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Dough and Aeros 

Akron's the place for baseball on a budget.

It is, of course, a sin to speak ill of the Tribe. But at the risk of blasphemy, there's something unsettling about paying 20 bucks a seat to sit in right field and root for John Rocker -- in a joint that serves sushi, no less.

That's why Ben Cook has come to Akron's Canal Park. He, wife Stephanie, and their six-year-old son, Justin, have front-row seats for the Akron Aeros, for which they spent all of 16 bucks. Unlike the faux family experience offered by the major leagues, the Aeros still provide the genuine article.

"We like these games better than the Indians'," says Cook, of Maple Heights. "You don't have to fight for parking. You don't have to walk a mile up the ramp to get to your seats." And, he adds, motioning to Justin, "It keeps his interest better than sitting three stories up."

Aeros games are beautifully low-rent affairs. Loudspeakers resound with Kiss's "Love Gun" as teenage Pepsi Girls dance woodenly atop a dugout. There are human bowling contests and games involving giant foam dice. The crowd is more kids in Soap Box Derby shirts than cell phones and suntans.

As it should be, says Aeros media guy James Carpenter. "We tout ourselves as a family-oriented ballpark." Officially, ticket prices run $9 for reserved seats, $8 for bleachers. Kids 12 and under pay $7, as do seniors 60 and over. But those are the official prices. "You can always find a reduced rate for an Aeros game," says Carpenter, noting that the team's website, akronaeros.com, offers a 2-for-1 coupon.

This isn't to say the facilities are bush-league. With its banks of flowers beyond left field, its brick facade, and its one-tier design, Canal Park offers all the amenities of the majors in a miniaturized, 9,000-seat setting. Save for fireworks nights, tickets are always available at the gate. "We came here a half-hour before the game and got front-row seats," says Cook.

The game itself may be a little less refined. This is Double-A, two steps below the majors. In a recent game against New Britain, a third baseman fielded a bad-hop grounder with his ear, an outfielder turned a misjudged fly into a double, and the Aeros won in the bottom of the ninth when the Rock Cats' Michael Cuddyer tried to stop a ground ball with his wrist.

"It's not major league," laughs Bob Luxeder, a retired cop from Barberton who's here with his wife and two granddaughters.

Yet Double-A is also home to the majors' best young prospects. Despite the occasional gaffe, it's enjoyable baseball. What it lacks in finish, it makes up for in adventure. Besides, says Luxeder, "The prices are very nice, except for the concessions."

At least they have the decency not to serve sushi.

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