We made it through Febbbbrrrrrrrr-uary and one of the coldest winters on record – so far. Many of us went out of our way to get a taste of summer warmth during this last cold blast. Whether you were the host of indoor luaus or making plans for your summer garden or going to the boat and RV shows, everyone up and down the East Coast is looking for that elusive butterfly called spring.
As for me… yes, I went to an indoor luau. I’ve made plans for my summer garden and ordered some plants. I’ve located the seeds from last year’s plants and am getting them ready to start. No, I didn’t go to the boat show or RV show. That’s not my thing. But Orioles FanFest definitely was.
On a bright, sunny day, with a low temperature and lower wind chill number and surprisingly no snow on the ground, I joined 16,000 of my closest friends of an Oriole orange feather in search of some semblance of summer. Baltimore’s Convention Center was ready for all of us. There were three floors festooned in orange and black. Stations were set up all over the ground floor.
Baltimore’s Convention Center hosts Oriole Fan Fest
|Joined 16000 of my closest friends for the festivities|
The first station you hit was the season ticket booth. You could ask questions about your tickets or purchase a plan for the 2015 season.
|Orioles - best fans in Major League baseball|
The broadcast network MASN had a booth in the middle of the floor. There, you could sit on the MASN couch and get your picture taken with different players and broadcasters. The station had some giveaways, too… and a long line of people waiting patiently to get up to the cameras.
All over the first floor were autograph stations. These were not free, especially to adults. When you got your tickets, you had to pre-purchase autograph vouchers for specific stations. You were also limited to two vouchers per person. The lines at all the stations were very long, but moving reasonably. Each station had three players signing autographs and those in line met all three. There were some adults, I’m sure, that were stocking up for E-Bay sales. I talked to one mom outside one of the stations who vented about the process. She was upset about the E-Bay adults and the fact that only 250 vouchers were put up for sale. She figured that, with a crowd the size of January 31st’s, they would have more vouchers and/or more autograph stations. Well, O’s, there is something to consider… especially since all the voucher money goes to your Orioles Reach charity.
Pitcher Chris Tillman, sporting off-season facial growth, signs autographs for young fan
|Pitching hopeful Dylan Bundy|
|Center fielder Adam Jones|
Stroll along the main floor and find the first signs of spring – Sarasota’s Spring Training booth. Here a baseball snowbird could check out spring training games, buy tickets, find hotels near Ed Smith Stadium, and lots more. From experience, Sarasota is a fun town and there’s lots of baseball to be had in that small stretch of the Gulf Coast.
|Ballpark dog and kettle chips... ignore the diet soda|
We can’t forget the ballpark food! There was several food stations scattered all over the main floor. We got a chance to have a taste of summer with hot dogs, beer, sodas, fries, salads, pretzels and lots of other items featured at Oriole Park concession stands.
|Batting cages and pitching cages all over the place|
|Minor league Aberdeen Ironbirds mascot - Ferrous|
Kids ruled at FanFest. Everywhere you turned you found batting cages, pitching cages, and mascots – major and minor league. The Coca-Cola Field gave kids of all abilities the chance to hit and run the bases. Staffed by Mt. St. Joseph’s school baseball team, the teens pitched, caught and encouraged all young players. Some of the little kids of both genders were really talented. And I thought I saw the Mt. St. Joe’s coach taking notes. Dave Johnson and Wayne Kirby hosted a number of clinics for the kids. They also stuck around to help out the teens.
Coca-Cola “Field of Dreams” for young players
Dave Johnson and Wayne Kirby instruct during the fielding clinic
|Dave and Wayne giving great advice to young players|
The most popular event was the Fan Forums. Here, you got a chance to ask questions of your favorite players or broadcasters. Buck Showalter was on hand for many of the question sessions. There were a few sessions that were just for giggles. The players used the “Newly-Wed Game” format to play “Know Your Teammate”. Some of the answers from these sessions might be on YouTube – they were that funny. Adam Jones pied a few fans and answered questions from the audience. He did his best to stick to his personal rule not to pie kids at all – only adults. And then there was the one fellow with a full-on, ZZTop-style beard who volunteered from the audience to get pied. Adam had a good time giving him a pie in the face. Now there was a picture!
|MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter introducing players for the Q & A session|
|First baseman Chris Davis on the hot seat about injuries from last year|
Adam Jones plants a pie on the kisser of a fan-volunteer
The two-and three-hundred levels of the Convention Center had a lot of smaller rooms with activities designed for kids. They were a bit quieter than the sensory overloaded first level of the main hall. Well thought out, Orioles! It was on the third floor that young kids could interview a player and get their autograph for free.
The only aspect of FanFest that we didn’t get to this year was the ballpark tour. Free tours were available and next year we plan to take full advantage of the whole day.
Baseball – Spring Training – it’s a sure sign that the weather will get warm soon. That can’t happen soon enough for this O’s fan.
And now to get ready to watch the first telecast spring training game on March 4! It will have to do until the Birds are back in town in April… or until I get down there to Sarasota to see them in action.
Ok, winter weary people, spring is almost here… really it is… I promise!