Organizers call the All-Star FanFest baseball heaven on earth, and it may just be about the closest thing this side of a Kevin Costner movie.
From the chance for fathers and sons to play catch to the opportunity to talk baseball with all-time greats, fans can get almost anything they want in the historical displays, clinics, video games and other interactive exhibits creating fields of dreams for all ages from Friday to Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The Steel City first hosted the event back in 1994, but this year's gala will be unrecognizable to returning fans. For one, the more than 40 attractions will be staged on a total of 400,000 square feet over two floors, making this year's FanFest nearly double the size of the original event.
"Oh, it's going to be 10 times better," said MLB director of special events Morgan Littlefield. "As Pittsburgh has evolved over the years, so has the FanFest. I think fans are going to be very impressed."
And though more than 75,000 tickets have already been sold, there is still plenty of room left. Tickets can be purchased online at MLB.com or by phone at 1-888-FANFEST. They are sold on a timed-entry basis, so fans must reserve their date and time. The hours run from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET on Friday through Monday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET on All-Star Tuesday. Daily tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, military personnel and children (3-12). Family four- to seven-packs are also available at a discounted rate.
As always, the centerpiece of this year's FanFest is a full-sized infield diamond that will play host to a number of clinics throughout the week. From hitting drills to running the bases to "The Art of Playing Catch" to lectures from the game's greats, a number of seminars will be hosted daily by professional coaches and current and former big leaguers. Already on board this year are Alex Rodriguez, Jason Bay, Cal Ripken Jr., Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Bill Mazeroski, Fred Lynn, Luis Aparicio, Bob Feller, among many others. And a number of this year's All-Stars yet to be named will also make appearances on Monday and Tuesday.
From there, fans can put those tips into play at the "Bullpen" and pitch against life-sized video images of baseball's top sluggers. Or hit in the video batting cages, where Clemens once left the park against himself.
Then there will be the chance to switch shoes with Clemens and his big league friends. All included in the price of admission, there 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 Sports Weekly , pose with the World Series trophy and call their own sportscast as they do the play-by-play of a memorable moment in baseball history.
For the adults and those fascinated by the game's local past, organizers have not ignored the history of professional baseball in the Steel City, which 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.
Each day, a handful of legends, both of local and national fame, will be on hand to sign free autographs and interact with fans. Killebrew, Weaver, Feller, Jim Leyland, Bill Madlock, Chuck Tanner, Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillen, Buck O'Neil, Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Tommy John, Dock Ellis, Feller, Steve Blass, Orlando Cepeda, Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, Phil Niekro and Gary Carter will all be among those on hand throughout the week.
For collectors with heavy pockets, Tuesday will be the big day. Live bidding begins in an auction of more than 600 lots of baseball memorabilia. Among the items to be auctioned off include the bat Babe Ruth used to hit his 59th home run in 1921, a 1927 Yankees autographed team baseball, the 1960 Pirates World Series championship trophy, a Ruth home run ball from the Inaugural All-Star Game, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card, an authentic pitching rubber from Forbes Field, a 1929 Philadelphia Athletics World Series ring and a game-worn 1973 Hank Aaron Braves jersey.
Heaven on earth? For baseball fans, it may come close.
"It's going to be special," Littlefield said. "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.