Over the past few years, Dodgers FanFest was a tantalizing “what if” for yours truly. Being in Sacramento, eight hours away and in the heart of Giants country no less, it required a good deal of financial planning and an extra day off to facilitate the weekend trip down south. It didn’t help that when my father and I attempted to secure autograph tickets on one occasion, they sold out instantly.
In 2019, though, it all finally came together. My parents, ready the moment tickets went on sale, snatched up one autograph session and a pop-up museum pass. My ever tenacious father made it all the better by later scooping up a voucher for an Orel Hershiser autograph on eBay. With a day off work requested for Friday, I packed up at my apartment on Thursday and drove to my folks’ home, and it was off to L.A.
Come the morning of Saturday the 26th, my father and I rolled out from our hotel in Tustin. After a quick breakfast, we joined the winding traffic line in Elysian Park. It was my first visit to the House Walter O’Malley Built since the Kyle Farmer Game, and especially after such a whiplash-inducing 2018 season and a frustrating offseason, I was ready for an equally affirming day for my fanhood.
The first stop was the biggest: an autograph from Orel Hershiser, my second-favorite player in Dodgers history only after Koufax. Armed with a 1991 Sports Illustrated cover for the signing, I hastily thanked him for 1988 and his role in the R.J. Reynolds 1983 Suicide Squeeze game (which I’m emulating in the picture below) before he left. Bonus treat was seeing one of my current favorites, Kenta Maeda, although he had to leave his adjacent booth as soon as I stepped up to Orel’s.
The next stop was one tailor-made for me, a pop-up history museum overseen by team historian Mark Langill. To my delight, its biggest displays emphasized Negro Leagues and Brooklyn Dodgers history to coincide with Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday. There were also displays for Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Garvey, and I got to geek out about ancient franchise history with Langill for a bit. In a stroke of true idiocy, I neglected to bring my father’s phone (which doesn’t have a broken camera like mine), and thus don’t have any pictures.
With a little time to kill, my father and I grabbed a quick drink and sat down above the Dodgers bullpen. We found out it was host to another activity of interest, a $100 catch session with various Dodger relievers and position players. Given my inspirational fascination with the Dodgers bullpen (long, long story I might write about one day), there literally not be anyone who finds the idea of catch with Scott Alexander or Tony Cingrani as tantalizing as myself. Next year, perhaps.
It wasn’t just relievers who played catch with fans in the bullpen. Our beloved Sexwolf of Chavez partook in it too!
After that was an autograph from another pitching hero, Fernando Valenzuela. This one was longer than the Hershiser one, taking place in an enclosed room with a full Q&A session. Fernando happily fielded questions about pitching in the World Series, scoring his first major league run, and more. After that, I handed him a Sports Illustrated from the middle of his 1981 rookie season, and got a nice pic with him too.
Yet, dare I sound a bit maudlin here, the true highlight of the day was at the end when I finally got to meet a bunch of my Dodgers Nation colleagues. Just a few days after the first anniversary of my first piece at DN, it was a special moment to finally meet the guys I’ve bonded with via Slack and Twitter all these months. The conversation thankfully continued afterward at the Little Jewel of New Orleans in Chinatown, where I burned my mouth off with some way-too-hot wings.
Overall, FanFest was a worthy investment and a special experience for any true fan. It can be overwhelming for first-time visitors, but once you know where everything is, things get much easier to navigate. It truly does have something for fans of all persuasions. Expect to see me there again in 2020 and beyond!
[button link=”https://dodgersnation.com/opinion-stan-kastens-comments-on-fans-are-insulting-and-wrong/2019/01/29/” type=”big” color=”red”] STAN KASTEN’S COMMENTS ON FANS ARE INSULTING AND WRONG[/button]