All the high-tech bells and whistles at the Minnesota Twins ballpark might thrill many who attend the games, but for others the unnatural outdoor noise can be quite disturbing and too often forces them to leave the ball game altogether.
Sheletta Brundidge, WCCO Radio host, author, and podcast maven, has four children, three with autism: Brandon, 9; Cameron, 8; and Daniel, 7. She has persistently brought up to team officials that a place within the ballpark where children like hers, who sometimes need a break from the noise, can retreat, regroup, then return to their paid seats to finish watching the game.
“I have a son who is in high school [15-year-old Andrew] who does not have autism but has three younger siblings who do,” noted Brundidge. “He has had to leave the game because he can’t stay because [his siblings] will have a meltdown, and we have nowhere to take them to calm down.”
Brundidge and other families with special needs children and adults last week toured the new suite-level Sensory Room the Twins installed for use this season and beyond.
“She’s been very outspoken to me about it,” Matt Hodson, the Twins’ senior business communications manager, told us of Brundidge’s insistence. “She now would feel comfortable to bring her children here where she wasn’t before.”
The spacious Sensory Suite, formerly a $200,000 suite for sale called “Suite 1,” has unique, separated spaces specifically designed to meet different needs of children and adults. It is the result of a partnership with the Twins and UnitedHealthcare, who provided training for Twins game-day staff to work with fans whenever needed.
“There’s a room more focused towards the children,” explained Hodson. “There is an area that has a view of the playing field. This is really unique as far as we know. We’ve been able to find only one other major league baseball stadium [Pittsburgh] that offers a sensory suite that has a view of the playing surface.
“This will allow guests to still feel involved and also to help ease the transition back to [their seats],” stressed Hodson. The new suite is available to all paying patrons, he added.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Brundidge, who left behind copies of her new book, “Brandon Spots His Sign,” for use by Sensory Suite visitors. “In times past we’ve had to leave the game and not come back, and this was money wasted, time wasted, and the other kids who don’t have autism are disappointed.
“This sensory-friendly room allows families and parents who have kids with special needs to take their kids somewhere, calm them down, and then continue to enjoy the game so we don’t have to leave,” she pointed out.
Hodson added, “We will have sensory kits that can be checked out free of charge for guests throughout the ballpark. All Guest Services staff will be trained to be able to identify folks [who] might be uncomfortable and might need a place to calm down…have that respite from the sound or whatever in the environment has perhaps agitated them.”
Now the Twins can say that their ballpark is for everyone, which in the past wasn’t necessarily the case. “We are very proud to offer an environment now that everyone can feel they can come and enjoy Twins baseball,” said Hodson.
Next: The Twins “triple down” on 2022 stadium game-day food diversity.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.