Let’s play ball

Keep your baseball fans busy this winter


The 75 daily re-enactments of Paul Konerko’s Game 2 grand slam have broken three lamps and knocked out the window dividers in our family room. With snow-covered fields and the White Sox in hibernation until April, it’s hard to channel the baseball energy that’s been released from finally having a World Series champion in Chicago after 88 years.

Here are ways to keep young baseball fans happy this winter:

- Work on those skills. Remind your kids that even the pros use the off-season to brush up on their techniques. Joy of the Game, (847) 850-5691, www.joyofthegamebaseball.com, a 12,000-square-foot indoor facility in Buffalo Grove, offers rookie league classes for kids ages 4 to 6. Older kids can fine-tune skills in hitting and pitching clinics. The Do it Right Baseball Academy at the Windy City Field House in Chicago, (773) 486-7300, www.windycityfieldhouse.com, also offers winter classes. For a less structured environment, At-Bats Indoor Batting Cages in Downers Grove, (630) 663-9200, and Ditka’s Sports Dome in Bolingbrook, (708) 739-7600, allow kids to swing without having to worry about windows.

- Start a card collection. Whether they’re spending their allowance or just browsing, kids are welcome at most sports card shops. Collecting baseball cards provides a fun way to keep kids learning about their favorite players and the game’s history.

Card shops also offer a family-friendly forum for discussing baseball, says Keith McDonough, owner of Bleachers Sports, 743 Elm St., Winnetka, (847) 441-7767. "It’s like a museum. I see some dads and lots of moms come in and really interact with their kids." Bleachers currently has a ball autographed by Nellie Fox, who played for the White Sox in the 1959 World Series, and signed pictures from the 2005 victory celebration.

- Adopt a winter league team. Last season, Sox hitters Juan Uribe, Pablo Ozuna and Timo Perez played winter ball for Estrellas, a Dominican League team. Your kids can follow winter league action at mlb.com (click on "news" then "events"). Allison Williams, a mother of three from Wilmette, says her boys adopted the Mazatlan Venados, last year’s Carribean League champions.

In addition to winter league stats, mlb.com has a great kids’ section (click on "more MLB sites" then "kids"). The baseball pinball, mascot coloring book and trivia section can entertain kids as young as 5.

- Bundle ’em up and head outdoors. Color the whiffle ball with a neon highlighter and shovel out the base paths. Organize a two-months-until-opening-day-game in your neighborhood. Find other parents who are looking to get their stir-crazy kids out of the house.

My son Jack, 7, says he loves the challenges of winter baseball. "It’s hard to run with my boots on and I don’t like having to wear a ski hat, but it’s awesome sliding into first ’cause it’s a big snow pile."

Julie Saltzman


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