- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

MLB.com Kids Club

Major League Baseball is back, and youngsters looking for a way to understand a bit about the game and its stars while having some multimedia fun can visit the MLB.com Kids Club (https://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/kids/index.jsp).

Before jumping into the site’s few highlights, I need to mention that parents’ bank accounts will not appreciate the Kids Club and all of its tempting “buy” messages. For example, most teams offer their own memberships to their official clubs (at a cost of $10 to $30 to join); sneaky links lead to the online MLB store (“playing” an advertisement disguised as a game can take players to the store); and a separate game area charges a fee to completely download some of the titles.

However, those children cleared by adults to look at the site will find sections on Baseball Basics, Kids Programs in their area, an Inside Scoop on players, Cool Games, and a look at Team Mascots that involves cartoon versions of the characters and printable coloring pages.

I thought a great starting point would be Baseball Basics to brush up on the finer points of the game, but I only found a video of the Phillies’ Randy Wolf offering six minutes’ worth of pitching tips and a text tutorial on keeping score.

Luckily, the Kids Club opening page features a drop-down menu that links to all 30 teams’ children’s pages, all with more information and activities. It took a stop by the Chicago Cubs area for me to finally find an interactive map defining the major positions in baseball.

I then discovered tiny links on the right side of the map page on baseball lingo, stats and abbreviations, which would have served their purpose better if they had been in the Baseball Basics section.

Visitors also will find other activities and information at the various teams’ minisites, such as a printable mask of Eric Gagne at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ page, a text interview with third baseman Alex Rodriguez at the New York Yankees’ page and five instructional videos at the Seattle Mariners’ page.

Returning to the main Kids Club page, the only section where children will spend more than a few minutes will be Cool Games.

Players can throw 100 snowballs at the site’s mascot, enjoy pinball using bats as the flippers, try a memory game with team logos, fill in a template to create a baseball-themed story, match 10 players with their positions and take a trivia quiz featuring some MLB stars.

Overall, it’s a fairly disappointing site for the younger baseball fan. Considering the ridiculous sums of money being tossed around in this sport, owners might try to design a more robust online presence to entice children into playing what once was “America’s pastime.”

Cyber Hall of Fame

A much better overview of the sport and the history of the game can be found at the official National Baseball Hall of Fame site (www.baseballhalloffame.org) where young and old will enjoy a visit to the online museum.

A very simple design and loads of photographs will entice fans to spend hours looking at exhibits and reading about players and coaches who have been honored in Cooperstown, N.Y., since 1939.

The Hall of Famers section anchors the site and presents text biographies and statistics on 260 greats, including Brooks Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. Ninety-seven of those biographies also have video segments (viewed with the Windows Media Player) that include moments such as Babe Ruth hitting a home run, part of Lou Gehrig’s farewell address and Hoyt Wilhelm tossing a knuckleball.

The Exhibits section mixes modules such as a gallery of World Series programs with the history of the baseball uniform and players who are part of the 3,000 hits club.

Sections rounding out the educational opportunities include Baseball History, with more than 20 articles, 19 interviews and an audio snippet of the 1939 Hall of Fame dedication ceremony; What’s New, which features an IPIX gallery (www.ipix.com) that offers a 360-degree view of parts of the museum; and Games, which contains almost 40 multiple-choice quizzes.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washingtontimes.com/familytimes/romperroom.htm.

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