Play's the thing at indoor escapes


November 28, 1996|By Lori Buckner | Lori Buckner,SUN STAFF

It's a little too cold outside for baseball, and the living room's still too small for minigolf. Of course, there's "no running in the house," and "you can't bounce that in here," so fun-loving people of all ages can get a little fidgety when wintery weather puts the brakes on their active lifestyle.

Yet there's no reason to sit at home. Here are a handful of randomly selected options to help keep sanity in place through these trying, cool-weather times.

Climbing the walls?

Rocks have a following at Gerstung Gymnastic and Movement Center near Mount Washington. Kids head straight for the large wall of rock and ground abutting the parking lot. Inside, recently, parents and kids were seen scampering up a 12-foot bouldering wall and dangling up to 30 feet off the ground from a climbing wall.

Colorful and inviting, both walls are new features at the facility. Some 250 hand- and footholds are arranged for training on the shorter wall, while 350 holds and a rope system help climbers negotiate the taller one. Climbers then rappel back down to the ** mats below.

Instructor Greg Nerses, formerly with the Clipper City Rock Gym, which was destroyed by fire a year ago, is enthusiastic: "You don't have to be in great shape to climb, but like any sport, climbing will give you a great workout. It's a great ego boost."

It worked for first-time climber and real-estate businessman Mike Weitzmann of Cockeysville, who was there with his 10-year-old son, Pete. "It was exhilarating. You do come away with a small feeling of accomplishment -- whether it's deserved or not." The trip to the top made Pete a tad more philosophical: "Feet were not meant to stay on the ground!"

Endless summer

"Where Summer Never Ends" is the slogan at Sports, a family entertainment center in Cockeysville, and the waterfall in the center of the 18-hole minigolf course is pretty convincing. It's a bright place full of putters, video games, skee-ball and activity. The trip to the rear of the 38,000-square-foot arena is a gantlet of action: The amusement-park style "Red Baron" ride that has youngsters flying around in World War II biplanes is across from air hockey tables and just before a bank of race-car arcade attractions and carnival-style games. At $1.50, Alpine skiing is the most expensive game; most range from 50 cents to $1 per play.

Along the back of the room is an indoor batting range where pitches come slow or fast and kids too small to have strike zones have as much opportunity to connect bat to ball as adults.

Some of the games pay off in tickets, redeemable for prizes from a plastic spider (two tickets) to a CD player (96,000).

Of course, with the fun comes a fair share of noise, but Pat Colohan, parent of 10-year-old Sports-fan Kevin, came armed: "This is great for kids; it just doesn't appeal to me. That's why I always bring a book."

Manager Thomas J. Brettschneider is assisted by six to 10 staff members who enforce strict rules to maintain a safe, family environment.

Driven to distraction

A little nip in the air doesn't chase everybody indoors all the time. At Checkered Flag Amusements Inc. in White Marsh, part of the thrill is the wind slapping go-cart drivers in the face as they go round and round.

The facility has three tracks ("kiddie," "fast" and "slick"). The slick track gets its name from a mixture of baby powder and water that adds adventure to the 18-20 mph achievable on it. A bank of rubber tires in the middle of the oval keeps the skidding from getting out of hand. "Go slow till you get the hang of it," Faith Fry advised nephew Kyle Dattilo, 8, who made immediate use of the crash-cushioning tires and found himself suddenly facing the exact opposite of his intended direction. The cars come with seat belts and roll bars and a standard speech about safe conduct, said Checkered Flag general manager Ginger Townsend. The fast track cars "might go 10 mph." And the kiddie cars travel at a slower clip.

"That is the most fun I've had in a long time," said Stephanie Dorman, moments after being rear-ended by her daughter, 12-year-old Heather Thompson.

Kiddie track drivers must be at least 42 inches tall; fast trackers, 56 inches; and slick track participants, 58 inches.

All sports, all the time

Grand Slam U.S.A. is serious fun: basketball courts, batting cages for softball or baseball and something called "Spaceball" that involves shoelessness. Rather than frivolous play, it's more like -- training camp.

Rich Caudill, 22, and Jeff Caudill, 19, of Rosedale come here to "play."

"We come out here a lot for softball and baseball. To keep our skills up," says Rich, who partakes of fast-pitch baseball one or two times a week this time of year.

There are few frills here. Grand Slam "does have a recreational factor, but for the most part, it is a training facility," says Steve Hohman, a frequent customer before becoming an employee.

Grand Slam is "more strictly athletics," adds Jeff. "It's a good way to teach kids who are coming up in Little Leagues."

In the Zone

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