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Changing Lineup

For many baseball fans, the first trip to the concession stand is as much a part of the opening-day tradition as booing the umpires.

The moment fans enter the gates and smell the fresh-cut outfield grass, something triggers a craving for a hot dog and a soda or beer. And don't forget the peanuts.

But ballparks have scrambled in recent years to accommodate the dining wishes of fans seeking fare a little more healthful than nachos or chili-cheese dogs.

Fans may not notice the biggest culinary change this season at John Thurman Field, especially as they gawk at the new video board in left field. But their arteries will notice.

"We've made a couple of small changes this year," said Modesto Nuts' general manager Mike Gorrasi, whose team opens its 2007 season Thursday night against the Visalia Oaks. "We've gotten rid of the trans fat for our fried foods, which is kind of a new health topic, and we've brought back a grilled chicken sandwich."

The elimination of trans fats — documented as a contributor to strokes and heart disease — is a fast-food trend that has found its way to ballparks around the country.

The San Francisco Giants recently announced the elimination of all trans fat frying shortenings at AT&T Park, while the Sacramento River Cats club is determining which of its fried foods can be prepared in the healthier cooking oils.

The Nuts still will offer the full range of usual ballpark food suspects: hot dogs, polish and Italian sausages, nachos, hamburgers, tri-tip sandwiches, chicken fingers, fries, popcorn, sunflower seeds, giant pretzels, ice cream and frozen treats, plus the full line of sodas, beer and wine. And, of course, flavored nuts.

The River Cats are unveiling a Philly cheesesteak and a Sicilian po' boy sandwich, as well as a full line of salads, including Cobb, Greek, Caesar, spinach and pasta. The Giants, who claim the trans-fat-free shortening makes their trademark garlic fries taste even better, have added a crab sandwich to their high-end offerings.

The Giants, however, draw nearly 40,000 fans to every game, while the River Cats have led all of the minor leagues in attendance in each of their eight seasons — routinely filling 14,680-seat Raley Field. That fan base and concession volume allow the teams to experiment with food offerings.

Modesto, meanwhile, averages about 2,200 fans for its 70 home dates, so the introduction of any new food item comes with a financial risk.

"We tried the salad shaker last year and some other things like that over the years, but they haven't sold enough to warrant keeping them," Gorrasi said. "We'll continue to do some things like that, but until there's a real big demand, we don't have the space to roll out a whole menu of healthy stuff."

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or at 578-2301.

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