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FanFest: Good times at every stop
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07/11/2003  8:40 PM ET 
FanFest: Good times at every stop
From autograph booths to bands to games
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Nicholas Wheeler, 7, of Kankakee, Ill, throws at pitch at the Fantasy Pitching booth during the All-Star Fan Fest that began Friday. (AP Photo)

FanFest gallery

CHICAGO -- Carlos May sits behind a table on a podium, with Will Clark seated about eight feet to his right.

The line to get autographs from both former All-Stars snakes four or five times around, leading all the way back to a sign that informs patrons the wait from that point could be two hours. May and Clark are scheduled to sign for two hours.

Meeting and greeting former players was just one of the countless baseball opportunities for the wide range of fans who took in the John Hancock All-Star Fan Fest, which began Friday morning at McCormick Place.

May, a former White Sox standout who currently lives in the south suburbs of Chicago, couldn't be happier to take part in the extravaganza.

2003 All-Star Game

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"This is good for the city, for one thing," said May, talking in between short conversations with fans whom brought everything from baseballs to sheets of paper for him to sign.

"It's good for me, too," May added with a laugh. "It's good for the people to know I'm here."

May and Clark's collective writer's cramp was preceded by Don Larsen and Fred Lynn and followed by former White Sox stalwarts Billy Pierce and Ron Kittle.

But let's say you are not an autograph seeker and even less of a fan where one-to-two hour waits are concerned.

Fret not. There are plenty of diamond gems in this temporary stadium.

Pass the test: The young man picks a question from the Stats category, and the quizmaster, or Alex Trebek with a baseball flare, lets loose with the question.

"Who has the most hits in a single season at 257?" he asks.

Contestant No. 1 goes with A, Ty Cobb. It's the wrong answer. Contestant No. 3 tries C, Rogers Hornsby. He's also wide of the plate.

But this Jeopardy-style game seems to have captured the attention of many of the Fan Fest attendees. Every 30 minutes, contestants can earn points by answering questions from various baseball-related categories.

It's also not without its rewards. Depending on the points you amass, the winner gets to pick from a list of prizes. One teenage fan won a DVD player.

By the way, George Sisler is the answer to the original question. No points in that particular round.

Might Casey: Tim Wiles looks so authentic that he not only evokes memories of "Casey at the Bat, " but he's more like, "Casey, in the House. "

Serving as the Research Director for the Baseball Hall of Fame in his real life, Wiles is dressed in his Mudville uniform as part of the Hall's Fan Fest exhibit. Wiles even grew the authentic handlebar moustache.

"It takes three months to grow one of these things, at least for me," Wiles said. "But it gets me to the All-Star Game."

Wiles recites 'Casey at the Bat' four times per day and leads the crowd in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. They even sing the two other verses of the song, not nearly as well known as the refrain.

"We want people to come by and enjoy themselves," Wiles said.

Break from baseball: Not everything at Fan Fest is geared directly toward the pure sports fans. Spaced throughout the exhibition hall are small stages for local bands and singers to entertain as patient patrons wait in line for autographs or to take part in a virtual hitting game.

Clad in Giants, Astros, Orioles and White Sox jerseys, respectively, a group called No Limit does its best imitation of N Sync, O-Town or any other boy band that is currently popular. About 30 minutes later, it's time for Joey James Dean to perform. He does dead-on covers of songs by John Mellencamp and Creed.

If memorabilia is your thing, there are corporate and individual booths set up right down the middle of the Fan Fest. The items range from baseball cards to 3-D sports art to a Mike Ditka bobblehead.

2003 John Hancock All-Star Game FanFest
Ditka is never too far removed from the Chicago sports scene, even if this weekend is all about baseball.

Pitch and hit: Have you ever wanted to pitch against Sammy Sosa or Chipper Jones? Did you dream of hitting a fastball from Bartolo Colon or Randy Johnson? All of those opportunities are available at Fan Fest.

Through virtual setups, fans can take their cuts against pitches that look to be actually thrown by Colon, Johnson or even the White Sox's Mark Buehrle. You also can fire your best fastball against some of baseball's finest.

Sosa seemed to be a favorite target of the amateur pitchers, with four consecutive booths having him up at one point. A young father, wearing a White Sox jersey, threw a first-pitch strike to Sosa at about 60 miles per hour, before plunking Sosa on the leg with the second pitch.

No benches emptied. No punches were thrown. But it did draw a few snickers from his children.

More from the autograph table: May played in the All-Star Game in 1969 and 1972. He currently serves as the hitting coach for the Cook County Cheetahs, an Independent League franchise in Crestwood, Illinois.

Most of the adults remember May. The young kids are another story.

"A few turn to their dad and ask who I am," May said. "But they still remember me, for the most part. I was a household name."

May mentioned Frank Thomas' absence from this year's All-Star Game hurts the Chicago fans, but then again, it's all part of baseball. If the fans are still smarting from Thomas' snub, they should venture out to McCormick Place on Saturday.

Not only can they meet legendary manager Earl Weaver and Hall-of-Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, but they also can witness a home run hitting contest between baseball's mascots on the makeshift diamond. Seeing Stomper from the A's battle the Pirate Parrot is a bargain at any price.

But if mascots don't draw your attention, walk another 10 or 15 feet. There's something available for every baseball fan.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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