Fans coming to Kauffman Stadium for the first time this year had better get ready for a surprising experience.

"I think it's going to strike them as a totally different building," said Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president of business operations.

"When they used to walk up, they had a lot of asphalt and chain-link fence. Now it's been replaced with colored concrete, lush landscaping and ornamental fencing. So it's almost a park inside of a park. I think that's what going to hit them as they approach the building."

Even now, as motorists go past the stadium on I-70, they can see the crowning touch going up. The new gold crown is being erected atop the spectacular and aptly named Crown Vision scoreboard which was unveiled last year during the first phase of the massive renovation project.

"I like the new scoreboard the best," owner David Glass said. "It's got all the information up there that I want. So it enhances the game experience for me. When I go, I just like to watch the game."

Watching the game will be an even better experience this year for all fans.

The gorgeous green field will be the same and the team, if Spring Training optimism proves true, will be better. But wider concourses within the stadium, more concession stands and restrooms and other amenities are waiting for Joe and Joan Fan and the kiddies.

For one thing, ticket-holding fans now can enter Kauffman Stadium through Gates A and E at an early hour to enjoy what's called "the outfield experience" and Royals batting practice.

All gates normally open 1 1/2 hours before game time Sunday through Thursday and 2 hours before game time Friday and Saturday. In addition, this year Gates A and E will open at 4:30 p.m. CT Monday through Thursday, at 3 p.m. on Friday, at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

"Our batting practice starts at 4:40 [for 7:10 p.m. games] so that gives fans a chance to get in and be able to watch our entire batting practice," Uhlich said. "They can go to the outfield and stand on the standing room platforms and catch home run balls in batting practice and all the interactive stuff will be open as well."

By interactive stuff, Uhlich means all the new attractions that rim the outfield area (more about that in an upcoming article). The new Rivals restaurant and a barbecue area beyond right field also will be operating.

Then, when all the gates to the ballpark open, the rest of the building becomes available to all fans. So, if you came in early to watch batting practice, eat a sandwich or take the kids on the carousel, you can wander into the rest of the stadium to find your seats.

Or, if you want, you can take a walk throughout the entire stadium. That's right, for the first time fans can take a trip all around the stadium if they want. There's a 360-degree passage.

That's struck a responsive chord with Glass.

"A lot of fans like to walk around and see the game from several different vantage points. I like that the fact that you can walk all the way around the ballpark now. You can walk all the way around the outfield and you can actually watch the game from almost any vantage point you want to watch it," Glass said.

"That's going to be my favorite part of it because I love it. I can stand out in left field and watch the game and that's a great seat. A lot of people don't realize how great the seats are. But I like to see it from all different angles and so I can walk all the way around now."

As a matter of fact, there are great seats above the cascading waterfalls in left field. The Fountain Seats cost just $7, reminiscent of the old "general admission" areas in the outfield corners, and will be sold on game days only. Adjoining those seats is a Fountain Bar on the base of the old JumboTron scoreboard.

There are also new Outfield Box Seats just behind the left-field wall that are sold as part of season-ticket packages.

On the other side, behind the right-field wall and in front of the original fountains is a standing-room only area, dubbed the Party Porch, which will accommodate about 200 fans at a time. No seats were put there because, to be frank, the fans might get wet depending on the whims of the wind.

"We're going to go in and tweak the nozzles and make sure they're keeping as much water in the fountain as they can," Uhlich said.

Like all the areas in the outfield, the Rivals restaurant and sports bar is open to all fans, although the window-side seats will be sold on a game-by-game basis. Inside is a circular bar, a 103-inch plasma television screen and a passel of other TVs. There's a FOX broadcast studio inside as well.

"Pregame and postgame FOX reports will be from there so fans can come here, hang out, watch the game and watch the postgame show," Uhlich said.

At all points of the stadium, service should be quicker.

"Just the way it operates is going to be so totally different," Uhlich said. "We've increased the points of sale for concessions. I think it used to be 430 fans per point of sale and now that's down to about 150 fans to one. So plenty of places to buy concessions. We've brought in Aramark and they've upgraded some of the offerings. We've upgraded the menu we had in the past."

Up top, on the View Level, there have been significant changes, including the addition of a food court and bar, a retail store, an atrium and a perforated sun shield over the concourse.

"We basically doubled the size of the concourse," said Bob Rice, vice president of ballpark operations and development. "We think it's pretty significant for the folks at View Level. We've also done all-new finishes in the concession stands, all new countertops, all new back tile, all new ceilings, all new concessions equipment. All the bathrooms have been reconditioned and we've added bathrooms on the food court."

Three escalators will carry fans to the top level. For big-drawing games, portable concession stands will be added at the rim of the concourse.

From top to bottom, it's virtually a whole new ballpark.

"I just think the fans will view it as one of the most spectacular venues in all of baseball. And it will be," general manager Dayton Moore said. "The fan interaction and just the comfort that this ballpark will provide will make it a destination place for all our fans throughout our five or six states."