As the Advanced-A minor-league affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Visalia Rawhide caters to baseball buffs with professional bat-cracking action and advance screenings of future big-league stars. This year the team celebrates 65 years of play at the recently renovated Recreation Park, an intimate stadium of spherical slinging where fans sit so close to the field that they can call pitches and notice subtle interventions from celestial outfielders. When the players’ endless running, throwing, and sunflower noshing inspires spectators' stomachs to hunger, the park’s three concession stands offer satiation with a bevy of ballpark eats.
McDermont Field House wears a lot of hats. It's a fitness center that houses more than 50 cardio machines. It's an indoor soccer field that hosts open play and league games and a skate park that lures skateboarders with ramps and rail slides.
Elsewhere, its Eagle Mountain rock-climbing wall challenges visitors to scale more than 50 feet. But it's not a traditional wall. Instead of colorful foot and handholds, the indoor wall looks much like a real mountainside: the grey, cragged peak is unmarked, and climbers must figure out their own ways to the top. The field house also brings the ocean to the San Joaquin Valley with a FlowRider wave simulator that buoys surfers and body boarders.
Everyone can buy up to five of today's Groupon (a total of 10 tickets), so round up ballpark fanatics of all ages for a Saturday-evening outing to the open-air Chukchansi Park, which plays host to the Fresno Grizzlies before they grow to the heights of gentle yet surprisingly man-sized San Francisco Giants. Backdropped by the downtown skyline, night games spring to life under a spectacular night sky. During slow innings or unusually long pop flies, take your anxious youngsters down for a few games at the park's Fun Zone, where kids can train like real-life baseball players by riding the carousel, rolling down the inflatable slide, and practicing in the pitching and batting zones.
As a former relief pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Mike Bumatay brings a decade of pro experience and three league championships to teaching pitching and hitting mechanics. Bumatay individualizes practices to focus on a player’s preferred skills, such as hitting, pitching, fielding, or hypnotizing balls to suddenly roll the opposite the way once it reaches the shortstop. In addition to drilling on technique and mechanics, Bumatay prepares students for the mental challenges of the baseball world, such as accepting hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks as the only three food groups.
Though they operate more than 200 locations in upwards of 30 states, the team behind U.S. Baseball Academy aims to make each young athlete's experience a personal one. Their four- or six-week camps are taught by local instructors who are current or former coaches at the high school or college level, and typically offer a 6:1 or better player-to-teacher ratio for intense, professional-style training. The Academy's proven itinerary of hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning drills was developed by an advisory board of college coaches and Major League players, including Cy Young Award–winner and ace pitcher Brandon Webb.