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Say what you want about Bud "urban ballpark" Selig, but his insistence on teams securing new downtown pads does have its benefits. For starters, no longer do fans have to be limited to confining their pre-game rituals to a six pack of Budweiser in a stark parking lot next to a gigantic concrete mess of "a ballpark."

Yes, believe it or not, we've made progress - and all thanks to Bud man, of course. But what pre-game rituals do the locals practice at baseball's major league ballparks? Find out how to get in on the actionů

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The days when all fans arrived to the ballpark in their car is a dying breed - and for the better. Even in car infatuated Texas and Southern California, fans are learning some new pre-game rituals that don't necessarily include Frisbee tossing between parked cars on some really hard asphalt.

Sure, most fans heading to the Ballpark in Arlington still arrive in their cars, but now they can carpool from a slick nearby museum and enjoy an additional museum inside their yard, plus a wonderful facade outside it. Mind you this is considerable progress for a franchise that used to play in unequivocally one of the ugliest and most unaffectionate outdoor ballparks even constructed on planet earth, Arlington Stadium (admired so much for its sheer beauty, it's now a parking lot).

In Southern California, most Dodger, Angel and Padres fans also still arrive in their wheels, but here too, the times they are a changin'. Train service is available to Angel games, and more and more Padre fans are taking to the San Diego Trolley to whisk them to the concrete jungle know as Qualcomm Stadium. Tailgaiting in one monstrous parking lot remains the predominant pre-game ritual for the SoCal clubs, but - at least for the Padres - the party's over for this tradition after next season. That's because the swinging Friars will be moving from the concrete jungle out in the sleepy suburbs to a downtown ballpark where one big gigantic parking lot is not an option.

The retreat of Houstonians, as well as fans in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and other teams from suburban/quasi-urban ballparks to downtown pads has created some new pre-game rituals, as discussed in "A Fan's Guide To The Ultimate Ballpark Tour: Fully Loaded!" But I like to tease, so here we go:

- New York now has company when it comes to fans arriving not by land, but by water. Many fans may not realize that New Yorkers can see their Yanks, for example, by jumping on a ferry along the East River from Manhattan to the Bronx. Well, San Francisco and Pittsburgh have joined the fracas, although their waterways are a little less polluted (we think). The pre-game party starts for ferry-arriving fans in San Francisco and Pittsburgh once they've docked beyond the outfield of their respective ballparks. There may be bands playing and vendors hawking their wares, or fans can opt for a stroll to a nearby restaurant or pub for a pre-game meal or drink. That's considerable progress from the days of 3Com Park and Three Rivers Stadium, in San Francisco and Pittsburgh respectively.

- Small museums - not just of the baseball variety - have started to sprout up near these new urban ballparks, but the best of them still remain in Baltimore and St. Louis. "A Fans Guide To The Ultimate Ballpark Tour: Fully Loaded!" delves into the variety of pre-game options at your disposal, including nearby museums.

- Some of the best museums are inside the ballparks, most notably, Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Because of its location beyond the outfield, Monument Park also has some of the biggest restrictions of all museums around, which are detailed inside my guide so you can make the most of your experience. Of course, Monument Park is often crowded too, especially on weekends. This is the Yankees after all. Many additional museums worth exploring prior to game time include the Braves, Pirates and a great "mini" Hall of Fame exhibit at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

One of the greatest parts of baseball is the experience before the game, as much as the game itself. When you're planning your ballpark tour, try and allow yourself a good hour to explore the pre-game rituals of the towns you'll be visiting. Whether it's a small underrated museum, the local watering hole - or yes - even tailgating with the natives in the parking lot, you'll come away with a better experience on your journey having indulged in the pre-game customs of the natives.

Joe Connor is the founder of and the creator of "A Fan's Guide To The Ultimate Ballpark Tour: Fully Loaded!," which is available for purchase right off the home page.

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May 16 2002, 03:14:44
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