Fans flock to San Diego for MLB All-Star weekend

The traditional brown and yellow of the host Padres swirled with fans wearing colors of the other 29 MLB franchises as baseball lovers migrated to All-Star Weekend to begin the 87th annual midseason celebration.

What once was a single showcase game now spans an entire weekend, beginning with All-Star Fan Fest on Saturday. The two days of Fan Fest serves as a simpler celebration of America’s pastime, giving grown men some time to drool over signed posters, league trophies and collectible baseball cards, while offering their kids a chance to swing some bats and throw some balls.

MLB All-Star Weekend Complete All-Star coverage from SFBay sportswriters Kalama Hines and David Curl from Petco Park in San Diego.

While most of those in attendance still seemed to be San Diego natives in Padres colors, it was hardly a vast majority. For every three or four Padres fans that walked by there would be a Red Sox or Phillies fan, showing just how far people come to celebrate.

Sean Oswald, a 23-year-old Giants fan who found himself living and going to school at UCLA, couldn’t resist the allure of driving down to see some of the league’s treasured accolades:

“I never thought I’d get anywhere near that World Series trophy or the MVP and all that stuff. It would’ve been nice to see the World Series trophy a couple years ago though. It’s tough to see the Royals’ name on it, but it’s alright. It’s our year.”

Oswald told SFBay he felt comfortable in his Orange and Black:

“I went to a Dodger game this past week and I didn’t have [Giants gear] on then. But there’s good vibes here — definitely more welcoming and accepting.”

Fan Fest games and challenges included all the sport’s major aspects — hitting, pitching, fielding and running — all amped on technology to up the excitement. Whereas a batting cage is classic baseball, kids this year got to pick scenarios to watch on big screens — and then try to emulate. One event utilized virtual reality to place fans right in Petco Park for a Home Run Derby.

The fun-and-games nature of the festival might appeal to the largest audience, though some of die-hards are there to meet the personalities. Mike McGarrigle said about his son:

“We’ve done all the activities the past two days, but really we’re here for a lot of the autographs. We’ve been standing in line for hours. It’s like disney to get autographs around here.”

And personalities came in no short supply. While the active big leaguers are still off with their clubs concluding the first half of the regular season, some television personalities joined the festivities, such as ex-ESPN analysts and current MLB Network hosts Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds.

Generally, people on the field who turn heads, but for 20-year-old baseball super-fan Paul Martinez, meeting Kenny was a personal highlight:

“I don’t want to say it’s someone I grew up watching because I’ve only followed him since the ESPN days a few years ago. It’s the thrill of meeting one of your favorite guys, more than anything. I told him my favorite TV interview was him interviewing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and he not only remembered it vividly but said it was his favorite interview as well.”

Martinez drove up from Tijuana to San Diego specifically for the All-Star Fan Fest:

“The All-Star Game being in San Diego is, I don’t want to say a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I definitely didn’t want to regret missing it.”

Most notably as far as personalities go, the Fan Fest held a special celebrity roast of Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield and Steve Garvey, whose absence from the HOF is, as host of the roast comedian Jamie Kennedy explained, one of the game’s great travesties.

A number of performers stepped up to “roast and toast” the legends of the game, including a television showing from Jimmy Kimmel. The event brought some more adult humor to an event geared slightly more towards kids.

And if you ask the kids, it was all about the games. Lines stretched absurd distances for attractions like steal-a-base, where players had the option of four base-stealing situations to imitate and try to outrun. It was a tall order for fans to try outrunning Billy Hamilton, who some peg to be the next great base stealer, but there were a lot of smiling faces on people trying.

According to 10-year-old Jaden Everhart, who traveled with her dad from Cincinnati, Ohio, it was fun no matter how fast a time she got:

“My favorite was definitely this one — the running and sliding one. I honestly did not do great because I’m not that great at running but it was a lot of fun.”