07/10/08 6:35 PM ET
All-Star FanFest to kick off in New York
Festivities begin Friday for Cathedral's final Midsummer Classic
By Samantha Newman / MLB.com
The foyer's glass walls and high ceilings disappeared, and a step beyond the FanFest entrance revealed a baseball paradise.
A Yankees banner, flanked by FanFest spokesmen Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra, greeted members of the media as Major League Baseball director of special events Jackie Secaira-Cotto guided a tour Thursday.
The event will kick off Friday and run through Tuesday, leading up to the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Directly behind the banners sat the world's largest baseball, sporting the signatures of FanFest spokesmen throughout its history since 1981.
And FanFest will show off the full baseball experience.
Interactive attractions give fans the opportunity to test their skills in every aspect of the game. Stations are set up for fielding practice, a mock home run derby and to test pitching speed.
Fans can race each other in the Steal Home Challenge to see who can sprint the distance from third base to home plate the fastest.
And the video batting cages are an annual favorite with the chance to take five swings against video images of some of the game's best pitchers. Attractions manager Lena D'Giulia stepped to the plate against a digital rendering of left-hander Andy Pettitte to take her best shot.
"It was harder than I expected," D'Giulia said. "It's really distracting. There's a lot of images coming up versus a normal batting practice, where you're just seeing the ball and that's all you're paying attention to."
But D'Giulia improved with a second round of pitches.
While fans can simulate an on-the-field experience in almost every way, FanFest also gives them the chance to step off the diamond and get behind the camera. They can give commentary on memorable plays from Yankees or Mets games and go home with a DVD recording.
And for anyone looking to feel like an All-Star, a clubhouse replica is set up with lockers, jerseys and leather couches, complete with an entrance to the Gillette Shower and Shave attraction for the full experience.
More than 100 full-size tractor trailers were used to produce this year's FanFest, and it will have taken more than 10,000 hours to install and take down the event. When asked how long someone could spend exploring the 450,000 square feet that make up the various parts of FanFest, Secaira-Cotto smiled.
"It really depends on how much water you drink and how much fiber's in your diet," Secaira-Cotto quipped, adding that fans usually spend an average of three hours at the event.
The interactive attractions always grab their fair share of attention, especially with the younger crowd. But Secaira-Cotto said the most popular attraction from year to year is the Hometown Heroes display that features a local team.
This year, it will spotlight the Yankees. There is a timeline wall to chronicle historic events and a life-size cutout of this year's team picture that fans can jump into for their own photo.
For the first time in FanFest history, the Hometown Heroes exhibit will also display Yankees memorobilia from Cooperstown -- including a 1912 Yankees cap -- that will be separate from the Hall of Fame attraction that holds artifacts from the entire league.
Hall of Fame vice president and chief curator Ted Spencer said because of the baseball tradition in New York, he felt like he needed to put in a little something more this year.
Spencer has taken the display to FanFests across the country for 26 years, tweaking it a little each time. This will be his last season at the event, as he will retire within the year. And even though Spencer grew up a Red Sox fan, he said ending in New York will help him leave on a high note.
"The focal point of baseball history is New York, there's no doubt about it," Spencer said. "The history's immense, and it's incredibly rich and fun to deal with. So to be able to actually go through the collection one last time and bring something of so much depth -- depth that we've never brought before -- it was a real thrill."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.