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Take me out to the boardwalk: Florida's newest theme park takes you back to the days of a Sunday-afternoon stroll along the boardwalk.

It's the ideal setting for youngisters who have yet to grow up and for adults who refuse to.

Just a 25 -minute drive southwest of Orlando, Florida, a new theme park has blended two of America's favorite institutions-an amusement park and our national pastime-into a 135-acre setting. It's called, appropriately, "Boardwalk and Baseball."

The park, constructed in the shadows of Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Cypress Gardens, opened its gates to the public last April. It contains the usual thrill rides-a white-knuckle roller coaster, a 16-story Ferris wheel, a spiraled log flume-and, of course, a midway where the sweet smell of cotton candy takes you back to the glory days of a Sunday afternoon stroll at Coney Island or Atlantic City.

An authentic wooden boardwalk connects all the attractions. This 20-foot-wide walkway begins near the entrance at the "Boardwalk Theatre"-easily identified by eight huge reproductions of classic Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover paintings. The wooden path, made of jarrah timbers imported from western Australia, weaves its way through the park for more than a mile. Brightly colored flowers and manicured greenery line the boardwalk, and more than 5,000 trees have been added to the landscape.

Boardwalk and Baseball's president, Dick Howard, explains that the walkway is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also much more comfortable for guests"By eliminating heat-radiating concrete, guests stay cooler," he says. "It's also a lot easier on their feet."

Several other attractions in the park rekindle distant memories of a bygone era. One of the more prominent-a replica of an antique carousel, featuring 30 delicately hand-painted horses, two chariots, richly colored scenery, mirrors, and sparkling lights-reminds us of the days when rides cost only a nickel. At Boardwalk and Baseball, it's even cheaper; all rides are tee with the price of admission.

"When I was :youngster, this is what I thought every backyard ought to be," said Ben Hall, a recent visitor from Pittsburgh. Most people who cross the turnstiles, however, are lured by the romance of baseball. And the park supplies many fantasies for both spectator and active participant.

Children, parents, and grandparents share hot dogs and sodas while cheering for the park's own baseball team, which plays up to three games a day on majorleague-size fields.

Visitors can also savor "A Taste of Cooperstown," the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's partnership with Boardwalk and Baseball. They "ooh" and "aah" as they press close to the more than 100 encased artifacts that construct a time line showing the evolution of baseball from 1836 until today. Among the more popular exhibits are Babe Ruth's uniform; Al Kaline's cap; the bat used for Hank Aaron's 500th home run; Ty Cobb's glove; Lou Gehrig's crude first-baseman's mitt; a ball autographed by Mickey Mantle; early scorecards; World Series tickets; and photographs of baseball heroes past and present.

Loyal fans can purchase official baseball souvenirs of their favorite teams at gift shops. For a small charge, they can don big-league uniforms and have their photos featured on their own baseball cards -complete with personalized statistics printed on the back.

The more athletic-minded can demonstrate their baseball prowess by taking 20 swings at pitched balls in one of nine batting cages or by testing their fielding as two machines "hit" ground balls for them to field and throw to a target area.

Would-be hurlers can measure their pitching skills at the indoor bullpen. Standing on a pitcher's mound, they attempt to strike out a "batter" by throwing toward a targeted backdrop. An electronic reader board by the mound informs them whether the pitch was a "ball" or a "strike" and measures their pitching speed.

An action-packed bonus for visitors is a Wild West show with a cast of 40, featuring cowboys, cowgirls, stunt riders, sharpshooters, can-can dancers, and a balladeer, who reenact scenes from the days of the Pony Express and the '49 gold rush. Add some assorted wagons, surreys, and two dozen horses, and you have all the ingredients of an old-fashioned rodeo.

In February the park introduced yet another attraction-major-league baseball. The Kansas City Royals win use this site as their permanent spring-training facility at a new 7,000-seat stadium.

The rare blend of shows, amusement rides, and baseball has captured the fancy of visitors to central Florida. But beware-if you're not careful, one visit to Boardwalk and Baseball might just bring out the kid lurking inside of you. A
COPYRIGHT 1988 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McCollister, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1988
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