Hamels Q&A highlights start of FanFest

Hamels Q&A highlights start of FanFest

ORLANDO -- Phillies starter Cole Hamels addressed baseball fans at Universal Studios City Walk in Orlando on Friday to help kick off Major League Baseball's FanFest.

Hamels answered several questions from onlookers at the crowded tourist attraction on a day that began with the threat of rain but turned into a picture-perfect 75-degree sunny day. The Phillies pitcher was the first of many players that will be part of the festival to celebrate the game.

"This is something that's fun and enjoyable," said Hamels, who made the 1 1/2-hour drive from Clearwater with his wife, Heidi. "I like being able to come to these types of things and interacting with the fans."

During the question-and-answer session, Hamels discussed everything from the excitement of the Phillies-Mets rivalry to his chance to compete for one of the top spots in the rotation. The Phillies pitcher also received a couple of questions about facing two of the more dangerous hitters in the game, including one of his teammates, Ryan Howard.

When asked what it would be like to pitch to Barry Bonds on a potential record-breaking night, Hamels candidly said: "He's a legend and it will be an honor to go up against him."

Later, when asked by a young fan if he could strike out Howard, Hamels answered, "Well, I did face him once in Spring Training last year, and he hit one off the fence in center. But then I picked him off at first, so I guess you could consider that getting him out."

After talking with the fans and signing autographs, the Phillies pitcher then spent about 15 minutes on BaseballChannel.tv with hosts Vinny Micucci and Billy Sample.

The Fanfest, which continues through Sunday, is another opportunity for MLB.com to increase its coverage of the game. The interaction with fans from the setup in Orlando is the fifth live broadcast of BaseballChannel.tv. The television Web site debuted with the All-Star Game FanFest in Pittsburgh last year, at which MLB Commissioner Bud Selig addressed baseball fans around the world in a live Internet chat session.

In addition to the Hamels Q&A and interview session, fans were able to participate in pitching and batting cages, video game exhibits sponsored by MLB and 2KSports and the Ripken Experience. New Era had a booth, which featured the new 59Fifty hats that help wick away sweat from the head. Upper Deck and Topps trading cards gave fans a chance to create their own baseball cards, as well.

"We basically came for all of this," said Andrew White, 21, an Orlando resident decked out in a Cubs jersey and hat who came to the event with his girlfriend, Lauren Gallo. "We'll probably come back on Saturday and Sunday. It's a great chance to see the players."

The Ripken Experience allowed young kids to practice their skills under the instruction of Tim Deyesu and Adam Christ, who are general managers of the program's complexes in Aberdeen, Md., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., respectively. A playing field of artificial turf set up in front of BaseballChannel.tv's stage with a waterfall as the backdrop allowed kids to take grounders from the two instructors and then compete in contests.

"This is really fun," said 10-year-old participant Brett Pope, who won the throwing contest. "It was something great to add to our vacation."

Pope traveled to Florida with his family from Statesville, N.C., and was thrilled when he found out about the event after going to the theme park on Wednesday.

Players expected to attend FanFest on Saturday include Roger Clemens, C.C. Sabathia, and Josh Barfield. MLB.com will continue to carry live coverage of the festival on BaseballChannel.tv.

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