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Kids find their zoneaway from the action

Kid Zone provides games for children not interested in the race.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Like dozens of other kids at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Jaime Perez was more interested in the speed of his pitching arm than the speed of the cars zooming past yards away during Saturday's Champ Car qualifying round.

Jaime, 9, had just left a Bayshore Little League game and arrived at the track with his parents still wearing his red Cardinals uniform. He spent at least a half hour at the Devil Rays' Speedpitch game -- a safe, easy way to measure both accuracy and pitch speed -- set up at the track's Kid Zone behind Grandstand 8.

"I like this," he said. "It shows you how good you are and your speed."

A steady stream of would-be pitchers agreed, keeping Devil Rays volunteers busy for nearly five hours, until rain forced them to shut down the activity about a half-hour early. But few spirits were dampened. Nearby were two huge "moon bounce" stations, inflatable, netted enclosures designed expressly to give kids a cushy place to bounce off the walls. Which they did.

"We've had kids all day," said Renay Gonzalez of Breezin Entertainment, which brought in and supervised the bounce stations. "There was never a dull moment."

The Kid Zone, which is free and open again today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., features a few other games and distractions for youngsters who can't quite get interested in what's happening on the track. Energetic marketing representatives from Mix 100.7-FM did their best to keep kids entertained, setting up a booth that featured a downsized basketball hoop, crayons and pictures to color, and bunches of giveaways.

Saturday's popular items included mouse pads, Frisbees and water bottles. Today's free items (while they last) will include temporary tattoos and stickers, and small prizes for whatever games the Mix 100.7 crew dreams up.

The activities weren't limited to the Kid Zone. Older kids headed to the Lifestyle Expo at the Bayfront Center main floor, where entertainment company Gameworks has set up four interactive stock-car racing video games with giant screens and a "car" that moves as the player moves.

Those waiting their turn to play could watch four bikers doing a stunt show on a huge halfpipe set up in the middle of the arena floor. The bikers are scheduled to appear again today at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.

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