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Mercury family room means kids are just a short walk away during games

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Mercury helping moms on team in one big way (0:58)

The Mercury roster includes three moms with four kids all under 14 months old. The Phoenix Mercury family room, complete with a full-time NICU nurse, provides a place for the children on game night. (0:58)

PHOENIX -- While her mom, Mercury forward Sancho Lyttle, was playing one of her best games of the season, 14-month-old Rayne Lyttle was just as busy.

She waddled around Phoenix's new family room deep inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix, handing out hugs like they were a pregame giveaway and waving to anyone who caught her eye. She climbed on anything she could find in the nursery room-like setting. She stopped to play with a kitchen playset while a bottle half full of milk hung out of her mouth. She then picked up one of the orange pom-poms that were handed out before the game and started shaking it around, giggling with each wave.

Rayne was the star attraction that night in what is believed to be the first room in the WNBA dedicated to babies and children of players and staff. She was the only toddler present, and a handful of older kids, including the children of head coach Sandy Brondello and assistant Julie Hairgrove, clamored for Rayne's attention. They picked her up, held her, walked around with her and fed her under the watchful eye of Tara Schiltz, a nurse from a neonatal intensive care unit at a Scottsdale hospital who oversees the Mercury family room. And they were all rewarded with one of Rayne's waves and hugs. Lots of hugs.

Just as halftime began, Rayne sat on a multi-colored mat, her pink sippy cup a couple of quick crawls away, watching Hairgrove get interviewed on TV. After a few seconds, Rayne changed her mind. She stood up and waddled away, lost in her own world of toys, colors and hugs, oblivious to the game her mom was playing a short walk away.

The family room has become the hub of activity for the children of Mercury players and coaches, and their friends.

"It's insane," said Phoenix forward DeWanna Bonner, who missed the 2017 season to have twin girls with wife and Indiana Fever star Candice Dupree. "There's toys everywhere. Usually my kids kind of cry a little bit when they leave, but they just run right in because there's so much to do and there's so many toys.

"It's one of the best things ever. It gives me a little sense of relief knowing that my kids are well taken care of and having a blast while I'm working."

There are two rooms within the family room, along with a bathroom. They're both multi-use and while one is geared toward infants and the other is more for the older kids, both age groups use both rooms. The main room has a crib, a pack 'n play, a large mat, a playpen, a low table with chairs for activities, a small refrigerator that's used to store milk and other food for the toddlers, a couple of couches, high chairs, two TVs and a boatload of toys. The other room has two couches as well as a high-top table with chairs, a wall of cubbies filled with board games and toys, two kitchen playsets and some basketballs.

Diana Taurasi dubbed the family room "Coachella." The star guard, who has a 3-month-old son, Leo, with wife and former WNBA star Penny Taylor, stole the idea from her sister, Jessica, because the family room seems like a little party -- as Taylor discovered the night of the Mercury's home opener in May.

Taylor and Leo, who was almost 11 weeks old at the time, attended the game in a suite. Leo was having a hard time with the noise and Mercury chief operating officer Vince Kozar offered to bring them down to the family room so Leo could get some sleep. What they walked into wasn't what Kozar had pitched. The room was full of kids, including Bonner's twins, and was "absolute and total chaos," he said with a chuckle, with kids banging on pots and pans. But Schiltz had it all under control, Kozar remembered. It was then that Kozar decided to split the room into two separate areas. And Leo was able to eventually get some rest.

"It's one of the best things ever. It gives me a little sense of relief knowing that my kids are well taken care of and having a blast while I'm working." DeWanna Bonner on the Mercury's family room

While it's easier for Schiltz to keep the infants entertained, she has a long list of activities for the older kids. They've made slime and done arts and crafts. Pictures cover the walls. A few weeks ago, she threw a birthday party for one of the older kids during a game. Another party might be coming up soon for Bonner's 10-month-old twins, Cali and Demi.

One of the early benefits of the family room, which the Mercury began this season, is that it gives moms a peace of mind when they step on the court, Kozar said.

"It is a lot easier because you know when you get here you don't have to be worried about the kid, worried to find somebody to take care of the kid," Sancho Lyttle said. "If it's you and the kid alone for the week or something, they go to school or day care, and on game days you can bring them [here] in the afternoon."

The idea of the family room was born out of, well, babies being born.

This year's Mercury has three moms who, combined, have four children all under 14 months. Of the 144 players in the league, there are 10 moms and three are teammates in Phoenix.

"What an evolution this team has taken," said Taurasi, who is in her 14th WNBA season, all with the Mercury. "I feel like we used to have a bachelor/bachelorette room in the back and now we have a nursery, so things have changed here in Phoenix.

"It's really nice that the organization stepped up and has just made at least game day a little bit easier for us when we know our kids can go there and be safe while we come out here and take care of business."

Kozar said he got the idea from the Phoenix Suns, who have had a similar family room since the arena opened in 1992. Wanting to make his players as comfortable as possible, the hope was to give the players, or coaches, one less thing to worry about when they got to the arena.

"We talk about them being family," Kozar said, "and we need to treat them and their families as family."

The room also shows other teams that they shouldn't be scared off from players with kids, Lyttle said.

"We want to be the kind of organization that makes it so you can still be a working mom," Kozar added. "And we can help you do that so you can be at the top of your craft and you know you have a safety net with this organization to fall back on."

It's also a sign of the times.

"After games we're usually like, "Where we going in Scottsdale?'" Taurasi said. "Now it's like, 'Um, are you getting the diapers or the formula?'"