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Mary Bergin: For families, Appleton offers museums, minor league baseball (column)

2:16 AM, Aug. 3, 2013  |  Comments
Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton is home to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, one of two minor league baseball farm teams in Wisconsin.
Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton is home to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, one of two minor league baseball farm teams in Wisconsin.
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Appleton.

That was my reply when Wisconsin Public Radio's Larry Meiller asked for a fun summer destination for families.

Why? I could have mentioned the unique Paper Discovery Center (paperdiscoverycenter.org, 920-380-7491) where kids take home paper that they make; the doll hospital and indoor tree forts at The Building for Kids (buildingforkids.org, 920-734-3226); or the Houdini magic exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle (myhistorymuseum.org, 920-735-9370).

These are all good reasons to take the kids to Appleton, but what was on my mind was baseball and discoveries from a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game this year.

Cheaper seats, a closer view and a more forgiving crowd than Milwaukee's Miller Park: That's pretty much all of what I expected from Fox Cities Stadium, the ballpark that is home to the Class A farm team for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Timber Rattlers are part of the minor league's 16-team Midwest League.

Game tickets start at $5 (for a lawn seat) and top out at $25, which includes a first-baseline view and all-you-can-eat picnic buffet. That high-end ticket typically buys little more than a bleacher seat in Milwaukee.

Capacity is 5,500 at the newly renovated Fox Cities Stadium, compared with about 42,000 for Miller Park. Although the Rattlers racked up three errors in the first inning when I attended, spectator response didn't give away that fact. This was a tolerant crowd that seemed to appreciate the value of baseball beyond statistics.

What I didn't expect was such a packed stadium parking lot, an hour before the first pitch. Fans tailgated within earshot of a band playing outside of the main gate. Others posed with costumed characters because this was Star Wars Night. So plastic light sabers sold for $5, and some children arrived as little Princess Leias and Darth Vaders.

Inside the stadium entrance is evidence of the Rattler-Brewer brotherhood: Both have a 50-50 raffle (to benefit charities as well as a lucky fan) and a couple of best-seats-in-the-house recliners. In the Snake Pit, a gift shop, is merchandise with each team's logo. In game programs are plenty of Brewers references and promos.

Miller Park gains the edge in food choices, stadium size and beloved traditions - sixth inning sausage races and Bernie Brewer's home run slides. But you'll see more goofy fan promotions and giveaways at Fox Cities Stadium, plus a fireworks show after more of the team's home games.

Then there's the beach. Adjacent to Appleton's stadium is a giant sandbox for playing, near the lawn seats, and an assortment of inflatable bouncy houses and slides.

Good for all ages is a catwalk that leads to the bullpens; fans watch from above as pitchers loosen up.

What's more expensive at Timber Rattlers games? The hot dogs: They're $3.50 and made by Klement's at Miller Park, compared to $3.75 from Manitowoc's Cher-Make Sausage at the Fox Cities' club seats.

Odds are that this baseball season won't be a banner year for either the Timber Rattlers or their parent club, both of which hover closer to the bottom than top of their leagues. If winning is the most important thing to you when watching baseball, save yourself the frustration and find something else to do with your time. Call me a defeatist, but this is not your year.

But some of us like baseball because its rhythm helps us slow down and reconnect with one another. We appreciate the athletic ballet: the grace of a high-stretching catch, tenacity of a pitch well delivered and power of a well-timed swing.

If you share that admiration, it will always be your season and you'll find what you savor during either major or minor league play.

? For more about the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Fox Cities Stadium, 2400 N. Casaloma Drive, Appleton: timberrattlers.com, 920-733-4152. Milwaukee Bucks Night is Aug. 24, and the last home game is Aug. 25.

Wisconsin's other minor league baseball team is the Beloit Snappers, which is affiliated with the Oakland As. The team plays at Pohlman Field, 2301 Skyline Drive, Beloit: snappersbaseball.com, 608-362-2272.

? The Paper Discovery Center, 425 W. Water St.; The Building for Kids, 100 W. College Ave.; and History Museum at the Castle, 330 E. College Ave. are within one mile of each other in downtown Appleton. For details about other local attractions, consult foxcities.org, 800-236-6673.

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