Pirates, MLB unveil FanFest plans

Pirates, MLB unveil FanFest plans

PITTSBURGH -- Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates unveiled plans Wednesday for the nation's largest baseball fan event and the Midsummer Classic's kickoff event, the 2006 All-Star FanFest. The five-day event will run from Friday, July 7 through Tuesday, July 11.

Taking up two floors and 400,000 square feet at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the 16th annual FanFest will feature more than 40 interactive baseball games and historical exhibits. The Steel City hosted the event back in 1994, but this year's gala will be unrecognizable to fans who came 12 years ago.

"They'll be shocked by it," said Morgan Littlefield, MLB director of special events. "It will not be anything like the experience in '94. It has really evolved and it is so much bigger and better this year. We're excited."

Last year's event in Detroit drew more than 80,000 people and officials are hoping for an even better showing in Pittsburgh. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased at pirates.com, the PNC Park box office or by phone at 1-888-FANFEST. Daily tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, military personnel and children (3-12). Fans must reserve their date and time, as these all-inclusive tickets will be sold on a timed-entry basis.

As always, the centerpiece of the FanFest will be the full-sized infield diamond that will play host to a number of clinics. From sliding drills to running the bases to wheelchair and blind baseball, these free seminars will be taught by some of the best, including pro league coaches and current and former big leaguers. Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens and David Ortiz are among the recent impressive cast of instructors. The only certainties for this year are Pirates All-Star Jason Bay and Bucs Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, but more are on the way.

One thing Pittsburgh didn't have in 1994 was the technology it'll see come July. This year, fans will be able to pitch against life-sized video images of the game's top sluggers or take a trip to the other side and take their cuts in the video batting cages, where Clemens once took himself deep. Then there's the cyber ballpark, where video game buffs will have the chance to play any number of the latest baseball titles.

Fans will also have the chance to switch shoes with those they watch from the stands. Also included in the price of admission will be areas for fans to have their picture taken in front of a green screen and create their own baseball card, get a personalized cover of SportsWeekly and call their own sportscast as they do the play-by-play of a memorable moment in baseball history.

And organizers have not ignored a history of professional baseball in the Steel City that goes back 130 years to the Pittsburgh Alleghenies.

"It's certainly not a cookie-cutter type of event," Littlefield said. "What worked last year is not necessarily going to work this year. This is for Pittsburgh. This is to celebrate the city."

A Pittsburgh-geared collection of memorabilia will be part of an exhibit on loan from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And perhaps no city has a richer Negro League past than Pittsburgh with the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a history that will be explored at the Negro Leagues exhibit.

Be it the "Ballpark Beers" stand to that slice of Pittsburgh exhibit to making the grab at the "Game Winning Catch" display, there will undoubtedly be something for kids and adults alike.

"It's going to be special," said Littlefield. "Fans will be surprised."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.