Monday, January 25, 2010

Fan Fest Weekend - Better Than a Day Working on the Condo

Thanks to the good people of Southwest Airlines (and my frequent trips to Las Vegas and Baltimore last year) I had a free flight burning a hole in my pocket. Originally I was going to use it for a trip to Las Vegas sometime this summer, but never being very good at practicing self control I used it this weekend to fly to Baltimore.

The purpose of the visit was two-fold. One – to visit the Greatest Niece in the World, who I haven’t seen since last summer; and two – the Baltimore Orioles Fan Fest 2010. The journey was a success on both fronts.

The GNitW has graduated to walking and single syllable noises since I last saw her. I was pretty sure she threw in an HOLA at one point as well. No doubt the product of spending some time with her Aunt Jojo.

As for the Fan Fest I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having only attended Fests down here in laid back Florida I didn’t know what to expect from a good ol’ Northeastern gathering. By the end of the day I was fairly impressed. There were about 12,000 fellow Orioles fans wandering the halls of the convention center on Saturday and from what I saw it all went pretty smoothly.

Accompanied by my brother-in-law and his brother we arrived at about 11.00, which was when the gates opened. Braving the chilly (at least for this Florida boy) temperatures we wandered around the convention center until we found out what door to enter. Plopping down $10.00 got us in and we were immediately handed a black and orange MASN bag to throw our goodies in.

I had brought some cards to get signed, basically whatever Orioles cards I could find the night before I flew into town so I wasn’t as prepared as I usually am for the Rays fests. It didn’t help that there wasn’t an autograph schedule posted until the day of the fan fest, which was probably smart since it didn’t allow fans to sand bag lines waiting for the popular players.

We headed downstairs to the lower half of the exhibit where the affiliates and partner companies of the team had booths set up. We picked up schedules for the minor leagues, my brother-in-law’s brother was planning on hitting all of the minor league teams stadiums this season with his father so he wanted to start planning right away.

Not being young enough to hit whiffle balls in the miniature stadium that was set up we found the line where prospect and hopeful ace-in-waiting Chris Tillman was taking photos with fans for a small donation. It would end up being the smallest line we would find all day. He seems to be a nice guy and smiled and introduced himself to everyone in the line.

Following that we wandered back upstairs to see who was signing. The organizers had set up a system whereby they would announce who was signing at a particular station an hour before time and then they would let the first 250 people to show up at that station get in line. Everyone who made it into the line was guaranteed to get an autograph from that group of signers.

The fallback was that you usually had to wait at least an hour to get an autograph and the lines filled up quickly. At that point we just decided to get in a random line and hope for the best. We missed the bearded ones – Nick Markakis and Luke Scott, but did luck out with Chris Tillman, Jason Berken and Kam Mickolio (who was there with his hot wife/girlfriend/ friend).

While we were waiting in line, the news broke that the O’s had signed Miguel Tejada to a one year deal. At $6 million it seems a little steep, but if he hits .275 and knocks in more than 50 runs it will be worth it while the future third baseman (Josh Bell) has another year to improve his game. It was amusing to see all of the fans whipping out their cell phones to entertain themselves while waiting – whatever did we do before handheld internet devices were available.

Once the players arrived the line moved fairly quickly. I had Tillman sign the photo that was taken earlier and the other two signed team provided cards. Three new autographs for the collection was good enough for me. We ventured to the room next door which had a ton of game/batting practice used jerseys and gear for sale.

We had undoubtedly missed the good stuff, but there were a ton of Lou Montenez shirts left. I almost pulled the trigger on an orange Juan Samuel (third base coach) jersey, but thought better of it. I also briefly contemplated picking up a vinyl “This is Birdland” sign for $20, but was pretty sure that wouldn’t go over well with the significant other. The boys bought game used batting helmets, possibly for autographs next year and after a reheated pretzel and god awful chicken fingers we were on to the last phase of the day – the clubhouse tour.

For me this was definitely the highlight. I don’t know what’s so fascinating about wandering around the locker rooms of the rich and famous ballplayers, but it was fun. The clubhouse guides were of good cheer and extra information (umpires used to use tobacco juice to rub down the baseballs before Lena Blackburne’s Original Baseball Rubbing Mud came along in 1939).

We were led through the training room, the locker room and then out to the dugout itself. I knew there was a memento of Cal Ripken Sr in the dugout, but didn’t know that there was also a tribute to Earl Weaver as well. You can’t say that the organization ignores its history.

We snapped some photos sitting on the bench and also of the field. The ushers were adamant about not touching the grass as it was “fragile” from the cold weather. They also explained that the seats in the lower level were removed because the concrete was being retreated. After 17 seasons or so Camden Yards was showing some wear and tear so they were repairing some cracks.

Exhausted after a winter day filled with baseball we hiked back to the car and headed out for some Chinese food. I then hopped the train down to D.C. to watch a Caps game with an old friend of mine. It was truly a good day.

Nope. No performance enhancing drugs in here!

Jason Berken once struck out 200 batters in a season simply because his locker was next to Matt Wieters.

Simply one of the best views in all of baseball.

The first of many calls to the bullpen?


Anonymous said...

I didnt realize how bad the Hilton blocks the view of downtown. That sucks.

cynicalbuddha said...

Wow that looks like it was fun. And 10 bucks actually seems really cheap to me. Here's a fun fact for you Justin, the Orioles can actually trace there history back to 1901 where they known as the Milwaukee Brewers. The team only lasted a year before they were moved kinda like the Seattle Pilots which oddly enough are now the Milwaukee Brewers. Huh.

Justin G. said...

Anon - that was the major beef when it was built a few years ago. I'm surprised no one has done a study to see if it affects the play of the game....

CB - That's pretty cool. It's kind of like pointing out that the original Baltimore Orioles (1882-1903) became the New York Highlanders who became the....New York Yankees.