Joseph leaned over the wall in left field with his Dada, his eyes growing bigger as he watched the baseball sail right past him over the wall in left-center field for a home-team home run during the first inning of the Durham Bulls game last night. Gary and Joseph high-fived as the crowd at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park erupted in cheers. My 2-year-old daughter Pamela and I joined them at the wall as we peered above our heads at the famous big snorting bull that was emitting smoke in celebration.
Joseph and Pamela happily soaked up the atmosphere, athletics and antics that are part of what make Triple-A minor league baseball special. The experience is especially exciting because baseball games are usually off-limits for my son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy. The peanuts eaten and strewn throughout the stadium threaten his safety, striking out any possibility of fun. But thanks to the Durham Bulls organization and our local support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), we get to enjoy a family baseball outing once or twice a year.
This was the ninth year that NC FACES has teamed up with the Durham Bulls to provide a peanut/nut-free section and it gets better every year. Not only did we get to attend a game in a section free of nuts that was thoroughly cleaned for our safety before the game, but also we got a great view of the action from a big, covered section down the third-base line complete with tables and chairs.
While a lot of work goes into ensuring the safety of our children, the process is seamless for ticket holders. We are all given "Be A PAL" stickers with our tickets to easily identify us for the peanut-free section and Durham Bulls hosts monitor the section, which is sectioned off and clearly marked, to ensure that no other fans enter the area. It also is a comfort to know that an EMT is posted nearby as a precaution. We were relieved this year to have permission to enter the stadium through the season ticket holders' gate right near our section, thus avoiding a precarious walk from the main gate through the concession area and the floor covered in peanut shells. In addition, the park concessions management sends out an ingredient list about food items sold in the park that details allergen information for those wanting to purchase food at the game. We don't purchase food at the game, but I was impressed at the level of detail the list provided and did take advantage of the fact that we were allowed to bring our own snacks into the park.
The Durham Bulls and NC FACES organizers take several measures to ensure a safe, fun outing for food-allergic children. Their efforts allow us to sit back and just enjoy some baseball. Gary and Joseph dodged foul balls, and laughed at the fan quizzes and other entertainment on the field between innings. Pamela ran to her Dada for a few high-fives and was thrilled to see the Bulls mascot, Wool E. Bull, every time he appeared on the field or in the stands. When I asked Joseph what he liked about the game, he said, "Everything. I was just so happy to be there!"