Members of the media donned batting helmets Thursday for a tour around the still-under-construction MLB All-Star FanFest at the Kansas City Convention Center. What's being dubbed as a "baseball theme park," certainly lives up to the billing, as all of the senses are put to the test from the minute you step foot on the floor.
Fans of all ages will have the opportunity to experience one interactive attraction after another when FanFest kicks off Friday morning at 9 a.m. CT. Kids can attempt to steal a base, see how fast they can throw a pitch and get hitting instruction from big leaguers, while adults can tour Hall of Fame exhibits, shop for memorabilia and participate in question and answer sessions with baseball legends.
That's not to say those activities are exclusive to those age groups.
"This is a great opportunity for parents to make these connections with these great ballplayers at a generational level and carry on the whole tradition and the spirit of the game. This event really provides that opportunity for families to really connect across generations," said Reg Bronskill, Executive Producer of MLB All-Star FanFest.
FanFest covers roughly 450,000 square feet inside Bartle Hall at the Kansas City Convention Center. With so much to see and do, Bronskill said that an average family's stay inside FanFest lasts from three-and-a-half to four hours.
The whirlwind tour of the massive event started at the world's largest baseball, FanFest's icon. It will be the centerpiece of the opening ceremonies on Friday morning, when All-Star Ambassador George Brett will add his signature to the ball, which features the John Hancocks of baseball's greatest players, including Ted Williams.
Come Monday, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon will be posing for pictures with fans in front of the ball.
There are many opportunities for young baseball players to not just show off their skills but to learn from former Major Leaguers. Fans can steal a base alongside video of players such as Gordon and Derek Jeter. They can also see how fast they can throw and pose for a picture making a game-saving catch. At the Under Armour House of Performance, fans can have their swings analyzed and participate in clinics. Former Royals, such as Willie Aikens and Dennis Leonard, will host clinics. Brett is scheduled to give a hitting clinic during FanFest, as well, and he was demonstrating on Thursday the kind of instruction he can provide, showing kids from the Boys & Girls Club the finer points of hitting.
Brett added his thoughts on the FanFest setup going on all around him.
"I'm pretty impressed," Brett said. "It's a beautiful facility. The exhibits are out of this world. I think the people that come here are really going to enjoy it."
Brett's accomplishments in Kansas City will be prominently featured in the Hometown Heroes area of FanFest, which features a timeline of Royals history, the 1985 World Series trophy and cutouts of current Royals players perfect for photo opportunities.
In addition to Royals history, baseball's history is on display thanks to exhibits from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with artifacts including a ball signed by Satchel Paige, a Babe Ruth jersey and Brett's famous pine tar bat. There is also a section of Negro Leagues artifacts including a Jackie Robinson Kansas City Monarchs uniform. FanFest has been working with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City for the past few years to create these exhibits.
The past mixes perfectly with the present, and the technology of today has its corner of FanFest, too. A video game area allows fans to play baseball video games, with Major Leaguers showing off their gaming skills on Monday and Tuesday.
Replications of a clubhouse, a dugout and a field are all included at FanFest, and these will be the sites of question and answer sessions with former and current players. Brett, Gordon and the wife of the late Roberto Clemente are scheduled to appear inside the clubhouse. Out on the diamond, not only will clinics help out young players, but they'll also be entertained by the mascot Home Run Derby.
On top of it all, fans can get autographs from Royals legends, former MLB All-Stars and Baseball Hall of Famers throughout the five-day event.
These are hardly the only events at FanFest, as there almost too many attractions and experiences to count. Fans can create their own baseball card, learn about the Minor Leagues, take a picture with an oversized World Series trophy and take fielding practice. And, all the attractions are free with the price of admission.
"Major League Baseball has basically described this as 'baseball heaven on Earth,'" said Royals Vice President of Community Affairs and Publicity Toby Cook. "It involves superstars, people that have played Major League Baseball. And they've gone to All-Star [Games] and they've come back and sign autographs. In addition, there's all sorts of interactive activities that kids can do. It's just a baseball-themed celebration. And it really is the opportunity for people to experience Major League Baseball bringing the All-Star Game here, even if they don't have a ticket to the stadium events. This is the place to be able to celebrate that."
Each day at FanFest will also be a theme day, with a unique giveaway to match each theme. Friday is Military Appreciation Day, Saturday is Kid's Day, Sunday is Kansas City Tribute Day, Monday is Legacy Day and Tuesday is All-Star Legends Day.
FanFest will open at 9 a.m. CT everyday from Friday through Tuesday, and it closes everyday at 8 p.m. CT, except on Tuesday, when it closes at 6 p.m. For more information on FanFest, visit allstargame.com.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.