has since hosted. We love the kids and have fun doing this job.”

Clean Fun for the Entire Family
Brown also loves the Freedom’s emphasis on family fun, noting that its “kid-friendliness” is the most important aspect of the park.

“There is a lot for kids to do safely and they do not become bored just sitting in a seat for nine innings. There is entertainment every few innings, a playground, and events where they can participate on the field. The game is exciting and very entertaining. Prices are reasonable and you don’t break the bank just to attend a game. Even the parking is free.”

Redmon says the park presents an outing the entire family can enjoy together.

“My kids look forward to coming to Freedom games all summer long. They love the entertainers, the contests, and the games. Oh, yeah, and there’s some pretty darn good baseball being played, too.”

Head to organized sports’ final frontier of fun and attend a Florence Freedom game. There’s no ticket scalping, no going broke to take the family to a baseball game, and the players are very accessible and autograph-friendly.

“We are entertainment and not just baseball,” says Schwab. “Every team has their die-hard fans, but we want people to realize that it’s fun out here—regardless of the score on the field.”



KENTUCKY’S OTHER FAMILY FUN STADIUMS

Besides Champion Window Field where the Florence Freedom team plays, Kentucky has these beautiful stadiums for its minor league teams:

Applebee’s Park gets A+
Applebee’s Park, home of the Lexington Legends, a Class A affiliate of the National League Houston Astros, is a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art facility that blends classic baseball stadium design with Kentucky-inspired architecture. Like the Florence Freedom’s Champion Window Field, this 6,000-plus-seat venue is built for family fun and accessibility.

Seating options include padded and nonpadded permanent chairs, permanent bleachers, and two lawn-seating areas. There are 26 luxury suites, reserved-seating picnic area, a general admission picnic area, and a special four-row family section along the third-base line in Section 214. The section is near the children’s play area, charming with its carousel. The Maker’s Mark Club, an elite restaurant located directly behind home plate, offers indoor and patio seating, plus full service to your seat.

For fans keen on getting a behind-the-scenes eyeful, Applebee’s Park offers tours (contact the park for hours) that last about one hour and cover about a mile. Included are those areas of the ballpark not normally open to the public: press box, luxury suites, field, dugout, visitor’s clubhouse, and front offices.

The park has several family-friendly promotions: Kids Eat Free Mondays; Tuesday Quarter Hot Dog Night; and Kids Run the Bases on Sunday, among others. Additionally, there are 16 fireworks shows scheduled for the 2008 season, plus a number of theme outings, including Senior Night, Veterans Appreciation Day, Bark in the Park, and Cartoon Character Night, plus poster and backpack giveaway events.

“There really is something for everyone at Applebee’s Park,” says Seth Poteat, director of marketing. “Whether it’s the play area or pony rides for the kids or the Maker’s Mark Club for Mom and Dad, there’s fun for all.” And baseball too.

“We also have an autograph table,” notes Poteat. “Every Friday through Sunday, two players will sit at the table for approximately 30 minutes pregame.”

For more information, go online to www.lexingtonlegends.com.

Slugger Field sparkles
Named after the popular Louisville Slugger baseball bat, Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats (the professional AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds), seats more than 13,000.

Built on the banks of the Ohio River and within one block of Waterfront Park, the $39 million stadium has 32 private suites, second-level club seating, a continuous concourse around the field, an outfield seating berm, concessions, and a gift shop called The Bat Cave.

A highlight for baseball purists is the natural grass on the recessed playing field.

“We have three play areas for kids,” says Megan Dimond, director of media and public relations, “including two playgrounds, a carousel located in right field, and a speed pitch machine in left field.”

Theme nights include Meijer Monday, with $2 off a field-reserved ticket with a Meijer receipt, and Meijer Baseball Bingo; Tuesdays are Family Nights with $1 hot dogs and $1 Pepsi products; every Wednesday beginning June 4 will be Ladies Night, when ladies 17 and older receive a discounted ticket at the box office; and Fridays feature a post-game fireworks show. On Sundays after the game, children can go onto the field and run the bases.

“We also have many on-field promotions children may participate in, such as racing Buddy Bat around the bases and helping him clean off the bases as a ‘junior’ groundskeeper, along with kid-friendly giveaways,” says Dimond.

Fan-friendly Louisville Slugger Field, which offers more amenities and entertainment options than any other minor league ballpark in the country, offers tours year-round on selected dates. For more information, go online to www.batsbaseball.com.

To learn more about other baseball stadiums and teams, go online to www.minorleaguebaseball.com or www.ballparksofbaseball.com.



2008 FLORENCE FREEDOM SEASON

Florence Freedom
Champion Window Field
7950 Freedom Way
Florence, KY 41042
(859) 594-4487, ext. 17
www.florencefreedom.com

The Florence Freedom plays a 96-game schedule with 54 home games between late May and early September. The first pitch goes out on Wednesday, May 21, beginning their sixth season in the Frontier League.

Tickets prices are $8 for reserved seats and $9.50 for blue and green VIP seats. New this year will be the $9 premium seats: the first two rows around the lower bowl.

Roger Redmon returns as the Freedom’s announcer, and this year all 96 Florence Freedom games will be broadcast on Classic Country 106.5 WNKR.

For fans, the Freedom has a new way to experience the games. The new Ultimate Fan Experience package lets fans spend the day like a Florence Freedom player, taking batting practice with the team and staying in the dugout for the game.

Other ways for fans to increase their participation is to sign up to be a member of the Fun Crew Promotions Team or the Guest PA for an inning, helping with contests and prizes, or calling Freedom players to the plate.

Fans can also sponsor their favorite player for a game every time he goes to bat. And “green thumbs” can join two-time Frontier League Groundskeeper of the Year Lyle Travis and his crew to prepare the field for a game: chalking the lines, dragging the field, and replacing the bases with one of the best groundskeepers in the league.

The Freedom is a member of the Frontier League, a 12-team Independent Professional Baseball league that began in 1993, with 2003 being the Florence Freedom’s first season in the Frontier League. Since the Frontier League is independent, it is not affiliated with any Major League Baseball team. Many of the players in the Frontier League have played with affiliated ball clubs before and/or played in college.



KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: THE VOICE OF FLORENCE FREEDOM

To read about Florence Freedom’s theme nights and to read about Roger Redmon, the Freedom’s gregarious play-by-play announcer, click here: Florence Freedom

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