This past weekend, I experienced another mom milestone as I cheered on my son, Dean, at his first baseball tournament at the Winona Recreational Park.
After the city’s recreational tee ball season ended, Dean joined the Winona Braves with some of his rec ball teammates to test out their coach-pitch skills on the tournament level. My husband, Keith, was absolutely levitating from excitement about this new baseball challenge he and Dean could experience together.
I will say the extra practices as well as the improved hand-eye coordination he has achieved from taking tennis lessons and piano lessons this summer have improved his game, however, like I try to remind Keith every single day, he is all but six years old. Dean sees baseball as a time to play with his friends in cool outfits while I and the other parents cheer them on. Dean loves applause.
Anyway, I joined hundreds of other parents and family members at the Winona Recreational Park for the three-day tournament, and I will say covering a tournament for the newspaper and experiencing it as a parent is not close to the same. Coming out to snap photos for a few minutes and heading back to the air conditioning when a sweat breaks out is not like sitting for a double header in the boiling sun.
I was not prepared, and I am always prepared. The other parents – those who travel from park to park with their kids all year long for the various tournaments – were prepared.
From the top of the western ridge of the park, it looked like a college football tailgate with hundreds of tents erected around the park’s four ball fields. Generators powered large fans and parents in team fan gear were relaxed in portable chairs, some which even had gliding mechanisms for ultimate comfort.
I, on the other hand, looked like a sweating mess as I melted onto the metal bleachers. Since I work all the time, my wardrobe is far from cool and casual park wear, and I sat there with miserable regret at my outfit choice which was more appropriate for a garden party than a baseball tournament.
Thankfully, the parents accompanying a team from Madison were so kind to those of us sitting in the sun and set up their tents to provide us a little shelter. They were waiting for their team to play in the next game and graciously offered to let us enjoy their shade. I wish I could have organized a ceremony to award them the key to the city.
After the Winona Blaze’s final game Sunday, I trudged up the western ridge to my car with a raging sun headache and vowed to myself that next time I would be prepared for long, 100-degree afternoons at the park. I plan on creating my own mirage, complete with tent, gliding chairs, and some sort of make-shift air conditioning device. Also, after being the recipient of the kindness of other tournament parents, I will share it with anyone who shares my delicate constitution for heat and humidity.
I have been a longtime advocate for the Winona Recreational Park and its benefits to this community. With its dozen or so planned tournaments each year which brings thousands of people to the city to play, eat, shop, and stay in our hotels, the Winona Recreational Park is the city’s biggest tourism draw in the entire county. I applaud Winona’s leaders for continuing to invest in the park and make needed improvements to keep it a viable destination for little league baseball and softball.
The city is currently working to install artificial turf on all four of the infields to prevent tournament rain-outs, which will make Winona competitive with bigger cities and parks in recruiting big tournaments like this past weekend.
However, to continue being a force in Mississippi youth sports, I think Winona needs an edge to become the premier tournament destination, and after my experience as a parent this past weekend, I have an idea. Now that the city has invested to make the playing fields even better for teams to play, I think it should now focus on making the tournament experience in Winona enjoyable for the parents.
For example, Chick-fil-A is a favorite restaurant destination for kids. It boasts a fantastic indoor playground, the best chicken nuggets in the world, and cute cow mascots with bad penmanship. However, the Chick-fil-A leaders knew that without the parents, those cute little kiddos couldn’t drive themselves to the restaurant or pay for their chicken nuggets. They began offering grilled options to go along with their fried chicken products.
I have some suggestions, and I would be more than willing to head up a fundraising campaign to make Winona Recreational Park the most parent-friendly park in the South. I expect most parents – especially those of us who are regulars at the park -- would be happy to fork out a donation to help make the park as parent-friendly as kid-friendly.
• Create a cool zone. There needs to be somewhere people can go to get out of the heat and cool off. Some parents said they go sit in their cars for a few minutes. If we could construct some sort of lounge with chairs and air conditioning, it would give folks somewhere to grab a few minutes of cool without trotting out to the parking lot.
• A covered picnic area near the fields to eat items purchased from the concession stand would allow parents to watch their children while they enjoyed a bite to eat at a tabletop. It will also provide a place for children to eat Italian ice without wearing it all over their baseball jerseys. Dean dropped his spoon between the concession stand and the dugout Sunday, and he ended up sticking his face in the cup and eat it like an ice cream cone – apple-bobbing style. He looked like a blue-lipped zombie for the entire second game.
• Purchase addition bleacher tents for the other fields. Sadly, the field the Winona Blaze was playing on did not have the bleacher tents, and if the wonderful Madison fans hadn’t set up their tents for us, I would have been too sunburned to move after three hours.
• Develop a method for accepting credit cards and debit cards at the concession stand. This will only increase Winona’s profits when those parents like myself who never carry cash want a cool drink.
• Like Chick-fil-A did to accommodate its parents, expand concession stand fare to more mature tastes, although the nachos are good for all ages.
• Winona Recreational Park also boasts a huge playground with first-rate equipment. Dean loves to go to the playground after games, but there are isn’t seating around the parameter of the playground for overprotective parents like myself to keep an eye on accident-prone kids like mine. The covered pavilion is just a little too far away for me to feel comfortable letting Dean run wild on the equipment. Adding more benches around the area will not only be enjoyed by parents visiting the park for tournaments but for local parents to use daily as their little ones run out their endless energy.
In speaking with several parents that do travel from park to park around the state, none of the parks have these types of perks for visitors. We could be the first and the preferred park for parents everywhere.
Winona Recreational Park is a jewel in this community – used by residents of all ages for organized sports and other activities. With the addition of the walking track, coming soon, I expect even more people will enjoy all the perks the park has to offer.