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Ballparks offer everything from food to history

The two most common questions directed to this corner are easy: How many ballparks have you been to and which are the best ones? I get them every year at this time and several times throughout the season. So let's review some answers now that the first pitches of 2012 have been thrown and many of you might be starting to mark your summer calendars.

When I watched the opener from Marlins Park, I was thinking it was a shame the Sabres weren't meeting the Florida Panthers in the playoffs so I could take a side trip during the series like I have the last two years to Fenway Park in Boston and Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. (Of course, now there's no side trip at all. Thank you, Sabres). Maybe Marlins Park hosts a World Series sometime soon.

I've been to every park in the AL except Minnesota's Target Field. In the National League, I've got some holes. Somehow, I've never made it to Atlanta's Turner Field or to Dodger Stadium. I've also got to get to Nationals Park in Washington, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Milwaukee's Miller Park and Petco Park in San Diego, which folks rave about.

I've even been to 15 big-league parks -- 15! -- that don't exist anymore or aren't used for baseball. So yes, I feel old. (Favorites in that group far and away were old Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium).

My current favorites are easy. No. 1 is Fenway, a classic heading into its 100th anniversary season that has been saved by amazing renovations the last 10 years. Yawkey Way is a street festival outside two hours before the game and concourses have been blown out all over the place to create more atmosphere (Wrigley needs to take a lot of notes). And how many Fenway Franks can you devour in nine innings?

For others: Make the drive to PNC Park in Pittsburgh and then take the walk over the Roberto Clemente Bridge into the park. Once inside, there is no better vista to downtown in the majors and there are Primanti Brothers sandwiches, complete with french fries and cole slaw in the bread!

Progressive Field in Cleveland makes one mean hamburger and Heritage Park in center field is one of the best team hall of fames you'll ever see. I love the history and the organ at Wrigley even if concession lines are daunting at times. And be sure to get to Philly too and don't think you just have to eat cheesesteaks. Everywhere you turn is something different.

Ballpark BBQ featuring heroes from the 70s is a must-see. There's Boogs in Baltimore (Boog Powell), Bull's in Philly (Greg Luzinski) and Manny's in Pittsburgh (Manny Sanguillen). You can often cop an autograph from the namesake if he's around too.

New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field both work for fans in terms of spacious concourses, food (the Lobel's steak sandwich in the Bronx is out of this world) and presentation of history. But 4-year-old places are still just 4-year-old places.

If you really want a road trip someday, the two best long-distance trips would be to Safeco Field in Seattle and AT&T Park in San Francisco. Dress warm and come hungry. I can still smell the salmon and fried clams in Seattle and the garlic cheese fries in Frisco.

I read how the Marlins had some concession issues at their opener with long lines and slow food. Apparently, the stand serving mahi-mahi tacos (seriously) was so overrun they were handing out tickets and telling people to come back 30 minutes later for their food. Ugh.

Best new food items I've heard for this season come from the Capital Beltway. Watch your cholesterol here. Camden Yards is offering bacon on a stick and the Camden Giant (a crab cake on top of a hamburger).

The Nationals are rolling out the aptly-named StrasBurger, an 8-pound behemoth (counting toppings) that comes with a cone of fries and a pitcher of soft drink. They're also offering "Meatball Mania," a six-piece kabob featuring two Italian meatballs with marinara, two chicken with green chile and two thai with ginger soy. Yum.


For openers

Love how you can make sweeping assumptions about the grand old game one day and they can be totally shot to you-know-what the next. Based on Opening Day Thursday (and counting Wednesday's game in Miami), you thought that pitching was going to dominate the year and that the Steroid Era was certainly a thing of the past.

Justin Verlander, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Johnny Cueto combined for 28 scoreless innings in their first starts while Jon Lester, Tommy Hanson, Eric Bedard, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Dempster, Justin Masterson and Kyle Lohse combined to allow just seven runs over 49 innings (a 1.29 ERA).

So what happens Friday?

CC Sabathia and James Shields gave up 11 combined runs in the first three innings, Yovanni Gallardo gave up six in 3 2/3 innings, Tim Lincecum gave up five in 5 1/3 and, for good measure, Mariano Rivera blew a save to join Jose Valverde and Chris Perez as closers who flamed out in their first chance of the year.

The six runs Price and Sabathia gave up in the first 1 1/2 innings were more than in eight of the 10 previous games played to start the season.

Sabathia's start, by the way, made him just the ninth pitcher in Yankees history to make four Opening Day starts for the team. The team record is seven, set by Whitey Ford, and Sabathia has four more years left on his contract.

And how about the 16-inning affair the Indians and Blue Jays played at Progressive Field Thursday after Perez gave up three runs in the ninth? In 19 home openers there, the Indians have gone extra innings a startling six times. They're 3-3.


Air waves

*Bobby Valentine is sure going to make things interesting this summer. The new Red Sox manager announced what last week? A weekly appearance on ESPN radio in New York -- on the show hosted by Yankees TV voice Michael Kay.

That brought outrage on Twitter from Curt Schilling (@gehrig38), who tweeted, "Michael Kay radio show? Titanic now in open water at full speed!" Schilling later apologized, saying he tweeted that on a dare. Riiiiiight.

*A tip of the hat to Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rosenhaus, who started his first season alongside the legendary Tom Hamilton in the Indians' radio booth with Thursday's 16-inning fiasco. Rosenhaus has been the engineer, pregame host and a fill-in play-by-play man the last five years.

Rosenhaus' on-air schedule picked up appreciably last year when Mike Hegan cut out his travel due to health concerns, and he got the fulltime gig this year. Rosenhaus called Bisons games from 1996-2006.


IL items

*The International League office has advised media outlets that it will continue to use the name "Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees" in the league standings, records, etc., this season even with the team not playing in Scranton.

The moniker "Empire State Yankees," unveiled last month to much fanfare, is apparently just a nickname like "Bronx Bombers" or "Herd." Of course, it also comes with plenty of merchandise opportunities at the gift shop at Rochester's Frontier Field. Uh-huh.

*Speaking of Scranton/Empire State, its season nearly opened in bad fashion Thursday in Lehigh Valley as IronPigs pitcher Tyler Cloyd was pitching a perfect game against the Yankees through six innings of the season opener -- but got pulled by Hall of Famer and manager Ryne Sandburg because he had thrown 73 pitches. Major boo. Cloyd and three relievers combined on a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory.

The 10,333 that saw the Bisons Thursday in Pawtucket was the minors' largest Opening Day crowd. The Herd tops that mark here Wednesday.