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July 24-25

Boys of Summer

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Very few things in life exist as immutable, inseparable partners.

There's peanut butter and jelly. There's Bonnie and Clyde.

But most of all, there's baseball and summertime.

When the days get long and hot, Americans head to the ballpark. So this summer, pack up the caps, gloves and kids and go out and see some baseball.

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Keep it simple Friday the 23rd by staying home. Richmond's own AAA Braves kick off a 10-game home stand by squaring off against the Toledo Mudhens at 7 p.m. (Tickets range from $5-$8, and admission is free after the seventh inning. Call 359-4444 for info.) At the R-Braves, get a seat high behind home plate or in left or right field foul territory, and just sit back while the kids catch foul ball after foul ball.

But hope the Braves don't go into extra innings, because we're just getting started. First thing Saturday, pile into the minivan and head up I-95 for Philadelphia, where it's the Phillies vs. the Atlanta Braves Saturday at 7:05 p.m. This is always a hotly contested matchup. (Tickets range from $6-$24, call (215) 463-1000 for info.)

Before heading to Veterans Stadium, join the pregame ritual of stopping off for a cheesesteak or roast pork sandwich at Tony Luke's at 39 Oregon Ave. in South Philly. Give yourself plenty of time. The lines can get long.

Head west on Oregon and turn left on Broad to get to Veterans Stadium at 3501 South Broad St. It isn't the prettiest ballpark ever, but what it lacks in refinement it makes up for in character. Before you go in, check out the statue of Rocky across the street at the Spectrum. (This was the statue in Rocky III — you know, the one with Mr. T?) Back at the Vet, be sure to visit the baseball bat maker in the outfield concourse. He makes the bats for former rookie of the year Scott Rolen, among other Phillies, right there at the Vet. And grab a local Red Bell brew in the Winner's Brew Pub, on the stadium's 200 level.

But if you are a Braves fan, keep it to yourself. Philly is home to the most intense, vocal fans in professional sports, and they do not like Atlanta, or anybody else, for that matter.

Investigate Philly hotels yourself for the best deal, but a couple of good options are the Ten Eleven Clinton Bed and Breakfast in the tree-lined, residential Washington Square West section of Center City. Suites range from $125 to $200 per night for two people; or The Hotel Windsor at 1700 Benjamin Franklin Parkway with specials starting as low as $89 per night.

Start Sunday off early with breakfast at the famous Melrose Diner at 1501 Snyder Ave. Once inside its aluminum exterior, you'll find the best cup of coffee in South Philly, waitresses who call you "hon" and who even ask how you like your bacon.

Head back down I-95 to Baltimore and one of the finest ballparks in the land, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

On Sunday afternoon, the Birds have a 1:35 p.m. start against the Anaheim Angels, featuring power-hitting first baseman Mo Vaughan, whose parents live in Midlothian. (Tickets range from $7 to $35. Call (410) 685-9800 or 1-800-481-SEAT for info.)

After the final out, head on home, sit down, relax and watch the highlights on Sports Center. Get a good night's sleep, dreaming sweet dreams of ballpark hot dogs and home

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