Baseball season is here! While the Cubs and Sox are a ton of fun, a trip to a minor league ballpark offers a whole new kind of experience. Kids get an up-close look, plus tons of perks — from running the bases to bounce houses to Kids Eat Free nights. Here’s how 6 minor league parks in our area compare. You will not strike out with any, we promise.

kane-cougars

photo: Kane County Cougars

For Watching a Future Star: Kane County Cougars

Why it’s a Home Run: Probably the most well known minor league team in the area (and the only local one with a major league affiliation), the Kane County Cougars are also the reigning Class-A Midwest League Champions. Until 2014, the Cougars were the minor league team for the Chicago Cubs but now they send their players up to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Ballpark: While there isn’t a bad seat in the house, for families we love bringing a blanket and stretching out on the lawn. And little restless fans can burn some energy on the slide, bounce house, and swing set at the updated KidZone right behind the right field deck area (additional fee applies).

Special Events: From special events like the upcoming Harry Potter Day (June 5), Frozen night (July 10) or Star Wars night (every May), to promotions like Kids Eat Free (hot dog and a drink ages 3-10) on Sundays, the Cougars know how to make a trip to the ballpark a beloved family affair. The regular season is underway and goes thru September 7.

Kane County Cougars Stadium
34W002 Cherry Ln.
(for GPS, enter “intersection between Kirk Road & Cherry Lane”)
Geneva
630-232-8811
Online: milb.com

windy-city

photo: Windy City Thunderbolts 

For a Guaranteed Great Seat: Windy City ThunderBolts

Why it’s a Home Run: Minor league baseball (the independent Frontier League) in the south suburbs has produced players who have gone on to play with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

The Ballpark: With just over 3,000 seats and one of the few minor league stadiums with an upper deck, Standard Bank Stadium doesn’t have a bad seat in the house. An hour after the gates open, the Dino Jump Kids Zone (accessible for an additional fee) opens its doors, giving kids a place to jump, play tee-ball and test their arm with a Speed Pitch game.

Special Events: Kids 12 and under can be part of Boomer’s Buddies, a free program giving special perks (like free admission to Sunday home games and unlimited snow cones) on select game days. Every Sunday is Standard Bank Family Day where after each game the Thunderbolts sign autographs and all fans can play catch in the outfield. The regular season is underway and goes thru September 7.

Standard Bank Stadium
14011 South Kenton
Crestwood
708-489-2255
Online: wcthunderbolts.com

boomers photo: Schaumburg Boomers / via Howard L on Yelp

For a Mini Wrigley Experience: Schaumburg Boomers

Why it’s a Home Run: Only three years old, the Schaumburg Boomers are the newest team on the block. And they are part of the same Frontier League as the Windy City Thunderbolts so you can look for a little crosstown rivalry between those two teams.

The Ballpark: Built to the exact same dimensions as Wrigley Field but with only 7,400 seats (Wrigley Field has 41,000+), families can have a bleachers experience without too many crazy fans. Plus, it’s located right next to the Schaumburg Metra station so getting to the ballpark couldn’t be easier.

Special Events: On select Sundays, the Boomers host Family Sundays where families can get 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, and 4 sodas for $39. Bring your sidewalk chalk to these games for “Chalk the Walk” where kids can decorate the concourse and stick around after the game to get player autographs. And mark your calendar for July 26 — the Boomers’ Squirt Gun Day! The regular season is underway and goes thru September 6.

Schaumburg Boomers Stadium
1999 Springinsguth Rd.
Schaumburg
847-461-3695
Online: boomersbaseball.com

chicago-bandits photo: Chicago Bandits

For Girl Power: Chicago Bandits

Why it’s a Home Run: How do you throw like a girl? Super fast, that’s how! The Bandits are part of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league where pitching starts at 70 mph. Star pitcher Monica Abbott won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics and she has been the league’s Pitcher of the Year twice.

The Ballpark: Talk about girl power: This is the only stadium in the country built for a women’s professional team. All kids love the chance to see the game up close (the ballpark has only 2,000 seats) and parents love how affordable a trip to this ballpark is with free parking and tickets starting at $7.

Special Events: Catch the Bandits’ new mascot, Swiper, at all of the games. Some of his Chicago-area mascot friends will join him at the two Kids Days on June 5 and July 23. After every game, the players stick around to sign autographs (they don’t leave until the last fan leaves!) and take photos and on select game days kids can run the bases after the game. The regular season is underway and goes thru August 11.

Ballpark at Rosemont
27 Jennie Finch Way
Rosemont
877-722-6348
Online: chicagobandits.com

peoria-chiefs photo: Peoria Chiefs / via TJ on Yelp

For a Rockin’ Road Trip: Peoria Chiefs

Why it’s a Home Run: Just three hours from Chicago, Peoria’s Dozier Park gives St. Louis Cardinals fans a chance to see the team’s up and comers before they hit the big leagues.

The Ballpark: Even though it’s a larger ballpark, Dozier Park still gives fans an intimate experience including lawn seats perfect for families. The interactive Kids Zone features inflatables and a playground area.

Special Events: Many Sundays offer a Kids Eat Free promotion (hot dog and a soda) and the opportunity to play catch on the field before the game. June 28 is Disney Day (and a Sunday with the Kids Eat Free promotion) where fans can catch a post-game showing of “Toy Story.” If your kids are already working on their lists for Santa, come to the July 25 Christmas in July game where the jolly man will make an appearance. The regular season is underway and goes thru September 7.

Dozer Park
730 SW Jefferson St.
Peoria
309-680-4000
Online: milb.com

hounds

photo: DuPage Hounds

For Catching College Stars: DuPage County Hounds

Why it’s a Home Run: Academics and athletics mix at the DuPage County Hounds games where all of the players are current NCAA student athletes who play at universities from all around the country. This summer, players come from schools like University of Houston, Purdue, Illinois State, UIC, Ball State, McNeese State and Creighton.

The Ballpark: This is the Hounds’ first year at the new home, the Lemont High School Sports Complex. Don’t worry, though, the backyard feel and some favorites (especially the Fun House for little ones) will still be part of the Hounds experience.

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Special Events: In late July, the Hounds will have a home run derby (tickets just $5) and for kids looking to learn from experienced players, summer camps give kids of all ages a taste of the big leagues.

Lemont High School Sports Complex
131st St. & Bell Rd.
Lemont
858-342-9487
Online: dupagehounds.com

Have you taken the kids to a Minor League game? Tell us what you loved in the Comments!

— Jen Peterson