It's not all big-money, big-city baseball when it comes to summer sports.
Locally, you can take the family to minor league games, professional women's sports and more -- all offering hours of activities that go beyond what's happening on the scoreboard.
A giant squirt gun fight, concerts, tailgate parties and the chance to run the bases are just some of the fun that local sports teams are offering this summer. Whether you're looking to build your kids' interest in sports or just seeking affordable entertainment for a long summer day, these games offer plenty of value for their ticket price.
Schaumburg Boomer Stadium, 1999 Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg, (847) 461-3695, boomersbaseball.com
The Schaumburg Boomers won the Frontier League championship in 2013, just two years after the minor league baseball team was established. President and general manager Andy Viano said the team hopes to win its second championship this year and continue to attract more fans. The team's attendance has already increased 20 percent from its first year, growth Viano said was cultivated by providing affordable fun that goes well beyond watching the players.
"You're going to keep a smile on your face for three hours," Viano said. "When you think of a White Sox or a Cubs game, you go there for nine innings of baseball, you watch the game and then go home. Here we've got that plus the mascot running around to make kids happy, inflatables in the outfield, all kinds of promotional nights. We're an entertainment venue with baseball as our featured entertainment."
The team offers a full schedule of special events. July 27 is the annual squirt gun fight, where the first 1,000 fans get a free toy and you're encouraged to bring your own from home. Giant tubs of water are positioned throughout the stadium so you can arm yourself. While there are dry zones available, Viano said "almost everyone gets into it." At the end of the night, everyone lines up on the field for a big shoot out. June 7 will be "Field of Screams," with players donning "Schaumburg Zombies" uniforms and makeup artists turning staff members and some fans into ghouls.
Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont, (866) 759-9622, chicagosky.net
The Women's National Basketball Association team saw a big increase in attendance last year and is now trying to build on its successes on and off the court through continuing its community outreach, visiting schools and holding basketball camps throughout Chicago and the suburbs four to five times a month. Head coach Pokey Chatman said fans can come early to watch the players warm up and that the team regularly holds autograph sessions.
"I think bang for your buck in family entertainment value it can't be beat," she said. "You're engaged with the team, you're engaged with the athletes."
Kane County Cougars
Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, 34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva, (630) 232-8811, kccougars.com
This is the minor league team's 24th year and second year working with the Chicago Cubs.
"You've got the opportunity to come out and watch these young future Cubs play," said general manager Curtis Haug. "The Cubs are in a rebuilding mode and building from the minor leagues up."
Regular deals like kids eat free Sundays and $1 beers on Thursdays make games affordable, and the team offers plenty of additional entertainment throughout the season. A Saturday night concert series offers pregame performances from local bands including Seventh Heaven and Hi Infidelity, the Jesse White Tumblers perform after all Saturday games, and there are 26 fireworks shows throughout the season. Theme nights include Harry Potter on Aug. 1.
Toyota Park, 7000 S. Harlem Ave., Bridgeview, (708) 594-7200, chicago-fire.com
The Major League Soccer team brings out 17,000 people to its weekend games, with many fans coming to several during the season.
"It's pretty close to the melting pot that is Chicago," said Mike Ernst, senior vice president of ticket sales, service, marketing and club operations. "You've got everything from suburban families who are coming out because their kids are playing soccer to people who have been supporting us since our first season in 1998."
The stadium parking lot opens three hours before games for people to tailgate and grill. You can also visit the Firefest fan zone, where you can learn some soccer moves and sometimes get food samples. Games kick off with the members of youth soccer clubs walking out with the players, and the athletes sign autographs in the premium seating locations after the game.
"It's a fantastic experience," Ernst said. "Watching a live soccer event is unlike any other sporting event in Chicago. We have ample room for tailgating and it's a great way to spend a night out in Chicago."
The Ballpark at Rosemont, 27 Jennie Finch Way, Rosemont, (877) 722-6348, chicagobandits.com
The women's professional softball team offers affordable family fun with plenty of ways for kids to get involved beyond watching the game. There's a run-the-bases program once a week, and the team regularly brings kids onto the field for games like tug-of-war. There's also a Bandit for a Day program, where kids can have lunch with a player before the game.
"We take the time to sign autographs after every game, win or lose," said general manager Aaron Moore. "One of our big goals is for fans to be able to come out and enjoy the experience and leave having had a great time."
Chicago Red Stars
Benedictine University Sports Complex, 5700 College Road, Lisle, (773) 697-8699, chicagoredstars.com
The Chicago Red Stars, established in 2007, is a professional soccer club that is part of the National Women's Soccer League. The team, based in Chicago, plays its home games at Benedictine University in Lisle. The season runs now through Saturday, Aug. 16. The next home game is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, when the Red Stars take on the Washington Spirit.
This summer, the Red Stars host their first Academy Residential Camp from July 10-13 at the home stadium in Lisle. The soccer program is for girls ages 8 to 18.