All-Star Eye Witness: Fanfest Round-Table

Fanfest

No, really. This is the last of our All-Star Game coverage. The Fanfest took place at the Arizona Convention Center, just across the street from Chase Field, from the Friday before through to the Tuesday of the All-Star Game, and provided a chance for fans of all ages to see things, meet baseball stars, take part in a range of baseball-themed events and activities, and potentially buy a ton of stuff. Our intrepid team of All-Star reporters spent quite a lot of time there, and this is their communal report on the event.

So, what did we think of Fanfest?

soco: Fanfest, what do I say about thee?  It’s kind of like Comic Con, or what I would assume Comic Con is like, but with less activities.  So maybe it’s more like a trade show.  Some really cool exhibits from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Negro Museum, and it was fun to browse the various shops.  SABR is running its own convention this past weekend, so Fanfest just made me really want to go to SABR 42.  

Jim: I thought it was going to be way more crowded. Maybe it helped that we went on the Monday, or perhaps it was just that things were well spread-out, with a good chunk of space between the exhibits, and it just didn’t feel cramped. Took a bit of time to find our bearings, and the map of the venue appeared to have been drawn up by a blind 14th-century cartographer - I’m sure one corner was marked "Here be Yankees fans" - but since we were largely just wandering about anyway, we never really needed to find much.

Kishi: This is the third time I’ve been to an event similar to this- one for the NBA all-star game about fifteen years ago, and one for the Super Bowl ten or twelve years back. I really enjoyed this one the most, partially because I’m more of a baseball fan than anything else, but there was just plenty of stuff to wander and look at. We went on Saturday, so it was pretty busy, but I didn’t feel too cramped, except in some of the exhibits were people felt the need to clear out five to ten feet of space for their pictures... *grumblegrumble* Ahem, sorry. But we had plenty of fun wandering, even if some of the lines were longer than I cared for.

DbacksSkins: Have to agree with soco. I’d assume it’s like ComicCon, but I’ve never actually been. Plenty of cool memorabilia, between the sellers’ booths and the HOF and Negro Leagues exhibits, and the auction stuff. (My favorite: A signed #55 Brandon Webb jersey, with the note, "Schill, thanks for all the help. I wouldn’t be half the pitcher I am today without you. Brandon") I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to have paid $30 each for two, but they came with our ASG ticket strips, and, as soco pointed out, there are enough chances to get them $5 or $15 off or even free, that you’re a fool if you pay full price. I didn’t get as much time in the HOF exhibit as I would have liked, but made up for it by spending about 45 minutes in the Negro Leagues section -- and I know much more about MLB HOFers anyway. All in all, it was fun. If I had kids, I’d DEFINITELY take them.

While in line for the "Get your picture on a baseball card" booth, I heard someone mention that it’s like baseball Disneyland. You pay a bunch to get in, then almost everything is free inside. You just have to wait in line. That’s another good comparison.

All_star_game_2011_079_medium
One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong...

What were the highlights?

Jim: It was the little surprises that I think amused us. We knew about the autograph sessions, the baseball cards with your picture on ‘em, etc. so while those were cool, they were expected. It was things like seeing a baseball get sewn and finding out how they were made, meeting the ladies from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or getting to stand next to a life-size image of the Big Unit. Those are the kind of quirky things that we didn’t think we’d encounter, and that made them all the more pleasurable.

Kishi: I loved the historical displays. There were displays set up from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and showing off items up for auction. It was really cool to wander through and look at the memorabilia, just to be reminded of the history of the game. Practicing bunting in the cages was pretty cool- even mrskishi had fun with that, and I think she’s a better bunter than I am. (And yet she still won’t join a vintage team.) I did love doing the fantasy play-by-play, too- I expect to be hearing from FS Arizona any day now about an opportunity to fill in for Grace and Sutton. Yep, aaaaany day now....

DbacksSkins: Plenty of free stuff. Not feeling bad about doing some things (pitching, bunting, swinging) that were probably directed more towards kids. Getting a picture of jinnah being hugged by the Firestone Tires mascot, wherein she looks like she’s about to cry. (For the record, that was mostly soco’s way of getting revenge for all the times she’s hugged him maliciously)

As Devin noted, the historical stuff was great. Tim and I came back on Tuesday for an interview, and ended up getting a lot more "material" than we’d expected...

soco: I loved the historical displays and the actual events.  I also enjoyed browsing the merchandise, even if most of it I couldn’t either afford, or want.  The Negro League exhibit was great, and it just makes me want to go to Kansas City to check out the full thing.  Looking at the Minor League caps display was fun (Montgomery Biscuits have the best/worst hat ever).

Anything you didn't enjoy, or think could have been improved?

Jim: Not having any kids with us largely ruled out a good chunk of the participatory stuff, which seemed heavily aimed in that direction. We probably wouldn’t have bothered anyway, but the autograph lines for the Hall of Famers, etc. seemed horrendously long. Could have done with more places just to sit; we were there on our feet for about five hours, with the only pause for a quick snack [and at $3 for a bottle of Mountain Dew, we weren’t doing that again].

Kishi: Seconded on the places to sit. Didn’t pick up any autographs, and the line for the home run cages seemed too long to bother with, and I’m well aware I don’t have home run power anyway.

