Christina Griffith is a Boston Red Sox fan who used to live in Massachusetts, but as a San Diego transplant, she has adopted the Padres as her hometown team, complete with season tickets to Petco Park. Her eight-year-old son, Wyatt, might love the game even more than his mom, so it was only natural for Christina and Wyatt to make this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego an experience to last a lifetime.
That meant before attending Tuesday’s All-Star Game (and Monday’s Home Run Derby), Christina and Wyatt joined thousands of other baseball lovers from San Diego and beyond at MLB’s interactive field of dreams, the All-Star FanFest.
Held at the San Diego Convention Center, the FanFest was a sprawling, interactive homage to the game and its fans, with exhibits to test attendees’ hitting, pitching and base-stealing skills. There were also autograph and Q&A sessions with past All-Stars and Padres’ legends, memorabilia displays and auction opportunities, All-Star merchandise for sale and even a pair of indoor fields for little kids and big mascots alike to play the game.
The FanFest began last Friday and ended Tuesday, just prior to first pitch of the All-Star Game at Petco Park, located just a Giancarlo Stanton homer away from the Convention Center. The FanFest was a colorful, sensory baseball experience, never lacking for things to do or see. A typical FanFest experience lasted upwards of three hours, in order to take in all that surrounded you.
“Right when you walk into the convention exhibit hall, there are two sides of a concave screen, probably 20-25 feet high,” Christina said. “It plays video of the various All-Star players. I stood there for a couple minutes just enjoying it. It makes quite a first impression.”
As expected, the interactive exhibits were the most popular, with batting cages in two separate areas, as well as places to test your fastball.
But the most interesting exhibit – aside from a “Virtual Reality” station for a truly unique perspective of the Home Run Derby – was the “Steal a Base” station, where fans literally competed against Major Leaguers like Mike Trout and San Diego’s Melvin Upton. While the real major leaguers attempted to steal a base on video screens behind them, fans raced against them on actual basepaths.
“The coolest thing is you got to race a baseball player,” said Wyatt, who also spent time in the Sony Game Truck, playing MLB The Show 16 Home Run Derby.
“It was super fun,” said Wyatt, who participates in Little League in nearby Point Loma. “I got 13 home runs, and got a baseball pack (of cards) and Sony bag.”
Other exhibits allowed you to create your own bobblehead, using 3-D printing technology. Fans could also have their pictures taken while fielding, swinging the bat or running. Christina scored herself a photo of her selling out to make a home-run saving catch. “And a visit to my chiropractor,” she joked.
Christina also caught a break on her wallet. Tickets were $35 for adults and $30 for kids, cheaper than seats to most actual games, and the FanFest featured several free giveaways for kids.
“I thought going to FanFest would have cost me a vacation, but Wyatt is very content with the many posters, baseball cards and other baseball themed prizes,” Christina said. “We especially loved the ERA store that contains two fun stations. The diving catch photo op we did twice because it was that much fun. Of course, a big part of the excitement is the chance to meet a player or Hall of Famer, maybe get a signature or picture opportunity. We’ve posed with the 2016 World Series Trophy and met Steve Garvey.”
Garvey, who was a key member of the 1984 Padres team that reached the World Series, was joined by other legends with strong San Diego connections such as Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry and Dave Dravecky.
But even the FanFest had its errors. Christina observed that despite the heavy presence of Little League-age kids, many wearing their team uniforms, there were virtually no exhibits championing Little League Baseball or baseball development.
And pre-announced autograph schedules were not always accurate. While staff members were friendly, a lack of communication meant they were often limited in their ability to be helpful.
“[On Sunday], the morning diamond interaction was listed wrong and kids were bummed,” Christina said. “When you asked questions of staff, some were not knowledgeable about their own booths. There was a sign for Kevin Millar and two of the staffers didn’t know anything about it. We were told to come back about 5 minutes before. We did, and there was a huge queue of people waiting. Well, my Red Sox fan [Wyatt] didn’t want to wait after he could have been first in line 20 minutes earlier.”
Despite that hiccup, Christina said that she and Wyatt still relished the experience. “Overall, the vendors are great. The staff I interacted with were very friendly, especially in the home run derby and steal a base.”
Image of Wyatt and Steve Garvey courtesy of Christina Griffith.