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Out of the Park

• Nationals vs. L.A. Dodgers at Holman Stadium, Dodgertown, March 20. Tickets are $15, or $8 for berm seats. Info: 772-569-6858, www.dodgers.com.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: Your ticket to the Braves game admits you to the rest of the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, including an interactive football playground. There's also Disney World, Epcot, SeaWorld, Animal Kingdom and MGM and Universal studios. For smaller-scale fun, try Gatorland in Orlando, with its alligators, snakes and tropical birds. In Vero Beach, get a culture fix at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Info: Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, 772-567-3491, www.indianriverchamber.com; Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 407-363-5872, www.orlandoinfo.com; and Melbourne/Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-771-9922, www.melpb-chamber.org.


Spring training 2004 at Holman Stadium, Vero Beach, Fla. (Vero Beach Dodgers)

GETTING THERE: Fares from Washington to Orlando generally start at about $150 round trip. Independence Air currently has a sale fare of $49 one way from Dulles to Orlando. To reach Holman Stadium, take the Vero Beach exit off I-95 and go east on Route 60 to 43rd Avenue; turn left and continue to 26th Street. Dodgertown is on your right.

If you'd rather fly into Melbourne, 35 miles north of Vero Beach's Indian River County, Delta and Northwest offer connecting service from D.C., with round-trip fares at about $265.

April 4, 6 and 7: Philadelphia

Most of us won't really believe that major league baseball is coming back to the nation's capital until we see that first pitch to a batter with "Washington" stitched across his chest. The Nats' regular season opens on April 4 at Philadelphia's new Citizens Bank Park (built in 2004), with games also on April 6 and 7.

Once you're inside the ballpark, stroll along Ashburn Alley, the concourse beyond the centerfield fence that resembles Camden Yards' Eutaw Street and is named for Phillies Hall of Fame leadoff hitter Richie Ashburn. The park's best view of downtown is near the oversize neon Liberty Bell above Ashburn Alley.

You can enter Ashburn Alley early to watch batting practice. Take advantage of the ridiculously close view of the pitchers warming up in the bullpen. Before game time, head to Bull's BBQ in the stadium for sauce-drenched pork, turkey and beef, and an autograph from All-Star slugger Greg "The Bull" Luzinski. Just like Boog Powell in Baltimore, he's there nearly every game.

There are good cheese steaks and Italian ices in the stadium, but the longest lines are for a Schmitter, a cheese steak topped with grilled salami and tomatoes and smothered in Thousand Island dressing.

TICKETS: This will be a hard ticket to get, so you may need to resort to sports tour packagers. Two companies with tickets at press time: Stub Hub (www.stubhub.com; $117 and up) and Baseball Tickets (www.tickets-mlb-baseball.com; $125 and up). If you can't snag a ticket for opening week, there are other Philly options: The Nats play a weekend series there July 8-10 and a weekday series Aug. 15-18. Tickets range from $15 for terrace deck to $40 for field level seats. Info: 215-463-1000, www.phillies.com.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: Take a 90-minute ballpark tour to get a close-up view of the visitors' dugouts, Cooperstown Gallery and more. Then get out of the park and explore Independence Hall and the real Liberty Bell. Museum-hop along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Go from the Old World of the Italian Market to the Hip New World of South Street, which is curb-to-curb shopping and dining. At the Philadelphia Zoo, take a helium balloon ride 400 feet above the city. Info: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, 215-599-0776, www.gophila.com.

GETTING THERE: Philadelphia is about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Washington. Or take Amtrak (from $47 one way) and the city subway, which has a stop in the stadium parking lot.

May 6-8: San Francisco

Visit baseball's best new ballpark during an early May weekend series at the intimate, neighborhood-friendly SBC Park (built in 2000). A Willie Mays statue and palm trees greet you at the front door; clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and a 40-clove garlic chicken sandwich await you inside. And you just might see a ball blasted into San Francisco Bay.

The view across the bay from the upper deck seats is the most spectacular in all of baseball.


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