And the pitch . . . it's a big hit FanFest fans flock to swing at major-league offerings 1993 ALL-STAR GAME AT CAMDEN YARDS


If you would like to step up to the plate and face a fastball from Roger Clemens or put your own pitch to the speed test, you are not alone.

Of the more than 300,000-square feet of FanFest attractions throughout Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall, the clear-cut favorites among many of yesterday's 15,000-plus visitors were the video batting cages and the bullpen area of the three-level theme park.

The video batting screens, which give visitors a chance to go up against the top pitchers in baseball, were the biggest draw. Fans waited in lines for nearly an hour to spend two minutes in the cage trying tohit five "Roger Clemens" fastballs.

"It was worth it, especially when you don't know when they are going to have it again in Baltimore," said Greg Valnas, 14, who fouled off several offerings from "John Smoltz".

"Probably the pitching and batting cages were the best attractions," said John Moyer, of Glen Burnie, who brought his two sons to FanFest. "The lines were long, but moved quite well. They were actually shorter than what we expected."

There are five life-sized video batting cages with a library of 26 pitchers from which to choose -- from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer to current All-Stars Mike Mussina of the Orioles and Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves to lesser-known Oakland Athletic Kevin Campbell. Each pitcher has his strengths and weaknesses displayed on the screen just before the first pitch is launched from a hole in the screen.

The majority of fans chose to face past and present Orioles Palmer, Mussina, Rick Sutcliffe and Fernando Valenzuela.

Jason Spicknell, 13, of Crownsville, connected on four of five Mussina pitches, which he said was the next best thing to batting practice against the Oriole All-Star.

"I'm sure he throws a lot faster in real life," Spicknell said.

Brenden Dorr, 13, of Middletown, also faced Mussina. "I foul-tipped some, but didn't get a hold of one," he said.

These machines have been used at the two previous FanFests, and are scheduled to appear in the next three, according to Darryl Closson, president of MYR Corporation in Atlanta.

In the Bullpen attraction, visitors can pitch six balls and are scored on accuracy and speed. With shorter lines -- a 15-minute wait -- most visitors opted for the Bullpen before tackling the video batting cages.

Fan participation at FanFest is clearly the name of the game. A voice guides visitors into the All-Star Clubhouse and a row of bleachers. The manager of the "All-Star FanFest team" is in the Clubhouse, trying to whet your anticipation with an encouraging pep talk. Inside the FanFest Stadium, visitors can walk up to a dugout and talk to a uniformed player, a member of the "All-Star FanFest team".

In addition to hands-on experiences, the National Baseball Hall of Fame sent the largest collection of baseball memorabilia to the Convention Center. The Hall of Fame memorabilia is the central exhibit of FanFest.

The collector's showcase is a popular exhibit that includes baseballcard stands from across the country. At various locations at FanFest, ex-ballplayers are available to sign autographs.

"We liked all the baseball cards here, especially the older ones," said George Thomas, of Port Deposit, who came with his two sons. "We brought a bunch of cards and tried to get signatures on all of them, but we felt FanFest did not publicize who was going to be here to sign autographs. So we didn't have time to sort our cards."

One of the lesser publicized exhibits -- Professional Baseball: The Minor Leagues -- is located in the second floor hallway. A map of North America pinpoints each minor-league city, and 154 dTC farm-team caps are hung next to their major-league affiliates. Fans can see the insignia of Pocatello Posse, Lethbridge Mounties and Ottawa Lynx.

FanFest gears itself toward younger fans. Christine Karmosky brought her two sons to Baltimore from Kent Island and found the Rookie League Locker Room to be their favorite attraction. The Rookie League Locker Room, a section featuring child-sized batting cages, tubs full of Legos and pint-sized souvenirs, is on the third floor.

A day at the ballpark isn't complete without a trip to the concession area. FanFest offers food from major-league parks such as Wrigley Field (Chicago-style pizza), Veterans Stadium (cheese steak subs), and Jack Murphy Stadium (nachos). The prices may be a little steep: a bratwurst from Milwaukee, which sells for $2.50 at County Stadium, costs $4.50 at FanFest.

"The food could have been a little cheaper," Karmosky said.

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