Forget the nostalgia. Discard any illusion. Admit it, Mom and Dad: Taking kids to an Orioles game is work. There are drinks to juggle, seat disputes to settle, bathroom visits to monitor and boredom to allay, or at least withstand, as you try to remember who's on first.
But some of the new facilities, policies and services at Oriole Park at Camden Yards are intended to take some of the work out of taking the kids to a baseball game. Which means the whole baseball experience could be a little more fun -- for kids and grown-ups.
So before you and the youngsters head for the new ball park, here are a few of the family-friendly features of Oriole Park (some carry over from Memorial Stadium):
* Need a change?
If it's a diaper change, don't worry: All 56 restrooms have changing tables. This idea, by the way, originated with a fan who suggested it during early stadium planning meetings, says Orioles spokesman Rick Vaughn. There are also twice as many restrooms -- 28 for men and 28 for women -- vs. what 14 and 13, respectively at Memorial Stadium, so, theoretically, the walks and the waits will be shorter.
Especially for little appetites is the Kiddie Hot Dog ($1) and the Kiddie Soda ($1 for 14 ounces) available at two concession stands on each level. These items were available at Memorial Stadium, but weren't described as kiddie fare, says Jay Boyle, general manager of ARA Services, which is in charge of the food at Oriole Park.
There also will be kids' meals available in Pastimes, a food court with seating for 250 on the first floor of Camden warehouse next to the stadium. The meals consist of a hot dog, or chicken drumstick, with french fries, a soda and a small toy.
* Rather take your own?
You can do lunch yourself, of course, as long as you don't pack alcoholic beverages or anything else in glass bottles or metal cans. Take all the PB&J and juice boxes you like. Coolers and other containers are permitted in the stadium as long as they will fit under a seat, in a space approximately 18 by 16 inches.
* Bored with baseball?
Nine innings is a long time, sometimes. The new stadium offers alternative entertainment for the antsy. Try a walk to the Camden warehouse, where snacks and seats are available at Pastimes and Bambino's, the first-floor bar. Not only are these spots convenient destinations, they also will offer heat in the spring and fall and air-conditioned breezes in summer.
There is a Kids' Land coming to the stadium, too -- a playground on the first-base side of the lower level, but it isn't finished and won't be for the first part of the season, says Mr. Vaughn. Don't get any ideas, either, parents: All children must be accompanied by an adult in Kids' Land.
* How much farther?
If you come by car, the driver might think about dropping off everyone else while he parks. The designated drop-off, for now, is at Camden and Sharp streets, northeast of the stadium; the walk from there is about 1 1/2 blocks. When the construction crews are gone, the drop-off will be closer to the entrances.
* Want to stroll?
Strollers are permitted inside the stadium, if they are portable and will fit under seats during the game. The ramps make strollers an easy way to get little fans to their seats.
* Souvenirs, anyone?
Besides the Orioles store in the Camden warehouse, there are 17 souvenir stands throughout the stadium, says Ray Moran, novelty manager for ARA Services. For youngsters on limited budgets, the selection includes a bat key chain for 75 cents, Orioles pencils for 50 cents, a pennant for $3 and a Chinese yo-yo for $2.
For kids of all ages, Mr. Moran's personal favorite is a four-tone train whistle, called the Orioles Rally Whistle, that sounds a lot like a locomotive and commemorates the railroad heritage of the new stadium. It sells for $8, which does not include earplugs for the ride home.
* Having a birthday?
If you're taking your child to a game for his or her birthday, you can request an "Orioles Salute," which means two stadium employees come to your seats, lead a chorus of "Happy Birthday" and present the birthday person with a certificate. The salute is free, but only a limited number can be delivered during each game. To request a salute, call the Orioles public relations offices two weeks before the date, with the child's name and exact seat location. The number is 547-6140.
* Somebody lost?
Lost parents will be paged on the scoreboard. Children should be told to go to an usher or other stadium employee if they get separated from the adults they came with. The usher will escort the child to the police command post and notify the scoreboard operator who will post the parents' name and where they can meet their wanderer.
* Sick kid?
There are first aid stations behind home plate on the upper and lower decks. A registered nurse and a paramedic unit are on duty during games. If someone in your group is injured or ill, ask an usher for help or go to the first aid stations.
* Need more help?
There's a fan assistance center behind home plate on the lower concourse, next to Gate E, which is open before and during games. The folks there will answer questions, give directions, listen to complaints, post messages if you're trying to meet someone and let you know about special stadium events. "We try to ensure that fans have a good time at the ballpark regardless of the outcome of the game," says John Bowers, the center's supervisor.
A5 But, no, Mr. Bowers and his staff don't baby sit.