Kentucky’s professional baseball teams hit a home run for family fun
Like clockwork, the beginning of April brings the start of baseball season—a season of hot dogs, fast pitches and amazing outfield catches—stretching blissfully throughout the summer and into the early fall.
While it’s always fun to catch a Major League Baseball game in Cincinnati or St. Louis, there’s no need to drive that far—or spend that much—to watch great baseball.
Kentucky’s four professional baseball teams offer the perfect, affordable family outing, whether your gang’s full of hardcore baseball devotees or just likes the fireworks and bobbleheads.
The Louisville Bats—the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds—have dubbed 2020 “The Year of the Fan” as the team celebrates its 20th anniversary at Louisville Slugger Field.
“We’re trying to get fans engaged as much as possible,” says Louisville Bats President Vic Gregovits. “We do everything we possibly can to make it a fun, interactive experience. That’s the beauty of Minor League Baseball, quite honestly.”
This year, the Bats are planning 20 unique promotional events that will let fans voice their opinions on everything from jersey designs and bobblehead giveaways to the Top 20 Louisville Bats players of all time. The fan who submits the best idea for a giveaway or promotion this year can win season tickets for life. (See milb.com/louisville/fans/yearofthefan for details.)
From the antics of mascot Buddy Bat to the chance to see future major leaguers in action—Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Homer Bailey and Adam Dunn all played their early days in Louisville—there’s no bad time to catch a Bats ballgame.
But for an added wow factor, consider snagging tickets for the annual Thunder at Slugger event—set this year for Saturday, April 18—which lets fans enjoy a 2 p.m. game, plus an air show, postgame concert and the evening Thunder Over Louisville fireworks, all in the comfort of the stadium. (Details at milb.com/louisville/tickets/thunder; tickets go on sale March 2.)
Fresh off back-to-back South Atlantic League championships, the Lexington Legends—the Class-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals—know a thing or two about maintaining a winning record.
Celebrating their 20th season of baseball in 2020, the Legends promise to keep delivering their signature “stache-tastic” blend of game-winning, family-friendly fun this year, led by their famously mustached mascot, Big L.
As in years past, fans can expect to enjoy 25-cent wieners on Hot Dog Tuesdays, Thirsty Thursdays with $1 drinks and Bark in the Park nights that welcome dogs. Add to that more than a dozen fireworks nights, giveaways and fun-themed promotions, including a special Beer Cheese Weekend set for June.
Beyond baseball, the park will also host Nitro Circus—think X-Games meets Cirque du Soleil on motocross—on May 16 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
“It’s an incredible event, and we feel lucky to bring it to Lexington,” says Emma Tiedemann, the Legends’ director of broadcasting and media relations.
Bowling Green Hot Rods
Fans of the Bowling Green Hot Rods—the Class A-affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays—can see a new canine star at the ballpark this season as the team unveils its new “bat dog,” Turbo, who’s ready to steal some hearts as he returns bats to the dugout following each hit. (You can follow him on Twitter @HotRodsTurbo.)
Every Friday at the ballpark, fans can enjoy fireworks following the game. Saturdays are often giveaway days, and this season, on Turbo’s Tailwaggin’ Tuesdays, four-legged attendees are welcome to come to the park.
The youngest fans love the ballpark’s playground and carousel, and visiting with the Hot Rods’ bear and monkey mascots, Axle and Roscoe. Older kids can test their talent at the park’s speed pitch game.
“We always have something fun going on—fun activities throughout the game,” says Holli Hawkins, the Hot Rods’ social media and marketing manager. “It’s more than just a baseball game. It’s a night of entertainment all around.”
Formerly known as the Freedom, northern Kentucky’s professional baseball team made a splash in January when it was rebranded as the Florence Y’alls—a nod to the city’s famed Florence Y’all water tower.
“Our Twitter blew up. We gained over 1,500 followers in 24 hours after the name change—people not just in our area, but from across the country,” says Hannah Siefert, director of fan communications for the team. “We had regional and national sports outlets picking up on how our brand has taken off.”
New owner/CEO David DelBello, who took the helm during last year’s playoffs, says he sees the new name as “a way to start fresh and reignite excitement around the team.”
The Florence team, a member of the independent Frontier League, has been part of the fabric of northern Kentucky’s sports scene for 15 years.
The franchise has developed a real connection with the community thanks to outreach initiatives like its youth baseball league, now called the Lil’ Y’allers, which lets area kids play on the team’s field under the coaching direction of several of its professional players.
The team is also big on kid-friendly nights at the ballpark, including perennial crowd favorite Princess Nights and Superhero Nights, where young fans are encouraged to dress up. Every Friday, games conclude with fireworks, and live music follows most Saturday games.
On August 6, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Negro National League this year, the Y’alls have planned a special celebration of African American baseball greats in conjunction with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cincinnati and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
“We expect to give away a Satchel Paige bobblehead that night and wear special jerseys,” says Siefert. “We hope to really embrace the history that comes with the 100th anniversary.”
For more information on Baseball Destinations:
Robin Roenker is a Lexington-based freelance writer who grew up in Elizabethtown. She enjoys camping and hiking with her husband and three active sons.