Tuesday, July 12, 2016

MLB Fan Fest and Homerun Derby

For those of you that don't know, San Diego is hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star game this week, and along with that comes a lot of pomp and circumstance.  Part of the hoopla is the five day event called Fan Fest, which serves as a smorgasbord of baseball festivities that any hardcore baseball fan would love.  It includes autographs, museums, trade shows, Q & A sessions, interactive activities, etc.  As this is an autograph blog, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what my intention was when heading to the event.

For some background on how my experience went, I should note that I had been preparing for this event since the day it was announced.  Maybe I set myself up for some unrealistic expectations because in the end, I think the whole day was just kind of meh.  My friend Lawrence and I showed up in line out front of the convention center in downtown San Diego at 6:45 AM.  We were literally two of the first 15 people in line for an event that did not start until 9 AM.  Within thirty minutes, the line grew exponentially.
Herein lies my first major issue came with Fan Fest in general.  It was very unorganized.  Despite being top 15 in line, by the time the doors opened there were fifty people crammed into five lines, meaning people that showed up much later than us were just as likely to get into the venue at the same time.  After going through a bag search (of course our guy took longer than the other lines) and getting wanded by security, we were put into a type of holding corral to watch the opening ceremony.  At this point, there was probably close to 300 people, all waiting to sprint to wherever they wanted to go.  The lesson in this is that we could have shown up close to an hour later and had almost as a good a chance to get dibs on things as the people who showed up first.  That's just plain stupid.  On the bright side, they gave away a cool mini bobblehead of Dave Winfield.  I also snapped a quick photo of the "World's largest Baseball".
Our plan was to get Wil Myers, who was signing autographs from 9:30-10:30.  After a (thankfully) brief ceremony, the ribbon was cut and people went where they wanted to go.  People literally ran each other over, and sprinted to Myers' signing station.  It was chaos, which seems to be a theme here.  One of the security ladies literally tried to grab someone to slow them down, and was knocked back.  Someone lost a shoe, another lost their sunglasses.  We all lost our dignity.  But damn it,  we wanted Wil!  Within two minutes the line was huge.

 When I got up on stage for him to sign, he declined my request to add a 1st All-Star inscription.  The ball ended up looking real good though, and one cool thing MLB did was have authentication on site to authenticate the ball immediately.  I had Wil sign a 2016 All-Star ball.
As for the rest of the players scheduled to sign, the one that intrigued us the most was the Benito Santiago and Tony Oliva dual signing.  We walked all the way across the convention center to check out their stand by line, in which you aren't guaranteed an autograph.  Since the line was too long, we decided instead to go check out the Under Armour stage, where Bryce Harper was making an appearance to do a Q & A and promote his new cleat line.  We were hoping there was an off chance Bryce might sign afterwards, but those were quickly dashed when we saw how crowded it was.  I snapped a couple of photos;
He was being interviewed by Jessica Mendoza of ESPN
During our subsequent travels, we came across a booth in which Hall of Famers like Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, and Fergie Jenkins were signing autographs for $20 a pop.  I have all three, but the Fingers and Perry I have did not have the HOF inscription.  Therefore I bought both of them, and both came out looking real nice.  One of the great things about many former players is they really take their time to give a nice signature, and they love to sign.  I took a few photos of their setup plus snapped a couple of the baseballs they signed for me.  
Perry on left, Jenkins on phone. Random kid scratching neck.
Bert Campaneris and Jim Leyritz were there too!
Rollie signing away, he's a good guy.
One of the coolest factors about Fan Fest is the kids get to have little clinics with former major league stars.  Tim Raines happened to be the one teaching at the clinic I stopped by, so I took a couple of photos of him teaching kids how to steal bases as well as swing the bat well.  Afterwards, security snuck him around the waiting group of autograph seekers, of which I was a member.  This happened a lot during the day, as I wasn't able to wrangle anything from any player not scheduled to sign.  This list included Rod Carew, Fred McGriff, Brian Giles, Harper, Raines, Andre Dawson, Ozzie Smith and Tony Oliva.  Other than Myers who I showed up so early for, and paying for the two balls I just mentioned,  I was shut out.  Here are the two photos of Raines with the kids.
Frankly, the Fan Fest got a little boring pretty quickly.  I'm not sure if it was the frustration about how crowded it was, or the fact it was pretty disorganized, or the fact that the players and setup were making it damn near impossible to get anything signed.  It was likely a combination of all three.  I enjoyed the Hall of Fame exhibit, but of course that was real crowded too so I just snapped a photo of Willie Mays' jersey and a bat Honus Wagner used so long ago it was before the sinking of the Titanic.  Let that sink it in a bit, pun only partially intended.

