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En español | Whether you're a longtime fan or it's your very first game, there's nothing like walking into a major league ballpark, crossing the concourse and stepping out into the light as the green grass of the diamond unfolds below you. For many, that alone is magic.
But that's not the only thrill. Since trendsetting Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in Baltimore in 1992, baseball has welcomed 20 new stadiums that meld the quaint feel of an old-time ballpark; the sound systems and video displays of a rock concert; the food, shops and amenities of a high-end shopping mall; and the kid-friendly fun of a theme park.
"Fans have a new expectation," says Paul Swaney, a ballpark connoisseur who founded Stadium Journey magazine. "Ballparks need to offer more than the game itself." They need to have kids' play areas, good food and Internet connectivity — because they have to compete with the high-definition TV and instant replay available at home on the couch." No problem. There's never been a better time to put down the remote and schedule a baseball road trip with family and friends. Here are some tips so you can get the most out of your visit.
Plan for the kids. If you're visiting with children, locate the special kids' zones that have become modern stadium staples; it'll pay off (and not just for the family bathrooms). Some stadiums, like Cleveland's Progressive Field, have multiple play areas with different themes for kids of different ages, offering everything from batting cages to mascot visits and sometimes even rides. Check online for special kids-focused days and for times when kids can run the bases on the field. Sometimes the run is before the game starts, and sometimes after it's over. In any event, if the kids are coming, plan to get there early enough for them to play before the game begins.
Pick a seat with a view. Ballparks these days do a better job of showing off their home cities' skylines, so do some research and consider seats with a killer view. (Hint: The best are often behind home plate.) Vistas worth asking for: the Gateway Arch from Busch Stadium in St. Louis, skyscrapers from Pittsburgh's PNC Park, the bay from AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Enjoy a history lesson. Many ballparks have spaces to salute the home team's roots. The most famous is Yankee Stadium's Monument Park. (It closes half an hour before game time.) Detroit's Comerica Park has seven statues of Tigers greats. Check out the Reds Legends of Crosley Field and sculptures of bygone stars playing a game outside Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park.
Eat local. Food options at modern parks range from fancy sit-down restaurants to offbeat food carts. When in doubt, go local. Try regional alternatives to hot dogs and burgers: bratwurst in Milwaukee, kielbasa in Detroit, cheesesteak in Philly. At Camden Yards, a short walk from the Chesapeake Bay, get crab cakes. And Cali burritos are a good choice at San Diego's Petco Park.
Off to the races. Ever since the Milwaukee Brewers debuted the Sausage Race in the 1990s, mascot races have spread throughout the baseball universe. Kids adore them, so find out when your destination stadium's race takes place and make sure the little ones are paying attention. Two favorites: the Washington Nationals' Presidents Race and the Pittsburgh Pirates' Great Pierogi Race.
Learn the local team song. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a standard, but most teams have another song that has become a sing-along tradition — and when you hear it belted out by tens of thousands of people, you'll get goose bumps. At Astros games, it's "Deep in the Heart of Texas." The Red Sox's anthem is "Sweet Caroline." The Brewers' is the "Beer Barrel Polka," natch.
Use your smartphone. As stadiums race to embrace technology, the number of things you can do with your mobile device is on the rise. You can tweet at teams (and they might post your tweet on a video board). If someone near you is causing a problem, you can text stadium security for a prompt response. And using MLB.com's "At the Ballpark" app, you can access interactive stadium maps and menus — or even upgrade your seats on the spot.
Last, don't forget that in spite of all the high-gloss extras, some the best parts of a day at the ballpark haven't changed in more than a century: the sound of the bat striking the ball, the feel of excitement on a summer day, and good, old-fashioned camaraderie.