The Fans Are the All-Stars


No longer is baseball's annual All-Star game a lone event, over in a few hours. Now it is the centerpiece of a six-day festival celebrating the national pastime in ways Abner Doubleday never would have imagined. Fewer than 50,000 fans will actually see the game in person. Tens of thousands more have the chance to enjoy a massive festival, the likes of which Baltimore has not seen before. And millions will watch it on the tube.

Events during All-Star Week, starting Thursday, will run from a street theater outside Camden Yards and kids' games at Rash Field to a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert under the stars and an All-Star FanFest at the Convention Center. It's no exaggeration to say the week has something for everyone: The American Institute of Architects is sponsoring a symposium on ballpark architecture. Except for the game itself and FanFest, virtually all the other events are free.

Judging from San Diego's experience last year -- where a similar attraction drew 85,000 -- more people will flock to FanFest starting Thursday than to the game itself. It's an indoor amusement park on a baseball theme. Kids of all ages -- there's a reduced admission charge for kids over 62 -- can indulge in all sorts of baseball fantasies as well as gaze at the largest collection of the sport's memorabilia outside Cooperstown, N.Y.

Want to get that fastball barely over the inside corner or refine your batting stance? There will be electronic opportunities to match pitches and swings with the best, often with a major leaguer standing by with professional advice. About 125 present and former players are expected to aid FanFest, and most will be signing autographs free. (Some 200,000 were scrawled in San Diego last year, not counting 25,000 personalized baseball cards.) Players already lined up would make a pretty good list of future Hall of Famers.

Even those benighted souls who have not been caught up in the magic of baseball's festive celebration can enjoy the week. There will be concerts of all sorts in Charles Center, Harborplace and Rash Field. Museums far removed from sports themes will have special exhibitions. Early black baseball stars will be honored at a luncheon and a tribute before Saturday's White Sox game. The Orioles Advocates will sponsor a five-kilometer race Sunday. And there will be plenty of scope for celebrity-watching outside the major hotels.

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