Once we were sufficiently over Fan Fest, it was time to head across the street to Petco Park since we also had tickets to MLB Warmup day featuring the Home Run Derby.  Gates were to open at 2:00 PM as to allow fans a longer chance to see all the stars on the field together.  I was extremely excited about this, as I went into the day with the expectation I would be adding some good names to my collection during batting practice.  Lawrence and I lined up at the home plate gate where I took a photo of just how nice Petco Park looks from the outside.
Unfortunately, my autograph hopes were quickly wiped out when we learned that the only people to be allowed down near the players for batting practice were the people had tickets to the field level section.  Frankly, it's an absolute joke, and I have no idea what the Padres or Major League Baseball were thinking with this one.  The All-Star week is a week intended for fans, and 2/3 of the people who bought these overpriced tickets can't even get down to field level for warmups?  I literally brought 15 baseballs to use for both Fan Fest and the HR Derby combined, assuming I'd have a chance at all of the All-Stars down on the field.  I did not expect to have to sit up in the upper deck for three hours before the event even took place with a view like this;
Maybe a long string would help?
Zobrist, Bryant, and Rizzo on Sports Center
As for the derby itself, it was honestly awesome.  Giancarlo Stanton put on a major show, totaling 61 homers over the course of the competition that were later calculated to travel a total of 5.1 miles.  I mean, this was some majestic stuff.  He faced off against and pretty much decimated Todd Frazier in the Finals of the competition.
Back on the autograph side of things, it was more of the same after the game.  Petco Park was fortified around the outside by a barrier fence that was installed, which kept an even greater distance between the fans and players than ever.  Again, this was supposed to be an event tailored to fans.  Security was sweeping around making sure people weren't lingering too long.  I'll show an example of what I mean below;
The player and family buses are behind the metal fence which is separated from the fans by another fence with a mesh cover on it.  If any of the fans stood too long along the fence, security would come and usher them out.  The whole thing was ridiculous, and made sure that any post game autograph getting would be negligible.

We did see some media guys come out of the ballpark and walk to their hotels.  Since I was shutout at this point I did get Chris Berman of ESPN fame to sign a baseball for me.
Also, in one of the weirder post game experiences I have seen, Charlie Sheen appeared out of one of the back doors with security as his escort.  He was waiting for a cab, and when he was spotted he was waving to the horde of people and was yelling stuff.  Someone yelled "Tiger Blood" at him and he threw his hands up and went "WOOOOOOOOOO".  When the cab pulled up, he hesitated to get in because he was shaking hands and giving fives, etc.  His handler almost had to force him into the car. 
White shirt middle

Overall, the autograph experience I had was very sub par.  I am disappointed in the way fans were not allowed down to the field level for pregame warmups.  The Fan Fest was okay, but definitely tailored more towards kids and the autograph situation was far too exploitable by the "graphers" that I have grown to loathe.  It really is getting to the point for me that it's just so much easier to get autographs at paid signing events where I can avoid most of the crowds that enveloped so much of these All-Star events, as well as not have to compete with guys who push, pull, cut, cheat, and do whatever they deem necessary to obtain another man's signature.  If the All-Star game was to come back, I think the only reason I might attend would be due to fear of missing out on something rather than any actual enjoyment I may have gotten out of it.   

Thank you for reading!


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