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All-Star FanFest is here and it's bigger and better

All-Star FanFest is here and it's bigger and better

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Bert Blyleven walked into All-Star FanFest at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Thursday morning, he was greeted by the world's largest baseball.

A Hall of Fame pitcher who spent most of his career with the Twins, Blyleven saw an immediate resemblance between the 12-foot-tall sphere and many of the offerings he served up to hitters late in his career.

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"When I retired, that was my fastball," Blyleven said.

The gigantic ball has been signed by legends such as Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays and George Brett over the past several years. It travels wherever FanFest takes it (more than 50,000 miles so far), and this year, it resides in Minnesota for the 2014 All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Of course, with roughly 400,000 total square feet, the All-Star FanFest has hundreds of more attractions to offer as well as countless appearances by Twins and other baseball legends between the time the doors officially open (Friday at 9 a.m. CT) and the big game gets underway on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

"This is a great facility here," Blyleven said. "This is unbelievable. It's quite an adventure for the fans."

There's no place a baseball lover should rather be in the coming days. Here are some of the highlights:

Hometown Heroes: After you pass by the giant baseball, there's a section specifically created to embrace Twins history. You can take in the 15-foot jerseys of Twins greats that hang from the ceiling, as well as actual championship banners from Target Field.

If you're looking for a photo opportunity with Joe Mauer, Kent Hrbek, Blyleven, Tom Kelly or Kirby Puckett, there are life-sized cutouts of all five legends waiting for you.

This section also has game-worn jerseys from years past, and leads you right into:

The Negro Leagues: This exhibit is a giant history lesson on one of the greatest eras of baseball in American history. There will be a Jackie Robinson game-worn jersey from his time with the Montreal Royals in 1946 for fans to admire.

There's also a wall with replicas of every Negro League player in the Hall of Fame, and a life-sized photo of the Homestead Grays that fans can take pictures with.

"As a parent, I think it's important that we teach the kids not just the history of our sport, but the history of our country," said MLB director of special events Jacqueline Secaira-Cotto, who led a media tour of the area on Thursday morning.

Walk a few steps farther, and you're at:

• The Diamond: This is where plenty of former and current players will host clinics, and it'll be the site of the daily Mascot Home Run Derby.

A full-sized dugout and clubhouse are attached to the field, the latter of which will host daily Q&A sessions with legends such as Tony La Russa (Tuesday). Kids and adults alike can sift through various players' "lockers," which will hold home uniforms and All-Star uniforms.

The field itself measures roughly 110 feet to the corner fences and 45 feet between the bases. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen will conduct a clinic on Monday, while Miami's Giancarlo Stanton will conduct one on Tuesday.

"This is the crown jewel of our event," Secaira-Cotto said.

But there are other booths that you can always saunter over to.

• National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: One of the most intriguing spectacles at FanFest, the Hall of Fame exhibit features items that aren't even on regular display in Cooperstown.

There's a Twins-only section, which features rare relics such as:

  •   The cap Puckett wore as the MVP of the All-Star Game in 1993
  •   A signed Harmon Killebrew jersey from 1964, when he led the Majors with 49 home runs
  •   The bat from Killebrew's 500th career home run
  •   Dave Winfield's jersey from the game in which he got career hit No. 3,000
  •   Paul Molitor's spikes from his own 3,000-hit game
  •   The ball from Blyleven's 3,000th career strikeout

And then four rows of ultra-rare Major League memorabilia, including:

  •   A jersey worn by Christy Mathewson in 1905, the year he pitched three shutouts in the World Series
  •   The glove used by pitcher Rube Waddell in a 20-inning classic against Cy Young on July 4, 1905
  •   A jersey worn by Ty Cobb during his time with the Philadelphia Athletics
  •   A jersey worn by Mays during his final year in New York in 1957
  •   The bat Williams used to hit the final home run of his career (No. 521)

The exhibit has many more interesting objects that will undoubtedly stir up the baseball nerd inside. But if you're tired of looking -- and not playing -- there are plenty of options as you move across the Convention Center.

Perhaps the most fun is:

• Steal a Base: When you step onto the field, the object is to steal a base more quickly than your competition -- an MLB baserunner of your choosing.

You line up to run on the pitch, and Rickey Henderson is staring back at you from a video screen 100 feet away. When it's time to run, you sprint down the basepath and slide feet-first into a base.

This is typically one of the most popular exhibits, and one that provides constant entertainment for those watching from the crowd.

"People go nuts on that," Secaira-Cotto said.

For more action, you can try the batting cages, the pitching radar gun or the "Tire Tryout," which tests your bunting skills.

But the far end of FanFest will probably have the most baseballs whizzing around.

That's where you'll find the:

• Home Run Derby: This is the spot where you can fulfill your lifelong ambition of hitting one out of the park.

Step into the cage and crank one over the wall 100 feet away, or go next door and try out the ground-ball and fly-ball defense area, where pitching machines shoot out baseballs that help you work on getting that Gold Glove.

That's where Tony Oliva and Blyleven were helping local youth from the Boys & Girls Club of Minneapolis on Thursday morning.

"There's a lot of kids in America that wish they had this opportunity 40 or 50 years ago," Oliva said. "The kids here are having a great time swinging the bat and challenging one another. That's the name of the game. The bigger the challenge, the better it is."

You can find a full schedule of FanFest events and attractions, ticket information and a list of appearances here.

The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow fans to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Alex M. Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @asmiff. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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