If you're not among the 48,000 or so lucky fans who scored tickets for Tuesday night's All-Star Game, there's no need to stare dejectedly through the iron gates leading into Oriole Park at Camden Yards. There are so many All-Star Week activities taking place nearby you can still share in the action.
In fact, one game-related event is expected to easily outdraw the game itself. The Upper Deck All-Star FanFest, running today through Tuesday in the Convention Center and Festival Hall, will have baseball fanatics wandering as if through a field of dreams. Based on the 85,000 fans who attended last year's FanFest in San Diego, officials expect 100,000 this year.
"The average stay is 4 1/2 hours and we've had kids who came back every day," says Gail Hunter, the FanFest project supervisor. "We use the Disney [theme park] model -- people pay to get in and then can do everything inside for free. We also have a lot of interactive activities so people can really be a part of it."
To give you a sense of the scale of this fanatical event, there's a "baseball" resting in the Convention Center lobby that's 12 feet in diameter. Not to mention the giant inflated ball soaring above Festival Hall.
Sure to be among the highlights is the largest memorabilia exhibit ever on loan from Cooperstown, N.Y. The more than 300 items include a 1903 World Series program, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, Jim Palmer's 1969 Baltimore Orioles cap, Hank Aaron's 500th home run bat, seats from Ebbets Field, and a glove worn by Lou Gehrig. Sorry, these ain't for sale.
But everything is for sale in the sprawling FanFest retail store where you can buy tons of merchandise representing all 28 major league teams. It's such a mind-boggling and wallet-emptying array of logo-embossed jackets, caps and other stuff that All-Star Week seems like All-Store Week here.
FanFesters are also sure to enjoy an exhibit celebrating the history of the Baltimore Orioles; a "Knothole Gang Fence" that lets you peek at videotaped highlights from All-Star Game history; a baseball card booth in which your picture goes on the card and your stats go on its back (no doubt there'll be some inflated stats); a Collectors Showcase, where local and national dealers will be buying, selling and trading baseball cards; a Diamond Theater, where you can watch baseball players and managers discuss their skills; video batting cages; a demonstration area where balls and bats are made before your very eyes; and a replica of a pro dugout full of real equipment.
Also -- whew, this FanFest is moving into extra innings! -- there is a "Call of Fame," in which correctly answering a baseball trivia question wins a free long distance call to anywhere in the world. Then there's the Rookie League Locker Room, complete with kid-sized batting cages and bullpens for the young sporting talent in the family.
Of all that FanFest has to offer, perhaps the biggest lines will form for some of the 125 baseball players slated to make #F autograph-signing appearances. The big roster includes Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Paul Blair, Rollie Fingers, Milt Pappas, Al Bumbry, Mike Cuellar, Boog Powell, Orlando Cepeda, Enos Slaughter, Dick Hall, Harmon Killebrew, Tippy Martinez, Gaylord Perry, Joe Altobelli, Bob Feller, Bobby Grich and Steve Garvey.
"If you're a sports fan, it's fantastic," says former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who attended the first FanFest in Toronto two years ago.
Having managed the American League team in four All-Star games, Mr. Weaver describes it as "a manager's nightmare. Although it's a pleasure to be involved and watch the many All Stars perform, it is one night of tough work for the manager. Trying to get everybody in there to play is tough, and if somebody doesn't get in there, the guy's feelings will be hurt. There are so many changes in that ball game it's hard to keep up with the line-up card."
FanFest runs today through Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Tickets are sold on a timed-entry basis (for admission every hour, on the hour). Once inside, you may stay as long as you wish. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors 62 and older, children 12 and younger, and military. Tickets are available through the Orioles main ticket office at (410) 685-9800; TicketMaster Phone Charge at (410) 481-SEAT; TicketMaster Outlets; and Orioles Baseball Stores in Seabrook, York, Pa., and Washington.
Among other All-Star Week events, look for "A Salute to the Stars of Early Black Baseball." A 2:30 p.m. ceremony just before the Orioles-White Sox game tomorrow honors 25 players from the all-black teams that formed leagues of their own because major league baseball excluded black players for most of its history.