FanFest promises to capture the imagination

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Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Lori Chisholm, of Elizabeth, helps to clean a protective covering for a baseball memorabilia display yesterday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Watch a video of the crew at work.
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A walk-through of FanFest yesterday produced enough sights for sensory overload, but perhaps the best visual was an imagined one based on a story from tour guide Morgan Littlefield.

When Houston played host to the All-Star Game in 2004, star pitcher Roger Clemens showed up at FanFest unannounced, recalled Ms. Littlefield, director of special events for Major League Baseball.

He went to the interactive batting cages and hit against a video version of himself, then strolled to the mound of the midway diamond during a clinic, took the ball from the pitcher -- and promptly gave up a home run to a youngster who no doubt will never forget the moment.

Ms. Littlefield (no relation to Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield) said another year, All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera came with his family to enjoy FanFest as one of the crowd.

It goes to show, you never know exactly who or what you'll see at FanFest, the huge sideshow that accompanies the All-Star Game.

Part traveling museum, part collectors' paradise, part skills competition, and all designed for the kid in everyone, the 400,000-square-foot FanFest opens at 9 a.m. today at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center after an 8:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting.

A few displays, including the world's largest baseball, are on 10th Street outside the center. Fans, who will be admitted on a timed-entry basis to prevent overcrowding, start on the lower level once inside. Soft green carpeting is laid throughout.

First up are a minor-league baseball area, where fans can match caps with their major-league team affiliates, and a display that pays tribute to the Negro Leagues.

John Beale, Post-GazetteMark Formica, center, leads a group of members of the National Guard from PA, Nebraska, and Delaware on a tour of The David Lawrence Convention Center in preparation for the All-Star FanFest. The National Guard is working in support of Homeland Security for All-Star festivities at PNC Park and the convention center.
Peter Diana, Post-GazettePirates ground keeper Andy Berkley uses a sod cutter to contour the pitchers' mound at PNC Park as part of the ballyard's preparations for events surroundingthe 77th MLB All Star Game next Tuesday.
John Beale, Post-GazetteAdam Struzynski of South Park, a student at Slippery Rock University, carries signs to direct visitors at the All-Star FanFest at the David Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
Matt Freed, Post-GazetteMike Cafaro polishes the championship trophy from the World Baseball Classic on display at the All-Star FanFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center yesterday.

A Hall of Fame area has items on loan from the national baseball museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Chief curator Ted Spencer said a Babe Ruth item is standard among the 100 or so artifacts, and this year it's a jersey.

The Hall displays are heavy on the Pirates, including the helmet Bill Mazeroski wore when he hit the home run against the New York Yankees that won the 1960 World Series, a Honus Wagner bat and a Roberto Clemente display case.

Next to that, a stage fronted by a roped switchback queue is where you will find players of yore signing autographs.

Collectors selected by Major League Baseball have booths where you can buy, sell or trade memorabilia. If you're not sure what your item is worth, take it to the Hunt Auctions folks at the back of the lower-level hall to have it appraised.

Hunt will have a silent auction every day, and a live auction at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Some of the premier items, according to Hunt's Cheryl Goyda, include a ball from the first All-Star Game in 1933 signed by the American Leaguers, including Ruth; the bat Ruth might have used to hit his then-record-setting 59th home run in 1921; original seats from Forbes Field; and a framed, signed photo of the Pirates' Wagner.

Before heading upstairs, fans can get their picture taken for a Wheaties box and scan a display of Pirates Hall of Fame members.

Upstairs, the older "children" can stop for a ballpark beer while the real kids can get a cover shot of themselves on USA Today's Sports Weekly.

Aspiring broadcasters can try play-by-play and make a tape before heading inside the large upper hall.

At the center of things is a scaled-down diamond that will be used for clinics and various guest appearances.

There are more collectors waiting to buy, sell or trade. Or you can get a baseball card of yourself made at a nearby stop.

The youngest in the crowd can find something to do at the Kids Activity Center, while others can get immersed in the Cyber Ballpark.

"Whenever we have lost children, this is always where we find them -- playing video games," Ms. Littlefield said.

Baseball trivia buffs can win prizes at FanFest Challenge, a Jeopardy-like game.

Interactive video bullpens and batting cages offer a chance to go up against some of the top players. You can try to strike out Barry Bonds or get a hit off Randy Johnson.

At one end of the hall are areas for a home run derby and fielding practice. Participants in the celebrity and legends softball game will warm up there Sunday afternoon.

Next to that is a steal-home challenge area.

You can get up close to many of baseball's awards and trophies in a mass of display cases in what would be the first-base foul area of the diamond.

Several of the All-Star players, Hall of Famers, former Negro League players and other celebrities will be on hand at various times to conduct clinics, have question-and-answer sessions or make other appearances.

And you never know what unscheduled visitors might show.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721.


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