North Stars: Dispatches from All-Star Week, Part One “13 Going On 30”

A few weeks ago, something I’ve wanted to do my entire life happened: the MLB All-Star festivities rolled through my city. I was fortunate enough to attend every event but the actual game (don’t have that kind of green lying around just yet), and afterwards it seemed like an excellent experience to regale at least three or four people with stories from! Part 2 will be a running diary of All-Star Sunday night and Part 3 is a more standard piece of Dane blog writing (for the uninitiated, that means comically too long and weirdly serious while at no point achieving coherence), but this is Part 1, a photo blog of our trip through Fan Fest! Prepare yourself for the tales of four men over, on or rapidly approaching 30 years of age acting like children, and really dumb children at that. You’ve been warned. Let’s get to it!

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IMG_0482 IMG_0484IMG_0490 Welcome to Fan Fest, which is basically just a giant baseball lovers nerd-out-athon; you can play some baseball, see some famous baseball stuff, meet famous baseball people and, naturally, buy overpriced baseball stuff (and LOVE IT). It was massive, taking up an entire wing of the downtown Minneapolis Convention Center, and making it that much harder on us to find Jennie Finch, who was somewhere on the premises. Spoiler alert: we did not find Jennie Finch. IMG_0491 But that’s ok, because we did meet this fabulous lady, Vera Clemente! Vera is the widow of Pittsburgh, baseball, sports and general life hero Roberto Clemente, a baseball hall of famer who died in the peak of his talents because he chose to fly relief supplies to earthquake-affected Nicaragua and his plane crashed en route. Walking up and shaking her hand, I did successfully manage to stammer, “MyfamilyisfromPittsburghandweloveyouandweloveyourhusband!” She responded, “Oh! Pittsburgh! My second home!” That was the extent of it (I did regrettably overestimate Vera’s English) before a stranger took about nine pictures of us. I’m going to ballpark this shot at ‘Picture #7’ based on Vera’s priceless expression/declining interest in feigning excitement to hang out with us any longer. After we gathered our bearings, signed some safety waivers (if you know some of the members of the above photo, this was a crucial step) and successfully dodged the baseball card tables (almost passed out), it was on to the silent auction. IMG_0498IMG_0499 IMG_0500 IMG_0501 IMG_0502 IMG_0503 As best as we could tell, our four combined salaries may have been able to briefly hold the highest bid on, like, a press pin, or a rosin bag or one of Lenny Dykstra’s used spitters. The auction was predictably pricey and full of the most awesome of things. The above is a signed shot of Maz’s 1960 World Series walk-off homer (for my family) and that blue Brooklyn Dodgers cap was Jackie Robinson’s (for everyone else), prompting Jake to remark “I would pay a lot of money for them just to let me put that on my head and give it back.” IMG_0508 Next up were the trophy displays of every major award given to baseball players, which we patiently waited in line for 20 minutes so we could be warned “HANDS AT YOUR SIDES!” repeatedly while standing next to a replica of the World Series Trophy. Indeed it was beautiful, and secret benefit: this put both the Twins fans and the Braves fan in this photo far closer to that trophy than the Twins or Braves have been in 20 years. IMG_0510 We had the Rookie of the Year award, which is regrettably not an acting commendation bestowed annually by Daniel Stern… IMG_0512

The MVP trophy. Whether it goes to the old school’s MVP (eye test) or the new school’s (sabermetrics), this thing is decidedly old school looking…

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The Home Run Derby trophy (more to come on that front)…

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The Silver Slugger, which I’ve always wanted to see hit a baseball (what if it exploded!?!?!) …

IMG_0520 The Clemente Award, given to players for off-field charitable actions and giving back to their communities (did I mention we love Roberto Clemente?)… IMG_0516

