Thursday, July 14, 2005

Haunted by Pinstripes at FanFest

Baseball’s All-Star FanFest is a glorious celebration of the National Pastime, and a must-attend event if the game is within driving distance.

So I happily motored two hours east to Detroit this week to bask in all that is good about baseball – and couldn’t escape the dreaded clutches of the Evil Empire.

Not that I let it spoil the fun. After all, any day spent immersed in the Grand Old Game is a good one, even if the Yankees are involved.

In case you’ve never been, the FanFest is a collection of baseball displays and activities that takes place in the weekend before the All-Stat Game in the All-Star host city, usually in some convention center. There are opportunities to meet everyone from Hall-of-Famers to professional softball players. It’s a collector’s paradise, and I’ll soon detail that aspect at

I’ve been fortunate to attend FanFests in Pittsburgh in 1994, Cleveland in 1997, Milwaukee in 2002 and Chicago in 2003.

I started the event by wandering into an area called FanFest Bazaar, which was filled with corporate sponsors, many giving stuff away. Dave Winfield was there at a booth sponsored by the Major League Players Alumni Association, posing for photos with fans. He wasn’t allowed to sign autographs, which MLB rules say can only happen in the designated “Legends” area.

After the whole Reggie Jackson ball-pounding incident, I’ve limited my contact with Yankees. Winfield, of course, has serious Yankee taint, and I had to think before posing.

I ran through a brief mental checklist.

A Yankee? For sure.

Number retired by Yankees? No.

Yankee cap on his Hall-of-Fame plaque? No.

Milestone achievement while playing for Yanks? No.

Plus I had a nice experience with Winfield that I blogged about before. And he departed the Yanks on his own terms and even indirectly led to Steinbrenner getting suspended for a while.

I figured it was safe, and Dave indeed was a nice guy.

Me and Dave Winfield

Not 10 feet away stood another Hall of Famer, Phil Niekro. Phil was there raising awareness for deep vein thrombosis, better known as blod clots. Seems odd, I know.

Of course, Phil was another Yankee. And while not quite as sinister, he was a long-time Brave before that. Ran through the same checklist, with the only difference was that Phil did have a milestone achievement -- win No. 300 – in pinstripes.

Took another chance, and Phil was a nice guy, too, even shaking my hand a second time. “Read this stuff, guys,” he said, pointing to the deep vein thrombosis pamphlets. “It’s important.”

Me and Phil Niekro

Snapping photos with two Hall-of-Famers in the first 20 minutes is a good way to start the day, and I heard loud cheers from another area. Scrambling over, I saw none other than Alex Rodriguez in the baseball clinic area.

Another Yankee. What, was Carlos Beltran not available? ARod was supposed to be bestowing his baseball knowledge on a bunch of elementary school kids who were hitting off tees on a mock diamond. I noticed much of his bestowing consisted of “Good!” and “Nice,” as the kids flailed at the sponge balls.

It was nice to see ARod up-close, but I was in need of a serious Mets infusion. The official All-Star store was nearby, and I had plans. I’ve been waiting to buy the new batting practice cap. The sizes on these things are goofy, and I’d wanted to be able to try one on before purchasing, rather than ordering one through the mail.

I made it back to the Wall of Caps where every team and their assorted home, road and alternate caps were to be available. Locating the batting practice caps, I saw, Pirates, Mariners, Yankees, more stinking Yankees….and no fine orange-and-blue headware!

“Oh yeah, we must be out of them,” grumbled a clerk. Denied!

Things were not looking up, but I had a lot of fun scanning the exhibits on the Negro Leagues, the making of bats and gloves, seeing some of baseball’s trophies and other diversions.

More troublesome, the buzz throughout the day was about whether Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers was going to play in the All-Star Game.

Rogers, of course, is facing a 20-game suspension. I don’t get it. Stomping on a TV cameraman is only the second-biggest atrocity "The Gambler" has committed.

This is the guy who, while pitching for the Mets in the crucial Game Six of the 1999 National League Championship, started the 10th inning by serving up a lead-off double to weak-hitting Gerald “Ice” Williams, then walked the next three batters to hand the Braves a trip to the World Series. And I’m supposed to be upset because he kicked a cameraman?

But I digress.

Later, I sought to shake loose some of my aggression in the Home Run Derby activity, where a guy feeds a baseball into a pitching machine and you hit for distance. After a couple of misses, I got my timing down and even launched a couple spongeballs off the convention center wall, earning me a prize – a player pennant.

I was handed a pennant of Roger Clemens. Sweet!

Looking closer, it's Clemens depicted as a bat-tossing Yankee. Son of a ...!

The last activity was a video pitching cage. It’s like one of those speed pitch booths, but you throw at a video of a batter projected on slots. As the ball passes through, the machine records your speed. If you hit the strike zone, the video of the player swings and misses. If a ball, he steps out off the plate. You keep throwing until he either walks or strikes out.

You get to select the batter from a list that ranges from the Phillie Phanatic to Barry Bonds. I did this a couple of years ago against Mets-killer Chipper Jones, and it didn’t end well. OK, it ended well for Chipper, inflicting yet another wound on the Mets.

This time, I knew I had to battle a Yankee to reverse the karma of the day. The attendant asked who I wanted as I stepped to the plastic pitching rubber. JETER! I barked before he even finished.

The video image of the Smug One stepped to the plate, and I fired my first pitch. Beauty. Strike one. And I think the gun that measures pitch velocity is set on “flatter” because I don’t think I actually threw 62 mph.

Second pitch sailed high, a ball.

Third pitch nailed Jeter right in the video batting helmet. Not necessarily a bad thing. The attendant laughed. “You must me a Mets fan.” Darn right.

Fourth pitch was grooved down the middle, and the projected Jeter flailed. Sweet! One more strike and all those Mets defeats and mockery at the hands of Yankee fans would be avenged.

Fifth pitch sailed wide. Full count.

Flop sweat had kicked in. Not good, not good at all. As soon as the ball left my hand, I knew. Way high. I swear the video Jeter smirked as he walked toward first, probably advancing Chipper Jones to second base, having walked two years ago.

Beaten by the Yankees, again. They will break your heart. Every time.

Alas, I passed the Hall of Fame display on the way out. And there, shining like the Holy Grail was a game-used Tom Seaver jersey, nestled between treasured relics of Gaylord Perry and Mike Schmidt.

It was one of Tom’s Reds jerseys, but that was as close as I was going to get.

A Seaver jersey reminds us of all that is good in the world, that baseball is a glorious game and the Yankees will get what is coming to them.



Tony Hartsfield said...

I wish I enjoyed one thing in my life as much as you do Baseball.

Dave said...

Thanks for adding me to your links. I'll return the favor.