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posted: 5/25/2012 6:00 AM

Sports and spectacle a hit with fans of suburban teams

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  • Player Xavier Brown interacts with fans at a Chicago Rush game in Rosemont.

      Player Xavier Brown interacts with fans at a Chicago Rush game in Rosemont.

  • The Chicago Bandits mascot revs up the fans during a game in Rosemont.

      The Chicago Bandits mascot revs up the fans during a game in Rosemont.

  • Kane County Cougars games draw fans with lower ticket prices and lots of family-friendly fun.

      Kane County Cougars games draw fans with lower ticket prices and lots of family-friendly fun.
    Daily Herald file photo by Rick West/rwest@dailyhe

  • Sylvia Fowles, right, returns to the court this season for the Chicago Sky.

      Sylvia Fowles, right, returns to the court this season for the Chicago Sky.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Sky's Tamera Young, right, goes up for a rebound last season in Rosemont.

      Chicago Sky's Tamera Young, right, goes up for a rebound last season in Rosemont.
    Associated Press

  • New turf and other stadium updates marked the debut of the Schaumburg Boomers.

      New turf and other stadium updates marked the debut of the Schaumburg Boomers.
    Daily Herald file photo by Mark Welsh/mwelsh@daily

  • The Kane County Cougars mascot greets fans at the home opener last month in Geneva.

      The Kane County Cougars mascot greets fans at the home opener last month in Geneva.
    Daily Herald file photo by Rick West/rwest@dailyhe

 
By Samantha Nelson
Daily Herald correspondent

If you want to catch a game or two this summer, you don't have to drive to Chicago and shell out big bucks for Cubs or White Sox tickets. There are plenty of pro sports teams in the suburbs playing baseball, softball, football and basketball. Even if you're not a big sports fan, low ticket prices, accessible players and plenty of family-friendly promotions make these teams worth checking out.

Chicago Bandits
27 Jennie Finch Way, Rosemont, (877) 722-6348; chicagobandits.com
Tickets: $8.50-$15.75
The Chicago Bandits women's softball team moved to Rosemont last year, winning the National Pro Fastpitch championship and attracting plenty of families along with youth and travel softball teams. The players were all drafted out of the senior seasons in college, and many of them spend their off seasons coaching or playing professionally in Japan.

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"The players are so personable," said Jacquie Boatman, director of community relations and media. "They sign autographs after every game and really interact with the fans. Everyone who comes out says they have a really great time. Their kids are just really excited, so they want to come back and get involved in softball as well."

The team hosts promotions before, during and after every game, including T-shirt tosses, a tug-o-war where players sometimes help the kids and the opportunity for kids to race down the field and try to put on a Bandits uniform as fast as they can. Rosemont won a bid to host this year's championship, so you'll be able to see the top teams play at the end of August.

Chicago Rush
Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont, (855) 787-4946; arenarush.com
Tickets: $10-$100
With a small field and players focusing on passing plays, Chicago Rush arena football games are faster and more unpredictable than NFL games, said Ryan Young, media relations manager.

"The speed is what gets people excited," Young said. "You're going to see a lot of quirky plays."

Players work to create camaraderie with the fans, walking around the field and shaking hands after the game, sometimes for as long as 45 minutes. Games mostly draw couples in their 30s and families with young kids, who are especially excited about the chance to hang out with the players. To further cater to families, the Rush introduced a family four pack this year, which offers four tickets, drinks and hot dogs for $49 to $79, depending on the location of the seats.

The Chicago Rush will unveil the new team Mascot, Bruiser the Bulldog, at the June 3 game. The first 1,000 kids under age 14 will get a stuffed replica.

Chicago Slaughter
Sears Centre, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates, (847) 310-3190 or chicagoslaughter.com.
Tickets: $9-$35
In the mood for more football? Head to the Sears Centre before the Slaughter season ends next month.

The head coach is Steve McMichael, a former Bears defensive lineman, but the game is a tad different from the one he played. The field is half the size, the goal posts are narrower and the field itself is enclosed.

Kids get a little action of their own in the Fun Zone, a free play area at every game featuring a ring toss game, bucket throw, a bouncy house and more.

Fan Appreciation Day is June 8, the last day of the regular season. Expect lots of prizes. It's also Girls Just Want to Have Fun Night, and some 500 Girl Scouts will be in attendance. There will be spa stations throughout where the girls can take advantage of things like hairbraiding and other salon treats. Imagine that at a Bears game!

Chicago Sky
Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont, (312) 828-9550; wnba.com/sky
Tickets: $15-$500
Adam Fox took over as president of the Chicago Sky in 2010 and said the best part of leading the WNBA team has been sharing the games with his 11- and soon to be 8-year-old daughters.

"It's been a big game changer for my whole family, relative to how my kids view sports and competition," Fox said. "They love watching these women play, and it has been really inspirational for them."

While the games are especially popular with families, Fox said anyone can appreciate watching an excellent basketball game. Attendance increased to nearly 5,600 people per game last year, and the goal is to grow that number again. With two London Olympians leading the team, Fox expects the competition to be better than ever in 2012.

"This will be, without question, the finest collection of players and talent that we've had," he said.

There are plenty of opportunities to interact with the athletes. Some ticket packages let you watch the pregame shootaround and take pictures with the players, and you can attend an autograph session after every game.

Kane County Cougars
Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, 34W02 Cherry Lane, Geneva, (630) 232-8811; kccougars.com
Tickets: $8-$12
For the last 18 years, the Kane County Cougars have drawn in 400,000 per season for minor league baseball mixed with plenty of other activities.

"We've got what we think is the most affordable, family-friendly environment in the Chicago area," said Shawn Touney, director of public relations. "There are a lot of different promotions and events that appeal to everyone, even if they're not a big-time baseball fan."

This year's schedule includes nearly 30 fireworks shows, with theme nights like Star Wars, princesses and Harry Potter that give fans the chance to dress in costume and join a pregame parade. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can come for a pregame autograph and photo session with the players, and fans get the chance to run the bases after every game. Sundays also include free kid-friendly entertainment, including live music and face-painters.

The Cougars' relationship with the Kansas City Royals means you have the opportunity to see players who will be heading to the major leagues. This year, the Cougars are also hosting the Midwest League Allstar Game June 19, which will feature a free festival before the game, including the chance to scale a rock-climbing wall and play catch and practice batting on the field.

Schaumburg Boomers
1999 S. Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg, (847) 461-3695; boomersbaseball.com
Tickets: $7-$10
This is the inaugural year for the Schaumburg Boomers, the minor league team that took over and updated the stadium formerly occupied by the Schaumburg Flyers.

"We expect to give the fans what they've been missing," said Ed McCaskey, director of media relations. "We've heard from a lot of people in the Schaumburg area that they missed baseball and they're glad to have it back."

Fans can run the bases after every game, and the stadium offers Friday night fireworks shows. Players are very accessible, signing autographs after every Sunday game. The team gets its name from the booming noise made by the male prairie chicken to attract females, and you can watch their mascot, Coop, perform his mating dance.

For an additional $5, fans can gain access to the kid's zone, which features an obstacle course with a 25-foot slide and a speed pitch where a radar gun tracks how fast you throw and whether you threw a ball or a strike.

"It's not just a baseball game," McCaskey said.

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