Dennis Farina admiring the World Series MVP trophy…

IMG_0521 aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand lastly, my favorite, a Gold Glove, which was inexplicably kept apart from the other trophies on a pedestal by itself in the middle of the show floor. Confusing. Also awesome. IMG_0522 IMG_0524 IMG_0526 Next up was the Hall of Fame display, on loan to us all the way from Cooperstown, prompting an immediate discussion of what goes into transporting these items, as well as a logical follow-up discussion of how our four combined intellects could execute a heist of one of any of the pieces on display. Spoiler alert: we chuckled and then walked around in an orderly line without touching anything. It was a good year for a Braves fan on the scene! Congrats to Bobby, Mad Dog and Glav! I hope you were all successfully enshrined this weekend without Maddux peeing on anything. My apologies to the Big Hurt for being cropped out of that photo. IMG_0529 They did let us into a mock locker (mocker?) room (which led you up a simulated stadium tunnel to the fake field) where this majestic carpet stretched out under folding chairs. Vera was here again, answering questions and looking more than ever like her appearance fee was too paltry to substantiate her continuing hand-waving. Want to give big props to our group here as only one adult in this photo is actually wearing shoes with tied shoelaces; it’s actually a decent surprise they even let Ben in here wearing plaid cloth slip-ons. Speaking of shoelaces… IMG_0531 After that we reached the skills challenges on the back wall, more or less what we’d been most excited for all morning. First on the docket was the speed pitch, prompting Mark to actually tie his shoes in preparation. This is a bigger deal than any of you realize. IMG_0533 IMG_0534 IMG_0536 As you can see, iPhones are amazing at capturing motion (OH MY GOD MARK’S HAAAAAND), but we all took four pitches at the Oxi Clean advertisement baseball dryer pictured above. The speed guns were quite wonky, and too dependent on your pitch going directly in the dryer, but it’s always a good time reminding yourself reality is quite different than your childhood delusions. Not pictured: yours truly, who after hitting the shadow batter directly in the face three times in a row, took the speed pitch title with a 69 mile per hour absolute MISSILE (oh my god we’re so old and worthless now) though, again, these radar guns were highly suspect. Rotator cuff injuries for everyone! Next stop: throwing accuracy. IMG_0537 Here is a riveting photo of the Firestone advertisement baseball tires that were the throwing accuracy station. I remain unclear of what we were attempting to accomplish here, but we threw a bunch of balls at tires, and some went through those tires and also one Mark threw flew back into the speed pitch area, endangering hundreds if not thousands. Jake and I also managed to throw a ball before the staff told us to start, leading to jokes at our expense from said staff as well as the parents of the six-year-olds who had successfully listened to the instructions. Next up: BUNTING. IMG_0538

Objective: bunt balls into tires, be that on the fly or if they bounce in. The kid in the blue was so intimidated by this whole situation, he put his helmet back and left, crying.

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OK, so he stuck it out. COME ON, BEN. The bat head’s below the handle. Terrible.

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Better. Still terrible.

IMG_0548 Decent odds the Morneau shirsey kid bunted more balls successfully into the tires than the four of us combined. IMG_0551 As best as I remember, we finished with a three-way tie for first place wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiith one bunt in a tire per person. I don’t remember who got zero, but either way, call the scouts. Next up? Base stealing, and the day’s most epic showdown. IMG_0553 Here is the base stealing area, complete with sample video screens so you can pretend to steal off your favorite pitcher. We waited in line again, this time chuckling at the fact that the only human beings participating in this were ages 10 and lower, and most of them were about five. Not only were we undeterred, Mark proceeded up to the first volunteer and asked if we could reserve three lines simultaneously so he, Jake and I could race each other. You know, because we’re adults. He laughed and said sure and we took our spots. As I am a complete moron, I was not sure when to take off and got a horrid jump which I unsuccessfully tried to make up for with a ridiculous dive upon reaching the mats. Mark’s and Jake’s jump were the opposite, crisp and speedy, and three grown men barreled down felt carpeting and slammed themselves into rubber padded mats, sending them flying. Staff ultimately determined Mark slid in narrowly ahead of Jake, and as I cannot embed video in this blog, here is the glorious footage of what transpired. I remain furious about everything that happened in this video. Pathetic showing. IMG_0605 IMG_0604 IMG_0603 IMG_0606 Final skills challenge was the classic batting cages. I remember literally none of this other than being annoyed we only got five pitches and the helmet squeezing my head so hard I thought I was going to fall asleep. It’s possible all adrenaline and machismo had been exhausted at the speed pitch and epic base stealing race; we can’t know. Fortunately for our pathetic old asses, there remained no more physical activity and only two more stops before sitting down and eating food for four hours. WIN. On to the Make Your Own Topps card station! IMG_0561 And here it is in all its glory! Here’s the deal: card is free, 45 minute line, any team’s jersey to dress up in from this wonderful rack of options. Photographer snaps picture, computer jockeys crop it, printer churns out cheap Topps cards. It was literally everything I wanted it to be times a thousand. Having had the benefit of a buddy doing this the day before, this nerd in particular knew the template was the ’65 Topps design, of which Mickey Mantle’s card is near perfection. While everyone had a plan going into the photos, mine was to mimic the Mick. IMG_0562IMG_0563                         Untitled   As you can see, results here are all over the map. We’ve got Jake going serious. We’ve got happy fun times smirkMark. We’ve got Ben attempting humor, which is tough for him you guys, so throw him a bone and chuckle at this when you read it; he could use it. Lastly, I did ok. Bat angle was strong, looking off camera accurate, laptop lady could have zoomed in one more notch. Sadly, I failed at two things: the first was the cool squint/smirk the Mick has on his face (I look like I’m laser-beaming something to death), and the second was having a neck and arms the size of culvert pipes. Oops. IMG_0572 Last stop was the seemingly endless cattle pen of merch. I could have blown four thousand dollars in there, and the guys got some awesome Twin Cities shirts, but I entered on a mission and I exited successful in that mission. Charlie pitching to Schroeder! No more Minneapolis baseball-ey thing has ever existed. IMG_0577

And that was that for Fan Fest! Afterwards, we meandered on over towards Target Field for the Futures Game and the Celebrity Softball contest. Those, and I, will see you in PART TWO! Head on over there! Hope you enjoyed the stupidity!

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