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FanFest brings together hardball buffs

FanFest brings together hardball buffs

NEW YORK -- By Wednesday afternoon, the lines for the video batting cages will be gone.

The flags displaying Major League Baseball club logos will be taken down, too, and the wealth of baseball memorabilia will return to the Hall of Fame.

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The Jacob K. Javits Center will go back to its normal state. But for five days, it was transformed into the DHL All-Star FanFest, giving thousands of baseball fans an experience to remember.

Tuesday marked the final day of the event, leading up to the 2008 MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. Throughout FanFest, some of the biggest names in baseball showed up to meet fans, and Tuesday was no exception.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz arrived dressed in white and made his way to the Home Run Derby attraction to sign autographs for a snaking line of fans. Jake Berry braved a heavily New York crowd at FanFest in his Boston jersey, and said it was worth it once Ortiz noticed.

"It was really cool," Berry said. "When I met him he just said, 'Nice, a Red Sox fan.'"

The appearances from former and current baseball players highlighted the event for many fans, and there was no question who created the biggest buzz.

Darci Freeman participated as an interactive performer through all five days of FanFest. She helped make balloon animals and play games with kids who were waiting for the attractions, trying to make the lines seem a little shorter.

She said when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter stepped through the entrance on Monday afternoon, all she could see was a flood of people. Jeter participated in a pitch, hit and run clinic on the Aquafina Diamond with kids, and he got involved giving tips and throwing balls during a soft-toss hitting drill.

"They loved it. Everyone talked about it afterward, talking about how nice he was and what a great guy he was. He played with the kids, and not everyone's like that."

The various clinics were popular features at FanFest, but while most of them centered around baseball fundamentals, one clinic on Tuesday morning was focused on the art of umpiring. Four professional umpires were on hand to explain how to locate the strike zone and how to make the calls.

Each clinic participant got a turn calling a checked swing and a close play at first base.

FanFest also displayed an attraction featuring the Negro Leagues, and on Tuesday afternoon, fans got the chance see some of the legendary players. The Ebony Hillbillies even made a special appearance.

Michael Krumpp attended FanFest on Monday and Tuesday, but he'd also been to the event in Pittsburgh in 2006 and said the two didn't compare.

"My first reaction when I walked in here was that it was so much bigger than the other one," Krumpp said. "I mean, there was a lot to do there, and this one is way better. We've just been trying to see everything."

Krumpp spent most of his time looking at the baseball cards in the Collector's Showcase and walking through the Hall of Fame exhibit. The vice president and chief curator of the Hall of Fame, Ted Spencer, said this year he made a special effort to incorporate more items from New York's history.

"The New York stuff is so great, and it goes back so far, and there's so much of it," Spencer said. "I think that was really neat, and I think the people really appreciated that."

He said fans particularly enjoyed seeing early baseball gloves, like that of Ty Cobb, because they're so different from today's mitts.

Spencer has been putting together the collections for FanFests since 1991, but this year marked his final event. And while Spencer said it's time to go, he said the opportunity to interact closely with so many fans has been an experience he won't forget.

"It's much more personal here at FanFest than it is up at Cooperstown," he said. "I'll miss meeting the fans. Here, people approach us, ask us questions, make comments. There's a real personal connection that I have to admit I've really enjoyed. You get a sense of just how connected the people of different cities are to their teams."

Samantha Newman 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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