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Stadium Tours: Out of the park

Tours of sports venues provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at major sports combined with a large dose of history, even in the newest stadiums.

“You walk through the player’s tunnel right onto Lambeau Field,” said Krissy Zegers, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame and stadium tours director. “We have crowd noise, and you get to feel just like the players running through on game day.

“And you learn quite a bit about the history of the Packers,” said Zegers, whose 53-year-old stadium is the longest continuously occupied stadium in the National Football League (NFL).

Meanwhile, at the new Yankee Stadium, the mammoth $1.5 billion stadium that replaced its historic 85-year-old predecessor last year, “we are all about history,” said Tony Morante, director of stadium tours for the New York Yankees, whose new stadium includes a large museum dedicated to the team’s rich history.

Most, if not all, of major league baseball teams and NFL teams have tours of their stadiums, as do many NASCAR tracks and basketball arenas. Access to certain areas can be restricted on game days and when special events are being held in the facilities.

So, grab your ball glove, don a favorite team’s jersey and head out to these stadium tours for an inside look at sports and a dose of nostalgia.

Lambeau Field
Green Bay, Wis.
A 55-minute tour of Lambeau Field begins in the five-story, glass-wall atrium, part of a 2003 expansion that incorporated other aspects of the Packers visitor experience, such as a two-story gift shop, a full dining restaurant and the Packers Hall of Fame, into the stadium.

“In addition to the actual tour, there is a lot more to do in the Lambeau Field Atrium,” said Zegers, who added that groups can purchase a combined tour of the stadium and hall of fame.

The tour, offered seven days a week, proceeds to an outdoor plaza where there are 14-foot-tall bronze statues of legendary Packers coaches Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau, for whom the field is named. It then goes inside to most areas of the stadium, among them the exclusive Club Level and the Legends Club, and down to the playing field.

Public access to the inside of Lambeau Field is available only on a stadium tour.

Fenway Park
One of the most iconic sports stadiums in the United States is Fenway Park, the 98-year-old home of the Boston Red Sox.

“It is not only the oldest ballpark in the major leagues, but a place where fans are now in the fourth and fifth generation,” said Marcita Thompson, assistant director of Fenway Enterprises for the Red Sox. “It is a way of life, a part of sports history.”

The park’s marketing slogan is “Visit the park where the Babe pitched, the Kid hit, Yaz dazzled and Ortiz still thrills young fans today,” referring to Red Sox legends Babe Ruth — a star Boston pitcher before being traded to the New York Yankees — Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and David Ortiz.

Thompson said the 50-minute guided tours “typically include four stops — the Green Monster, the press box, the retired numbers and part of the oldest seats in history. Sections 14 through 17 are the original seats.

“If there is the opportunity and we have field access, they can go to the front of the (hand-operated) scoreboard on the warning track.”

One of the most famous features of Fenway Park, instantly recognizable to most baseball fans, is the 37-foot-tall left-field wall dubbed the Green Monster. “We actually go on top where the seats are, and if we have field access, they are face to face with it,” said Thompson.

Yankee Stadium
New York
The Red Sox and Yankees have one of the hottest rivalries in professional sports, dating back decades. Until last year, they both also had historic home fields that were synonymous with major league baseball.

That aspect of the rivalry changed in April 2009 when the Yankees debuted their glistening new home next door to the old Yankee Stadium. However, history still prevails, not only with the name but in features like Monument Park.

“The Monument Park content is the same: six monuments, five to former players and one to the people who perished on 9-11 and the emergency service units who helped,” said Morante. “There are also 17 retired numbers and 25 plaques. It is the most popular part of the tour.”

In addition to Monument Park, the stadium tour, which lasts about an hour, includes the field, the dugout, the batting cage and, when available, the clubhouse and museum.

“You have to put your walking shoes on,” said Morante.

Morante said the large museum includes the locker of former Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, who was killed in a plane crash during the 1979 season; artifacts from the Yankees’ 27 world championships; and a wall with more than 860 autographed baseballs.

The new stadium’s design also pays homage to the team’s history, incorporating some architectural elements from the old stadium, such as a replication of the frieze that lined the roof of the original Yankee Stadium from 1923 until it was remodeled in 1973.

Cowboys Stadium
Arlington, Texas
Another massive new stadium that debuted last year is Cowboys Stadium, home to the NFL Dallas Cowboys. As you might expect in Texas, the sheer size of the new stadium is awe-inspiring.

“We are a $1.2 billon stadium with 3 million square feet of space,” said Brett Daniels, director of corporate communications for the Cowboys. “We have a lot of architectural and engineering one-of-a-kind accomplishments.”

Daniels said quarter-mile-long arch trusses support the stadium’s playing field, “creating the largest free-span room in the world.” Its domed roof is retractable, and 180-foot-wide, 120-foot-tall glass end-zone doors “open and close, almost like an airplane hangar, but larger.”

A 160-by-72-foot high-definition video screen that hangs between the 20-yard lines has been certified by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world. Some have dubbed it the “Jerry-Tron” in reference to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The stadium is filled with 21 pieces of contemporary art, most of which were commissioned for specific places in the stadium.

The 90-minute guided tours include the main concourse, a luxury suite, the press box and the end-zone platforms. “You also go into the Cowboys’ and cheerleaders’ locker rooms and onto the field,” said Daniels. “Once you reach the field, you have your photo taken on the 50-yard line. You can stay and linger as long as you want.”

Daniels said tours of the new stadium have been a hit, with more than a half-million people having taken tours during the stadium’s first 11 months. “We have buses pulling up every day to take a tour,” he said.

AT&T Park
San Francisco
AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, is one of several major league baseball ballparks that have been built over the past two decades with their own distinctive flair and design quirks, many harking back to ballparks of an earlier era.

One of AT&T Park’s greatest attributes is its location beside San Francisco Bay, with home runs over the right-field wall often landing in an offshoot of the bay named McCovey Cove after former Giants slugger Willie McCovey.

Atop the left-field bleachers is a replica of a 1927 four-fingered baseball glove that is 26 feet high, 32 feet wide and 12 feet deep and weighs 20,000 pounds.

Ninety-minute tours “visit every level of the park,” said Alexis Lustbader, tours manager for the stadium. “It goes to the visitors dugout or the Giants dugout, depending on which one is available; the warning track in front of the dugouts; the indoor batting cage; visitors locker room; the press box; the luxury suite level; and concludes with the club-level display cases, new exhibit-style cases with baseball cards from all the Giants eras.

“There is lots of history around the park, a lot we want to remember,” she said. “We try to bring that out a lot on the tours.”

Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte, N.C.
The 60-minute tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway includes the extra thrill of taking two laps around the 1.5-mile speedway with its 24-degree banks in a custom van.

The tour guide gives a history of the track and stops at the winner’s circle for a photo opportunity.

The adjacent zMAX Drag Strip and the newly opened NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte also can be added to the tours. On July 1, the motor speedway, located in the Stock Car Capital of the World, began offering tours of nearby NASCAR race teams’ shops such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Hass Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi.

“A favorite stop is the Sam Bass Gallery, where you may find Sam in his studio creating the next cover for the Coca Cola 600 souvenir program or the newest paint scheme for your favorite driver’s racecar,” said Scott Cooper, vice president of communications for the speedway.

“In addition, we contract aggressively with motorcoach companies for race week packages that could include tickets, hospitality, pit passes, etc.”