CHOMPING at the bit for Opening Day...

CHOMPING at the bit for Opening Day to arrive? Here's an offbeat tidbit from writer Alice Rindler Shapin in Endless Vacation magazine:

"Spring! And my 9-year-old son, Scott, bursts forth with his annual rendition of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,' followed by a chorus of 'Please, Please, Pleeease!'


"Lucky for him, Washington, D.C. . . . [is] smack in the middle of baseball territory. Of course, I'm not talking about the majors -- Washington hasn't had its own team since the Senators left at the end of the 1971 season. I'm talking about a different ball game -- the minors, where good seats cost only $4 and players love to sign autographs. . .

"A few weeks after attending a major-league game, I was dragged to a minor-league game (the Frederick Keys, a Class-A team of the Baltimore Orioles) and was expecting more of the same -- overwhelming crowds and overwhelming prices. So, as we entered Harry Grove Stadium . . . I was ready to clutch the hands of Scott and Amanda, my 7-year-old daughter, for fear my kids would get lost. But we were never herded or jostled by the other spectators. It was all so civilized.


"Once seated in the family section (no liquor or smoking allowed), I was amazed to see how small the stadium was. No need for me to go into my usual 'We-could-see-better-in-front-of-the-television' tirade. At this stadium, I could even hear the first-base coach call the plays. This was the perfect family atmosphere -- intimate, informal, and safe.

"Before the game started, kids carrying bats, programs, and hats raced toward the dugout area to snag some autographs. To the players, this wasn't an annoyance, it was ecstasy. Scott proudly sported his signed Keys cap. He's sure that one day it will be worth a mint.

"Only 10 minutes into the game, my kids announced they were starving. For them, stadium food is as much a part of baseball as who wins the game. With hot dogs going for $1, and drinks running 75 cents and up, we could splurge -- this wasn't going to be an $80 outing like at the majors. And while we were getting our food, the concessionaire gave us the local lowdown -- how Ben McDonald and David Segui, former Keys, had graduated to the majors, which families had the players over for dinner, and which companies had bought skyboxes. He even gave us a culinary review -- the Keys had . . . crab cakes, while the Hagerstown stadium . . . offers some of the best grilled hamburgers and Italian sausages in the minors.

"In the middle of the fourth inning, Scott and Amanda headed to the grassy hill in foul territory, past first base, in the hopes of catching some foul balls. Although they never caught one, they still felt very grown-up being there.

"And, as if the ball game wasn't enough, there were giveaways (beach bags, baseballs, minibats) throughout the day. . .

"So, the next time I hear 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,' I'll be the first to say, 'Let's get tickets.' "