FanFest promises to be true All-Star as moneymaker here

John Steadman

February 19, 1993|By John Steadman

What baseball was originally reluctant to even try, the All-Star Game, the creation of a sportswriter, has become a momentous vehicle for pleasing crowds, selling merchandise and generating profit. The event will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in Baltimore this summer. It will be like tapping into a gold mine on the shores of the Chesapeake.

Tickets for the game itself and even the day-before practice session have not even been placed on sale, but the early demand is like nothing Baltimore has ever experienced. To pacify the crowds, those shut out from seeing the game, there is an effort being made to make them still feel they are a part of the show.

It comes under the heading of a grand-slam promotion known as FanFest, which is entirely apart from the game it leads into, the American League vs. the National League All-Stars. Because the Orioles are the host team, they will receive a larger share of the revenue from what promises to be a financial bonanza for all involved, including the network of 28 major-league clubs and designated charities.

This undertaking of Major League Baseball Properties, the entity that controls the sale of logo-affixed shirts, caps, bats and other souvenirs, has nothing to do with the actual playing or viewing of the game. Gail Hunter, representing the staging organization, said: "It's a break-even event geared toward fun for the fans."

The park capacity of 48,000 is inadequate. Three times that many All-Star tickets could be sold if the space was available. To ease the frustrations of those unable to be present comes this imaginative attempt to satisfy the public demand to be involved. That's where a five-day festival known as FanFest will serve a need.

Early attendance estimates for this away-from-the-park baseball production, which is more akin to Walt Disney and Mike Todd than to Bill Veeck or Larry MacPhail, have been placed at 100,000. That's much too conservative. Baltimore will react with a response that may double the projected FanFest figure.

It's a show that will find the Convention Center and Festival Hall turned into an enormous baseball theme park. Both buildings, inside and out, will take on the look of a traditional ballpark. You'll hear bands playing, ball hitting bat, visit a model locker room, look through the knothole in a wooden fence (as you could once do at old Oriole Park), attend seminars and clinics about the game, stand in line for free autographs from former players and see exhibits on loan from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Tickets bought before July 9 are $6 for juniors, senior citizens and members of the military; $10 for adults. From July 9 to 13, the prices go to $8 and $12. Overall, it's a fantastic buy. One admission covers the entire FanFest. There's also no time limit on how long you can stay.

A special ceremony yesterday, with new Orioles announcer Fred Manfra serving as master of ceremonies, outlined the program that will precede the All-Star Game. To familiarize spectators with what they'll see at FanFest is a presentation going on right now that is intended to give Baltimore a preview of what it will have come All-Star time.

The historic Camden Railroad Station, close to the Orioles offices and playing field, has been temporarily turned into an exhibition center. Even though it's only a glimpse of what's to come later, the presentation offers a chance to view equipment, uniforms, pictures and memorabilia from the Hall of Fame, the Babe Ruth TTC House and the black leagues.

Admission is now free at Camden Station (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends) in what is an endeavor fully worth your time and attention, even if it's only a mere snapshot of what's to follow in July.

The 1992 FanFest program, which will run for five days, drew 85,000 to the All-Star celebration in San Diego last year in only its second try. The year before it was in Toronto and the first-time reaction played to a cash-register tune of 70,000 admissions. What has evolved in a brief two years is something so successful Major League Properties will invest more than $2 million in preparing the Convention Center and Festival Hall into a baseball amusement park and museum.

Let's go back to 1933 and the idea started by the late Arch Ward, imaginative sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, who conceived the All-Star Game and even had John McGraw come out of retirement to manage the National League All-Stars against Connie Mack's American Leaguers.

Baltimore has been host to only one other All-Star Game, 1958, five years after the franchise came from St. Louis. The wait for a repeat has encompassed 35 seasons.

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