As MLB's 2016 All-Star FanFest kicked off Friday morning, San Diegans, and fans from around the country, prepared to celebrate the best of both baseball's past and present. Future Hall of Famer and Padres great Trevor Hoffman was in attendance, headlining a star-studded cast that whet the appetite of fans awaiting the arrival of the 2016 lot of stars, set to arrive Monday.
The real attraction of the first two days of All-Star weekend, however, may have been the women in attendance -- specifically the National Pro Fastpitch clubs Dallas Charge and USSSA Pride, who showcased their incredible talents in back-to-back nights on Friday and Saturday. Playing at the University of San Diego baseball team's Fowler Park, the Pride -- who led the six-team league going into Friday's game with a 17-3 record -- and the Charge played consecutive nail-biters, with crisp fielding and a couple mammoth home runs.
Although the games counted in the standings -- the Charge upset the Pride with a 4-3 win in the first game and a 3-1 extra-inning victory in the second -- every player involved in the weekend's events would tell you it was the exposure that MLB's Midsummer Classic provided that won the weekend.
"This has been awesome for our sport. Obviously, the support of MLB is huge," said the Charge's second-year standout Renada Davis, who resembled the likes of a young Omar Vizquel at shortstop, making the difficult plays look routine over the two nights. "I love having the chance to promote the sport because there are a lot of girls now who look up to us and say 'I want to be a pro player.'"
Legendary softball pitcher Cat Osterman, who has been a standout going back to her college days at the University of Texas, where she not only set several major college pitching records -- including strikeout ratio, WHIP and perfect games -- but also took home a gold medal as a member of the 2004 Team USA Olympic squad, has relished the opportunity to put NPF on the map this weekend.
"It's been fun seeing people receive the two teams at FanFest," said the 33-year-old Osterman, who retired from NPF as a member of the Pride after the 2015 season, which included the fifth no-hitter of her pro career. "It's huge, not just having the games here, but having both [the Charge and Pride] at FanFest. To align it with MLB stuff allows another set of fans to understand what the NPF is and what it all includes."
For NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf, the weekend couldn't have gone any better.
"We've never had anything like this," Kempf said. "Where fans just get to interact and see our players, visit with them, get autographs and take photos. So we like this for the same reason baseball does -- it's a great experience."
For the many new fans NPF gained this weekend during All-Star Week, the feeling was mutual.
Jake Schwartzstein is an editor for Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.