DbacksSkins: I wasn’t interested in any autographs, didn’t do the home run cage, and didn’t do any of the media stuff. Other stuff I didn’t like included my 8 year old flip flop strap finally snapping within 30 minutes of getting there, (in the midst of throwing a pitch, no less!) and subsequently paying $32 for a pair of Under Armour All Star Game logo’d flip flops. On the other hand, I now have these Under Armour All Star Game logo’d flip flops, which are kinda cool.

soco: One thing that bugged me was the extreme markup of baseball card boxes (except for the junk wax), and the lack of good singles.  I’m not going to pay $220 for a box of Gypsy Queen or $100 for Topps Series 1 if it retails considerably less.  I would have liked to have gotten autographs, but I didn’t really know where to go.  You’d think they would have made a bigger deal.  

All_star_game_2011_090_medium

Did you pick up any cool swag?

Jim: We got the photo baseball cards, of course, but was pretty restrained on the actual spending front. I did get a set of 2001 World Series commemorative pins, and also a copy of the 2011 AAGPB calendar. Chris wanted to get one of their "There’s no crying in baseball!" T-shirts, but they only had those left as sweats. Not exactly something you get a chance to use very often in Arizona!

Kishi: I picked up some baseball cards- including an Ian Kennedy which I’m pretty happy about. Also got some cards for the Topps Attax game- don’t know that I’ll ever play it, but hey, I got a Kelly Johnson card, so can’t complain about that.

DbacksSkins: Jenna tends to glare at me anytime I collect free stuff, but we still ended up with the free photo baseball cards, plenty of pictures, the grab bag with pin that you receive upon entering, and said ASG flip flops. Think that’s about it.

soco: I bought an ASG pin set (one of the special editions).  I also picked up one of the official New Era ASG Diamondbacks hats with the gold stars.  Swag.  I bought a Jay Bell signed ball for one of my friends, and a black ASG hat for snakecharmer.  Other than that, I didn’t really go crazy.

Anything else worth mentioning?

Jim: We were made to take the label off our non-Pepsi bottle of water before we were allowed to bring it into the venue. Weird. My pitches were clocked at 48 mph; five of those and my shoulder was burning, so I got a whole new respect for those who can throw ninety for upwards of a hundred pitches in a row.

Kishi: I topped out at 46 mph, but I’m at least pleased that most of my pitches were in the strike zone. It was actually weird to try to throw as hard as I can- which didn’t turn out to be very hard at all. One of the guys in line ahead of us hit 87 mph, I can’t even imagine that...

DbacksSkins: Although there was legitimately a lot to do, it still felt somehow like there could’ve been more. Especially if they’re charging most people $30 a ticket.

For the record, I hit 48, putting myself between Devin’s 46 and Tim’s 49. I would’ve hit at least 50 on my last pitch, had my flip flop not snapped mid-windup. Yup. That’s it.

On the other hand, although I’ve actually PLAYED (Vintage) base ball as a hitter, I think Jenna had more success than me in the batting cages.

soco: Huzzah!  I’m the ace of the Snakepit Awful Pitching Rotation.  I had pretty good control, too, a lot of the guys getting up to the 70’s were throwing all over the place.  Not me, I was painting the corners.  

All_star_game_2011_092_medium
Mrs. SnakePit clocking 36 mph, without as much as disturbing her bonnet.

Was was your favorite thing about the event?

Jim: A League of their Own is one of our favorite baseball movies, so seeing some of the ladies who helped inspire that was a real treat. But how can you beat getting batting lessons from a legend like Cal Ripken? That kicks ass in so many ways, and is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Though having my picture on a baseball card comes close!

Kishi: Probably the fantasy play-by-play, though I loved the huge wall o’ minor league caps. Some pretty cool logos out there.

DbacksSkins: That’s something I forgot earlier. The Minor League caps, showing every team’s (nearly) complete farm system, were pretty cool, as was the map showing the location of minor league teams across the country. Fun fact: There are exactly as many Minor League teams in Canada as Major League teams.

I may hate the Padres, but the Lake Elsinore Storm have pretty cool caps. (Look it up!)

soco: Doing the video things was fun, even if people think I have no charisma.  Screw them, I say.  

Overall, what did you think of the event?

Jim: For $30, it probably wasn’t quite worth it. But there were enough ways to get discounted or even free tickets that no-one really needed to pay that. There were a lot of interesting things to see and do, so our allotted time there went past quickly and painlessly.

Mrs. SnakePit: Since it was the first time MLB All Star ANYTHING was in Phoenix, we felt compelled to go and see what was going to be, in my eyes a great big circus that was all themed "baseball".  I wasn't far from wrong.  The FanFest was huge, taking up almost the entire Phoenix Convention Center. My favorite things I saw there, in no particular order:

  • The Big Baseball that lit up different colors...oooh...shiney
  • Meeting the ladies of Baseball and chatting with them about what it was like, listening to their war stories (big-ass bruises on their bottoms)
  • Watching Jim get a lesson on batting from the legend Cal Ripken and then seeing a dramatic improvement in his batting afterwards
  • Breakfast at the Sheraton - try the buffet - it's AWESOME!
  • The artist that did the relief drawings and baseball caps (below) - Charles Fazzino - beautiful stuff.

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Kishi: Yeah, it wouldn’t have been worth $30 to me- though if I’d paid that much, I would have made sure to show up earlier, get the give away, wait for autographs, that sort of thing. But for a way to pass a summer afternoon in Phoenix? I had a blast.

DbacksSkins: I’d do it again, and I’d spend more time, putting in the effort to see EVERYTHING. $30 is too much, though. I dunno what attendance was like, but it seemed less crowded than I’d expected, especially given that I was there on Saturday.

soco: $30 doesn’t seem too extreme, if it were the only ASG event I went to.  It was a nice teaser, but honestly it was awesome because it was fun wandering around with the crew I was with more than the actual event.

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