Fanfest a fountain of baseball youth
Collectors, fans young and old kept in high spirits in New York
NEW YORK -- From their viewpoint behind two long tables filled with bobbleheads, autographed baseball bats and trading cards, Scott Hunt and Mary Perkins witnessed firsthand the reaction to DHL All-Star FanFest.
They could see the smiles on childrens' faces after coming upstairs from the video batting cages. They could see grown men talking excitedly, pointing to a baseball they just got signed by one of their favorite Hall of Famers.
Hunt and Perkins have taken their business, Crescent Collectibles, to six different FanFests, and they said watching the thrill that fans get from the event is what keeps them coming back.
"One guy this morning said, 'I've never seen anything like this in my life,'" Hunt said. "He was about 30 years old, and he was just like a little kid running around here.
"It's really great to watch the adults act like children. Even in New York where they have the Mets and the Yankees, this is still something they're not used to."
The Collector's Showcase featured plenty of baseball memorabilia as part of the five-day FanFest event at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan. Hunt and Perkins' display had a pile of old-fashioned leather mitts on the corner of one of the tables.
They said kids lined up to try the gloves on to pose for pictures, and were baffled at how former players could have ever used them.
The more popular items have been autographed batting helmets and autographs of former players from both New York teams. Hunt and Perkins said the reach of FanFest and All-Star Week is universal, as they've noticed by taking some credit cards that aren't written in English.
"There's just such a great atmosphere around," Perkins said. "The fun things that you get to see, and you never know who's going to be walking around."
And there were some big names walking around Sunday morning. Former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly made an appearance to talk with fans and sign copies of his book, "Hitting is Simple."
Matt Doddo drove from upstate New York with his brother to get an autograph from his favorite Yankee.
"When we first came to the United States from Italy, one of the first things we saw was the Yankees on TV, so we were fans ever since, and that was 1973," Doddo said. "We wanted to make sure we at least got to meet him and get his book and signature, and I think this is a great event. There's a lot of stuff going on."
A crowd swarmed around the Aquafina Diamond mid-morning as Cal and Billy Ripken ran a clinic on batting technique for young fans. Cameras flashed continuously and the pack grew larger as more people realized whose voice was coming through the sound system.
Carter Stinson, 14, was one of the few fans who got to participate in the clinic. He attended one of the Ripken camps and got the chance to enjoy All-Star Week when his younger brother won a raffle to be part of the celebration.
The Ripken brothers explained the importance of balance and shifting a player's weight. Cal also showed that the batting tee is a great way to practice some swings, and that it shouldn't be overlooked.
"It was fun because I'm not a very good hitter myself," Stinson said. "But just having him help me is probably going to make me better in the long run."
Stinson will get to come back to FanFest before All-Star Week is through, but he'll also get to shag fly balls on the field of Yankee Stadium at the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. He's been in the stands to watch the Yankees five times before, but Stinson said the opportunity to go on the field will make this experience stand out.
"This is definitely going to be one of my favorite memories," he said. "I'm going to remember this for a really long time."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.