The main event may be on Tuesday, but the days leading up to the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game are guaranteed to hit a home run with fans.
MLB is hosting several events to get Kansas City stoked for the game, but the biggest is the All-Star FanFest, which kicks off Friday and runs through Tuesday.
“I guess the best way to describe it is if MLB and Walt Disney had a marriage, their lovechild would be FanFest,” says Ron Watermon, director of public relations for the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis set an attendance record for FanFest when the All-Star Game was there in 2009.
FanFest will be at the Kansas City Convention Center, 301 W. 13th St., from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday through Monday and until 6 p.m. Tuesday. A list of all exhibits and demonstrations can be found at AllStarGame.com. Here are some highlights:
Fans can grab a bit of the All-Star glory for themselves on the 10,500-square- foot FanFest Diamond, where clinics will be hosted by former players and baseball insiders. Instructors include former Royals pitcher and Fox Sports Kansas City analyst Jeff Montgomery on Friday and former MLB player, coach and manger Cookie Rojas on Tuesday. Clinics will cover basic baseball skills and will last for a half-hour.
Mascot Home Run Derby
Fans will get to see their favorite team mascots try to knock one out of the park at 11:30 a.m. Friday through Monday. Monday morning is the championship, where the No. 1 slugger will be crowned.
“It’s definitely a crowd favorite,” says Jackie Secaira-Cotto, director of special events for Major League Baseball.
Negro League Legends
Celebrate Kansas City’s deep connection to baseball history when former Negro Leaguers share their stories from the past. Guests include last living league umpire Bob Motley as well as Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Famer Minnie Miñoso.
National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum
History buffs will enjoy seeing 83 artifacts usually enshrined at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., throughout the festival. Pieces in this traveling exhibit include a ball signed by Negro Leagues legend Satchel Paige, a jersey worn by Babe Ruth and the cap worn by Bret Saberhagen during his 1991 no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox.
“Unless you can make that trip to Cooperstown, you’ll never get to see this stuff,” Secaira-Cotto says.
Fielding and batting cages
Fans can practice how the pros hit in state-of-the-art batting cages and test their skills against ground balls, fly balls and line drives at the fielding cages.
Steal a Base, Steal a Taco
Inch away, sprint and slide in to score a free Taco Bell taco. Fans have the chance to put their sneaking skills to the test stealing bases from digital simulations of current MLB pitchers. The pitcher may be on a screen, but the bases are real. Don’t forget to warm up.
Trophies of Major League Baseball
See the lights glinting off 16 official Major League awards and trophies that will be on display, including the 1985 Royals World Series trophy, State Farm Home Run Derby trophy and All-Star MVP award.
Women in Baseball
Meet the women who inspired the movie “A League of Their Own.” Players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League will sign autographs throughout the event, and there will be merchandise for sale.
Practice throwing and bunting skills by aiming at upright tire targets. No one to beat here except your personal best.
World’s Largest Baseball
What would a larger-than-life game be without a larger-than-life ball? The world’s largest baseball has been traveling with the All-Star Game since 1992. It measures 12.5 feet in diameter and weighs almost 1,300 pounds. By the time it reaches Kansas City, the ball will have traveled 48,159 miles. It features signatures from greats such as Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith and Ted Williams.
Auctions and appraisal fair
Fans who want to own their slice of baseball history can bid on any of the 700 pieces in a collection provided by Hunt Auctions. There will be daily silent auctions throughout FanFest for items under $1,000 and a live auction on the last day of the festival.
Highlights from the collection include a 1928 Lou Gehrig World Series home run baseball and a bat used by Ty Cobb with an autographed letter from Cobb himself, both valued between $100,000 and $200,000.
There will also be an appraisal fair running throughout FanFest, where fans can bring in their own items and have them priced by experts. At last year’s festival in Anaheim, Calif., a 1903 Cy Young bat was brought in and found to be worth more than $100,000.
Each day of the FanFest has been assigned a special theme to correspond with a special offer on that day.
Friday: Military Appreciation Day — Fans can honor the men and women of the military by sending thank you notes and videos to troops overseas. The first 1,000 eligible fans will receive a special military patch.
Saturday: Kids Day — The little ones will enjoy face painters, making their own baseball cards, balloon animals and a magic show. Families can view the giant World Series Trophy or take a photo with their favorite MLB mascot. First 1,000 fans between the ages of 4 and 18 will receive a special Sluggerrr figurine.
Sunday: Kansas City Tribute Day — KC takes center stage. There will be live music by local musicians, including electro-pop band Antennas Up at 11:30 a.m. and the Good Foot at 7 p.m. First 1,000 eligible fans receive a FanFest commemorative coin.
Monday: Legacy Day — Former Negro Leaguers will be doing Q-and-A’s all day, and artifacts from the league will be on display with the Hall of Fame Museum exhibits. First 1,000 eligible fans get a special Legacy Day tumbler.
Tuesday: All-Star Legends Day — To celebrate Kansas City’s third All-Star Game, past All-Stars will make an appearance, including those from 1960 and 1973, the last two games that Kansas City hosted. The first 1,000 eligible fans will get a bobblehead of Royals Hall of Famer George Brett.
“It’s all things great about baseball,” Watermon says. “It’s sort of a playground on the one hand and just an extravaganza on the other.”