Yesterday's FanFest was the first that I'd attended since January 2001 where I saw the likes of Brook Fordyce and Greg Myers. That was my senior year of college and I guess as I got busy with being an adult while the Orioles got busy sucking, FanFest dropped down on my priority list. But yesterday's event was worth more than the price of admission and the time commitment required.
I arrived at the Convention Center as the doors opened at 10 a.m. and was pleasantly surprised to see a line snaked around the outside wall of the building. Because I was participating in a forum that day I'd been given permission to use the press/volunteer entrance so I was able to bypass the line (score!).
By the time I made my way downstairs to the main stage Dave Trembley and Andy MacPhail were on the stage giving the State of the O's address. They addressed a lot of things, nothing earth shattering, and took questions from the audience. One question was from our very own BaltimoreSportsFan about the base running mistakes of 2009. MacPhail and Trembley both loved the question and Andy told BSF, "When you get a little older, come see me about an internship." Then Dave gave the stock answer about not making mental mistakes. He also said that one backfield at Spring Training will be dedicated to base running drills, so we'll see.
The autograph stations were set up around the convention center and the process was that if a player started signing at noon, it was announced at 11 and you had to quick run to be one of the first 250 people in line. So best case scenario you're the first person in line and you'd still have to wait an hour for an autograph. Since autographs aren't really my thing I didn't want to waste my time with that, and luckily all but one of the autograph stations were out in the open so it was easy to see the players and take pictures. After taking some pictures of Matt Wieters, Brandon Erbe, and Alberto Castillo, I went back to the forum to get a look at new Orioles Garrett Atkins, Mike Gonzalez, and Kevin Millwood.
Most of what I saw of those guys was "I'm glad to be here, this team has young talent, etc." but I didn't stay long because I heard that people were lining up upstairs to see Felix Pie. I went up there as fast as I could but the line was already full. Remember I said that all but one of the autograph stations were out in the open? That, of course, is the section that housed Felix Pie. At first the volunteer in charge of guarding the station was kinda mean to me saying I couldn't go in to take a picture, but then he softened up and let me go snap a few. Unfortunately because Felix Pie and Lou Montanez were late for their sessions I didn't get a chance to say hello to Felix or even ask him to smile for a picture. That was the last I'd see Felix that day.
I was contemplating my next move when I got a text message from Kevin/Brotz13 letting me know that Garrett Aktins, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Roberts were on stage, so I met up with him down there. That's when I got my first look at Dr. Jones in his suit and Nick Markakis in his hunting gear. Brian and Adam were the personality of the group, of course. Someone asked Brian if he could teach Nick and Adam to steal more bases and Brian said, "I'd like to be able to hit 25 home runs. We all have different talents." Of course someone asked Adam about his Twitter account and why more O's don't have them. He said he thinks Bergesen has one (I still need to investigate), then he brought up the person who was impersonating Nick Markakis on Twitter a few weeks ago. "Nick never says anything and that guy never shut up so I knew it wasn't him."
When that was finished Kevin and I wandered the rest of the FanFest. There appeared to be people in line to get an autograph for WJZ's Don Scott, which seemed a little odd. They also had a line to pick up giveaways which included old George Sherrill and Gregg Zaun shirts and last year's programs. Along the back wall there were three giant TVs. Two had a baseball video game (I don't know, that's not my thing). Kevin and I were disappointed to see that hideous hotel prominently displayed in the video game version of Camden Yards. The third TV was set up with Guitar Hero. I didn't see it but later someone told me that Jeremy Guthrie was over there for quite awhile playing against a bunch of kids.
The biggest forum crowd of the day was easily for the one titled "Rookies" and featuring Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman. All seats were filled and so many people were crowded around the sides that it was impossible for me to get front and center to take any good pictures of the guys. The excitement for these young players was palpable and the idea of the five of them contributing to the team got me totally pumped up for the season. As a bonus to them being good young guys, they all seemed to have good personalities for the most part. No offense to Nick Markakis, who you know I love, but it'll be nice to spend the next few years with guys who know how to speak in public.
During the rookies Q&A a gentleman raised his hand and said, "This question is for Jim Hunter. Can you confirm that the Orioles have signed Miguel Tejada?" And that was the first I heard of it. Hunter laughed it off but it got a bit of buzz going in the crowd. I said to Kevin, "Have you heard of that?" He shook his head but the guy next to him said, "It's true, it's all over the internet." I checked my phone and sure enough, there it was. So that was a little exciting.
After the rookies were finished Kevin and I parted ways. I did another round of the premises but ended up settling down front and center of the forum where I remained for the next few sessions which featured the coaches, another session from Trembley and MacPhail (where Andy non-announced the Tejada signing), and the press. They were all pretty entertaining, but the best forum of the day (rivaled by the rookies, but still the best) was the 1970 World Series Reunion.
Featuring Dick Hall, Bill Hunter, Paul Blair, Don Buford, Boog Powell, and Jim Palmer, the 1970 WS panel was amazing. First of all, all of those guys had personality. I suppose it makes sense. The current players are obligated to show but once you've been around as long as these fellows, if getting on a stage isn't your thing you just don't do it. I found Paul Blair to be especially hilarious as he mocked Don Buford and Frank Robinson's fielding abilities. Jim Palmer was his usual self. His mind is an amazing thing. At one point Boog Powell mentioned 1969 when Blair hit the most HR of his career. Boog said, "What did you hit, about 27 home runs that year?" and Palmer immediately says, "It was actually 26." I even looked it up when I got home and he was right. When will Jim Palmer ever need to know off the top of his head how many home runs Paul Blair hit in 1969? Never, but he knows it anyway.
The thing that made me love this forum so much was the attitude and camaraderie of the guys on stage. The confidence in their voices about their team and their talent was so obvious even though it's been so many years. Losing wasn't even a consideration to those guys and the fact that the Mets beat them in 1969 with an inferior team still annoyed them. It got me a little emotional. I've never seen a team like that. I probably never will see a team like that. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with our young players and I think they'll be competitive. But it won't be like it was then. But I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer about it, because it was awesome. I was very, very glad that I stuck around for it. I know the Orioles are planning to celebrate the 1970 team this season and I hope we get more chances to hear from the players.
The only real thing after that was the blogger forum, which I'm going to go into in another post. I had planned on getting into it here but this has gotten pretty long and I have enough trouble writing very long things; I know how hard it is to read them.
FanFest was great. It got me excited for the upcoming season and ready for Opening Day to happen RIGHT NOW. I know that probably a few months after Opening Day I'll be banging my head against the wall in frustration but right now, in this moment, I'm feeling pretty jazzed about 2010 (which I suppose is the point, so good job Orioles).