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A View From the Bleachers

All-Star Wrap-Up

Well, there it went...

A year of anticipation and the 2010 All-Star Game has come and gone. FanFest has been dismantled, packed up, and trucked out of Anaheim. The thirty-six Mickey Mouse statues have left their locales in front of hotels, shopping centers and museums. The All-Star festivities are over... and my feet are sore from running around for five straight days.

When July 9th finally came around I was thrilled! I had my tickets, my money saved up, my work schedule had been adjusted and I was ready to fully experience all the great stuff going on in the city of Anaheim over the (not incredibly warm, surprisingly) weekend and beyond. Friday, July 9th, was Day 1 and it began as I walked through the doorway to the Anaheim Convention Center for All-Star FanFest. To sum up the experience: it's Disneyland for baseball fans. If you want to meet former and current players, test your pitching arm, play some video games, shop, walk through MLB history, gaze at trophies, watch live broadcasts, interact with mascots, or just snap pictures then there's something for you at FanFest.

Seriously, there was a ton to do (and I couldn't do it all in just one day) if you're four years old or eighty-four years old. Highlights of my first day of FanFest were getting Wally Joyner's autograph, playing the PS3's games, and heading home with a ton of free goodies (like shirts, baseball cards, and a pair of tickets to an upcoming game). Right... that's just Day 1. On my second day at FanFest, with my wife by my side, I participated in the hitting and fielding cages, got four autographs, and had a custom baseball card of myself made... all included with the price of admission!

Day 3 of All-Star awesomeness was the Celebrity Game and the Futures Game. This was a relaxing, beautiful Sunday back at the stadium. It was nice to be out, running through the seats, watching real baseball (and softball) take place in person after a couple of days of wandering through a veritable theme park of baseball stuff. It was fantastic to not have an investment in which team won the game. The beauty of the Futures Game is that these guys from all over the world, considered the best prospects in each MLB organization, are on a huge stage, trying their best, and just putting it all out there. They may make it to the big leagues, they may not... but they want to show everyone watching on ESPN and in the stadium that they should be on a big league roster-stat.

Later in the evening (after a team mascot dance party in right field), there was a brief changeover before the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game. My wife and I watched former Angels like Tim Salmon (who everyone cheered for... a lot) and Chuck Finley alongside people like MC Hammer and James Denton. Legends of the game like Ozzie Smith and Rollie Fingers were also involved. It was pretty cool to get to see all the stuff that happens that the TV audience doesn't notice. Bo Jackson pushing people playfully at first base, Tim Salmon pleading with Angel fans that his softball homer should take his MLB career total up to 300, and some of the hosts' banter that probably didn't make it to the broadcast.

Day 4 was the Home Run Derby... really it's called All-Star Workout Day but who really cares about the workout? Let's see 'em hit some dingers! I started the day of the Home Run Derby off with another trip to FanFest (albeit a brief one) where I got another autograph, a commemorative pin, played some games, and saw Evan Longoria play the game that he currently is on the cover of. I made it to the stadium about, oh, 1:45 for a 5:00 event. Now, I've never seen outfield seats at ANY stadium as full as I did that Monday. There wasn't a single spot to run; there were people in your face and in your field of vision anywhere. As far as snagging a home run... well, you pretty much had to just hope for a lucky bounce or ricochet because even if a ball came straight to you in the bleachers, chances were that someone was going to shove you or put a glove right in front of you at the last second.

Still, it was great to watch a ball sail 497 feet out to smack off the fa?ade of the Club Level in right field. It was also great to get to hear Torii Hunter accurately predict the winner of the HRD, David Ortiz. I spent the majority of my time in the outfield concourses but I got to sample some of the spectacular All-Star specialty food items crafted just for that week... I've decided I've a serious fan of the Kansas City Dog... a hot dog with beef brisket and bacon on top! So good! Also, it helped that the weather was great each and every day I was out at the yard. A little warm, yes, but it was great baseball weather.

When Tuesday rolled around, the All-Star stuff was living up to the expectations I'd had for the previous months. Essentially, the city of Anaheim was throwing a baseball-themed party that lasted for five days. It was an expensive party... and I spent my share of money, and my feet were pretty sore from walking and running around. Nevertheless, my wife (who was a real trooper through all of these events) and I were at the gates of Angel Stadium three hours before the game, excited to get in to the star-studded exhibition. I ran in and batting practice was underway. Where else can you see Derek Jeter, David Price, Andre Ethier, and Joe Mauer all in the same place? Nowhere. That's just it. Say what you want about the All-Star Game but it's the most exciting players from each team duking it out to see who's going to have home field advantage in the Fall Classic.

The opening ceremonies were fantastic, classy, and fun. All of the players involved in the ASG are happy to be there and it shows. They laugh, play hard, and show great sportsmanship. Was there a ton of offense? No... and nobody even hit a home run. It was a sacrifice fly against a bases-clearing double. It was all about heads up defense and pitching though. Man, that play by Marlon Byrd-spot on. The pitching duel? Excellent. Power arms against the best bats in the game and it was tense the whole time. And, hey, where else are you going to see a Giant set up the save for a Dodger, huh?

Autographs, baseballs, aces, power bats, sparkling defense, Hall of Famers, mascots galore, sunny weather, more media presence than I've EVER seen, and a general love for all things baseball converged on the city of Anaheim this summer. Everyone there was in a great mood, just happy to be a part of the celebration. The annual All-Star festivities are something to behold if you ever get a chance. I met Angel fans, Dodger fans, Padre fans, and fans from each of the other clubs. I talked to people from SoCal, NorCal, Colorado, New York, and even people who'd flown in from other countries and they were all so happy. There are very few activities that can bring folks together like the game of baseball. And there are very few activities that can compare to a five-day summer party with the games best fans and biggest stars. All-Star Summer in Southern California was a blast. And I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Matt Jackson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.

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