Everybody is looking for a bargain. Southeastern Conference softball offers one to families looking for an afternoon or evening of fun at the ballpark.
Collegiate softball has some of the top players in the game, and the highest level of competition in the world on a full-season basis. And with Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia ranked in the top 10 in the national polls, LSU inside the top 25 and Auburn just outside the rankings, fans can see top-flight play most every weekend at a nearby ballpark.
And the best part is it won't break the bank to take in a game. Five programs don't charge at all, and the cost for a family of four in most cases is cheaper than taking the gang to the movie theater, much less another athletic event.
Here's a breakdown (in alphabetical order) of the SEC ballpark experience, with cost of attendance for a family of four calculated to include two adult admissions, two children 12 or under, four hot dogs and four regular soft drinks. Attendance numbers are through last weekend. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better bargain for your athletic buck.
Ballpark: John and Ann Rhoads Stadium
Average home game attendance: 2,050
Family fun fact: Alabama has brickyard seating in the outfield, which allows for a picnic-type atmosphere, and a plaza with a rail with drink-holders on the first-base concourse level. UA also has softball's most entertaining fan in Emily Pitek -- she'll be the one with a sombrero and suspenders asking opposing players to look at her socks.
Cost for a family of four: $48
Ballpark: Bogle Park
Average home game attendance: 517
Family fun fact: Razorbacks fans are treated to Sooie Shuffle, a popularvideo board game.
Cost for a family of four: $38
Ballpark: Jane B. Moore Field
Average home game attendance: 440
Family fun fact: Auburn's stadium has a spacious concourse, allowing for ease of movement. The Frozen T-shirt Contest is a popular between-innings festivity.
Cost for a family of four: $32
Ballpark: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
Average home game attendance: 825
Family fun fact: Gators sign autographs after all Saturday home games and children can take the field to run the bases after Sunday games. Families can spread blankets or umbrella-chairs on grass on either side of the stadium bleachers, and there are fan prizes for extra-base hits and strikeouts by Florida pitchers.
Cost for a family of four: $32
Ballpark: Jack Turner Stadium
Average home game attendance: 529
Family fun fact: Georgia hosts a Kids Zone starting two hours prior to the start of SEC home games, featuring inflatable games, poster-making and, for select games, a balloon artist. Also available at the Kids Zone are red and black shakers and Georgia "G" tattoos.
Cost for a family of four: $26
Ballpark: UK Softball Complex
Capacity: 1,000 (plus standing room)
Average home game attendance: 1,029
Family fun fact: Kentucky Derby (horses run along the back of the outfield wall), in-game promotions for items such as Chick-fil-A and Qdoba, Sunday Inflatables, autograph signing with the team following every Saturday and Sunday games.
Cost for a family of four: $36
Ballpark: Tiger Park
Average home game attendance: 1,166
Family fun fact: Families can watch together while sitting on a blanket from the left-field berm. The area is lined with palm trees from left to center field, and kids sometimes roll down the steep hill during game play. A home run that lands in the area is known as a "Berm Bomb."
Cost for a family of four: $46
Ballpark: MSU Softball Stadium (also known as "The Dawg Diamond")
Average home game attendance: 237
Family fun fact: Families can come out to Tuesday and Friday home games and participate in Twitter Tuesday and Facebook Friday. Using smart phones or tablets, fans win prizes for tweeting at @MStateSB or writing on the program's Facebook wall. Fans can earn seats for the rest of the game in MSU's booster suite, throw out the first pitch at the next home game, win an MSU Vanntastic T-Shirt or other prizes.
Cost for a family of four: $28
Ballpark: Ole Miss Softball Complex
Average home game attendance: 227
Family fun fact: Ole Miss upgraded its facility before hosting the 2011 SEC Tournament, adding outfield terrace seating beyond the wall in left field similar to the outfield seating at Ole Miss' baseball stadium. Amenities include a grilling area, pavilion and camera platform area in center field. Fans are encouraged to bring coolers and chairs to enjoy the action.
Cost for a family of four: $20
Ballpark: Beckham Field
Average home game attendance: 439
Family fun fact: All seats at South Carolina's stadium are of the chairback variety. Bingo is played during every game, and the "Dance with Cocky" time is popular with the kids between innings.
Cost for a family of four: $41
Ballpark: Sherri Parker Lee Softball Stadium
Average home game attendance: 1,291
Family fun fact: Sundays are always kids-eat-free days where 250 children receive vouchers for a free hot dog and soft drink. UT also usually hosts a kids' carnival with bounce houses, sidewalk chalk art and other activities.
Cost for a family of four: $38
Stat of the week: University of Alabama senior outfielder Jennifer Fenton
is one steal away from tying the national record for consecutive successful steal attempts (held by former Georgia player Nicole Barber and former Texas A&M player Sharonda McDonald). Fenton has stole 72 bases in 72 tries since last being thrown out March 13, 2010, at Georgia.
Other notable stats: Kentucky sophomore Lauren Cumbess
hit safely in five consecutive at-bats over a three-game stretch last weekend against Tennessee, running her hitting streak to five games. ... LSU's 10-1 SEC start is the program's best since 2000, when the Tigers started 13-1 in conference play en route to one of the program's SEC-leading five regular-season championships. ... Georgia senior Erin Arevalo
had a consecutive scoreless inning pitching streak of 30 innings that covered six games, which came to a close in the seventh inning of game one versus Florida last weekend. During those 30 innings, Arevalo struck out 33 batters, 25 swinging, while giving up 11 hits and five walks. ... Florida has now won two SEC three-game series against Top-10 opponents on the road after dropping the first game and trailing the second game. UF took the series at No. 9 Tennessee after dropping game one 1-0 and trailing 2-1 after the first inning in game two. The Gators then took the series at No. 9 Georgia last weekend after losing game one, 3-2, and trailing twice in the second game of the series. ... Ole Miss senior Kendall Bruning
took a no-hitter into the seventh inning versus Auburn last Sunday after throwing 173 pitches in a 10-inning complete game on Friday night. ... Through last weekend, Tennessee's Raven Chavanne
had reached base leading off Tennessee's first at-bat of the game 15 of 27 times in 2012 -- 56 percent -- with nine singles, two triples, a double, two walks and a hit by pitch. She is at 53 for her career (125-of-237) when leading off any inning.
Tommy Deas is executive sports editor of The Tuscaloosa News and has covered SEC softball since 1997