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A Day for MLB Fans with Sensory Sensitivities

I have a son on the autism spectrum with related sensory issues. He loves baseball and has from a very young age. It would be nice if MLB teams could make some adjustments to make attending a little easier. At least one minor league team has.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

My son is nearly fifteen years old. He listens to or watches every Phillies game he can. He nags me constantly to take him to games. Baseball has been a wonderful experience for both of us to share over  the years.

Long-time readers of this site also know that my son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder early in elementary school. Part of the of conditions that he lives with is an increased sensitivity toward powerful sensory stimuli that other kids may be more able to "roll" with. Loud sounds in particular were a major problem for us when we attended Phillies games early on.

Going to games with younger children can be challenging as it is, but layering a sensory disorder on top of it made it a challenge for us. It wasn't just sound -- lots of people and pushing and crowding, heat, sun, and rain were tough to deal with, too. All the things that make any kid uncomfortable were issues for us, but only moreso. Imagine a sensory sensitivity as amplifying those things. We worked out strategies, though, because we're problem solvers and, dammit, because baseball is**worth suffering for**:

  1. Get there early to avoid the crowds (less of a problem now than in, say, 2010).
  2. Take along hearing protection ear muffs to wear if the volume was too loud on the stadium speakers.
  3. Sit in locations where there is less traffic to and from seats.
  4. Try to get an aisle seat so nobody is banging up against the kiddo. We even bought extra seats sometimes for buffer space, and also because my son could be a wiggler.
  5. Sit in a section and in specific seats in a section where there was less speaker exposure.
  6. Find seating where there is cover from the elements as well as temporary respite from smelly people (including one time, memorably, when a loud talker from the Lehigh Valley exuded an overwhelming odor of cologne -- ye gods!).
Looking around at my blood relatives and in the mirror, I recognize that my son's diagnosed condition did not come from left field, so to speak. I find myself wondering sometimes whether it might be nice to have a little less amplified music between innings and between pitches, too. When, as I child, I read of the Grinch complaining of the "Noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!" in Who-ville, he reached a forgotten and under-served constituency that included me. And I get cranky in a crowd. Or when speaking with a "close talker"/"space invader" or, (the worst) an "elbow grabber". You want punched? Grab my elbow and talk to me.

So it was with interest that I read a recent newspaper article about an Atlantic League team, the York Revolution, that put together a "day" for people with sensory issues. With all the "days" that exist for different groups, it might be nice for Major League Baseball teams to consider setting aside a day for baseball that is a little quieter. I think an afternoon game on a summer weekend would be a good bet -- when school is out and during a "kid-friendly" time of day.

There's no need to shut down the stadium and have a brass band playing in the outfield somewhere. I'd like that, but it isn't necessary to go Old Order Amish with this. Even taking a few sections and turning off the amplified music would go a long way toward making a game more accommodating, not just for kids with sensory disorders, but for many kids generally.

Personally, I would actually pay a $5.00 per seat premium to sit in a section such as 211 if the Phillies would just turn off the speakers there. Call it "Library Seating" if you want. I've often wondered if someone took a sound meter into a stadium and took readings, what would it show? Do we need excessive volume in a half-empty stadium with the blahs? How many decibels are really necessary to amp us up when we're 10 games below .500 in August? I don't want a mausoleum, but it need not be jet-engine loud, either.

A "The Day The Music Died" event could be tied in with super-duper throwback uniforms. Go for a 1915 feel for uniforms and music. I'd suggest 1915 pricing, too, but that'd just be crazy. Maybe you could actually invite a band to come play in the outfield bleachers during the game and to lead the hometown fans in "Huzzahs!" against the fellows from New Amsterdam.

It could be a really cool throwback day all around. Or it could be one section of the park where things are a little different. It could be all kinds of things. But I think it would be nice it if could be at all. Give it a thought, Phillies.