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FanFest to turn Steel City into shrine

FanFest to turn Steel City into shrine

PITTSBURGH -- Call it the Hall of Fame, Midwest Division.

On Thursday afternoon, as workers at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center were making final preparations for All-Star FanFest and Friday morning's opening ceremony, Pittsburgh may have been the game's ultimate shrine.

Just glance at the scene on the first floor alone.

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A worn white Yankees banner reading, "CHAMPIONS AMERICAN LEAGUE 1938," was draped over a row of nine wooden seats from Forbes Field in the auction area.

Paul Kutch grasped a 1970 game-used Roberto Clemente bat as he watched over a small part of what he called the "largest collection of Clemente memorabilia in the world."

And Ted Spencer, the chief curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, eyed the helmet Bill Mazeroski wore -- and waved above his head as he circled the bases -- during his historic World Series winning home run in 1960.

"I just thought the helmet was so symbolic of the moment," Spencer said.

Perhaps it's also emblematic of this year's FanFest. More than 40 interactive exhibits and daily baseball clinics will take care of the kids, but baseball's largest annual fan event also offers one of the largest historical displays ever to be on loan from Cooperstown, a 600-lot auction, a Negro Leagues exhibit and scores of memorabilia dealers.

And it's finally here.

Crews have been working since June 26, and 12 years after the Steel City first hosted the event, this museum meets theme park has come together over 400,000 square feet to form what officials call baseball heaven.

"We are just putting on the finishing touches and it looks great," said Morgan Littlefield, MLB director of special events.

More than 80,000 tickets have already been sold and they are looking to eclipse the 100,000 mark and break the record set in Seattle in 2001. With the convention center sitting downtown on the Allegheny River and within walking distance of PNC Park, the climate is certainly right.

"We do well when we're close to the ballpark and we feed off that energy," Littlefield said. "This is great here."

Tickets can be purchased online at MLB.com or by phone at 1-888-FANFEST. 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). They will be sold on a timed-entry basis, so fans must reserve their date and time.

In the Hall of Fame area, among the some 100 items showcased include a game-worn Babe Ruth Yankees jersey, a game-used Honus Wagner bat, the circular black and white "21" patch worn by the 1973 Pirates in honor of Clemente and a number of other Pirates-themed memorabilia from the 1960s and 70s.

Even so, the collection is rivaled by the 25 glass cases of pieces up for auction on Tuesday. For example, Babe Ruth's home run ball from the inaugural All-Star Game in 1933 is expected to fetch in excess of $100,000. A few other notable items include a 1971 game-used and autographed Roberto Clemente bat ($10,000-$15,000), a Ruth and Gehrig autographed photo ($25,000-$35,000) and the bat Ruth clubbed his record 59th homer with in 1921 (estimate upon request).

Not for sale, but equally impressive, are the pieces from the Negro League's exhibit, the new World Baseball Classic display and even from those lined up in the "Collector's Showcase."

Fittingly, Kutch, the owner of "Clemente Collectibles," will be the first dealer fans notice after entering FanFest. That "21" patch is yours if you have $1100 to spare.

"I've been coming here since 2000, but this year should be my best," Kutch said. "It would be something tragic if it wasn't."

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

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