By Aaron Reiss
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Have a family with kids? Well, the Skeeters provide the perfect combination of on-field baseball with sensory distraction, including a carousel in center field, the aforementioned splash pad and an entire playground stretching from the right-field foul line to straight away center field. And in the spirit of cost effectiveness, kids in youth baseball uniforms get into the games for free.
Want to go hang out with your buddies? The backdrop for "festivities" ranges from the leisurely outdoor Ice House in center field to the picnic plaza and pool pavilion (with an actual outdoor swimming pool) to the upscale sports bar atmosphere of the Legends Club, complete with billiards and shuffleboard tables.
And the pièce de résistance, of course, is the promotions, the life blood of Minor League Baseball. Whether it's a Roger Creager concert, a Swatson (the Skeeters' frenetic mascot) bobblehead giveaway or Star Wars night (one of several theme-related fireworks nights, although admittedly the only one where you'll likely see a grown man dressed as Chewbacca), the Skeeters are undeterred in their goal to send you home satisfied.
In a sport defined by boundaries and walls, the beauty in the Skeeters' offering is in its lack thereof. It's sports and entertainment. I asked Hodge what promotions he'd like to do that aren't on the list for 2012.
His answer? "Mutton busting."
"The kids that wrestle the sheep at the rodeo? They'll bring that to a ballpark?" I asked.
"I don't know, but why not? Wouldn't it be awesome?" Hodge beamed.
It's a Pleasure
Galveston gets an amusement park on the water.
Galveston has long been known for its murky water and less-than-pristine beaches, but this summer a native of the seaside city hopes to make it synonymous with something else. Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry's and the force behind the Kemah Boardwalk, plans to open the Pleasure Pier, an amusement park built completely over the water.
"Mr. Fertitta has always had kind of an affinity for that type of operation," says the regional director of Landry's new theme park division, Mark Kane. "And he's from Galveston, dedicated and loyal to Galveston."
A few years back, Fertitta decided to make the pier into a center of family entertainment similar to his other properties, which include the Rainforest Café and the Downtown Aquarium. However, he did not start from scratch.
"This was an existing pier. Historically, back in the '50s, it was an amusement pier," Kane says. "After one of these many hurricanes it was converted to a hotel and fishing pier, a Flagship Hotel."
The hotel, which was built in 1965, managed to stick around until 2008, when Hurricane Ike cleared the property once again. It was then that Fertitta purchased the property to begin the construction of the new Historic Pleasure Pier.
The park will feature a number of classic rides, including a double-tier carousel, a 100-foot Ferris wheel and old-fashioned bumper cars, in the hopes of inspiring nostalgia and fond reminiscence. But the pier will feature modern rides, too.
Says Kane, "We have something for everybody. There's the kids' zone with the frog hopper, big wheel and truck ride, the Texas teacups...for the thrill-seekers, we have what's called the Iron Shark, a steel roller coaster that has a 100-foot lift, and we also have the tallest swing ride in the state of Texas."
And of course, all the foodstuffs a person might expect when visiting an amusement park — funnel cakes, hot dogs, fried turkey legs, chicken fingers, milk shakes and more — will be available.
There also will be a main restaurant just outside the park called Bubba Gump's, a shrimp-centric restaurant that's part of a chain making its Texas debut, and expected to seat up to 600 people.
With that number in mind, and with the predicted turnout following the pier's opening day, there may be a slight problem for visitors of the theme park.
"We do have a premium lot across the street and space for 420 cars. After that, it's wherever we can find parking," Kane admits. "It's one of the challenges."
Another slight concern might be the tendency of hurricanes to destroy this particular piece of paradise, as history has demonstrated.
"There's been a significant effort to reinforce the pier," Kane says. "We're actually building a pier on top of the pier reinforced underneath." So maybe this one will last a little longer than its predecessors.
Hurricanes aside, the pier is a source of hope for many Galveston residents, both for its potential to generate tourism and for its employment opportunities. Opening early this summer, The Pleasure Pier is located at 2501 Seawall Boulevard.