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Reliving old memories: Fans remember moments from the past during All-Star FanFest

Photo by John Autey / Pioneer Press Dozens of Joe Mauer bobble heads wait for prospective buyers at the 2014 MLB All-Star FanFest on Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

MINNEAPOLIS — Bruce Ekholm gasped when he saw the small, weathered baseball glove in a glass display case.

The 57-year-old baseball fan pulled out his smart phone and took a picture of the glove, which southpaw Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics wore while defeating Boston’s Cy Young in a 20-inning marathon game on July 4, 1905.

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“It looks like there is no padding in it,” Ekholm, of Inver Grove Heights, said. “If you got a hot shot with this, you felt it.”

The glove took up just one small corner of FanFest, a showcase of everything baseball past and present. Its opening set off a five-day celebration of the national pasttime that has come to the Twin Cities this year and builds up to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game Tuesday night.

FanFest opened Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis and runs through Tuesday. With more than 400,000 square feet of baseball-related attractions, it is dubbed by its host Major League Baseball as the “world’s largest interactive theme park.”

“It takes about 3½ hours to get around the whole floor,” said Jackie Secaira-Cotto, MLB’s director of special events.

FanFest has drawn nearly 2.5 million people since it debuted in Toronto in 1990. It should attract more than 100,000 fans over its run in Minneapolis, Secaira-Cotto said.

“This is the people’s event because there’s no exclusion,” she said. “Not everybody can get to the stadium.”

Once through the front doors, visitors are welcomed with a baseball that measures 12 feet in diameter and is made of painted canvas, wood and vinyl. In 2006, it was recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest baseball.

Keith Martinson and his wife Lisa were among the throngs of fans who waited in line Friday afternoon to get an up-close look at the ball, which is signed by Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams and other legends. Like most gawkers, the Martinsons had an event volunteer take a picture of them in front of it.

“It really is something else,” Keith Martinson, 42, said.

Earlier in the day, Martinson, of Mounds View, worked a five-hour shift at the event as a volunteer. He makes up the event’s nearly 1,300 volunteers.

“It ain’t work … it’s really not,” he said. “It’s just fun to be here. Today I got to talk to Bert Blyleven and Rod Carew and Tony Oliva and Tom Kelly. Where else can I do that in one place? This is awesome.”

Nearby, Twins’ prospect Jose Berrios signed autographs as part of a line-up of current and former players scheduled to make appearances through Tuesday. Berrios, a pitcher with the Fort Myers Miracle, is town to play in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game at Target Field.

Sam Moore, of Topeka, Kan., stood in line for 45 minutes to have Berrios sign his All-Star Game program. Moore and his father and two brothers made the trip to Minneapolis for FanFest and the Futures Game.

“We went to both of the same events in Kansas City (in 2012),” Moore, 26, said. “This is about the same as two years ago.”

Visitors with an appreciation of baseball history might especially enjoy the exhibits that pay the tribute to the Negro Leagues and Minnesota’s “Hometown Heroes,” not to mention the collections of official awards and trophies of Major League Baseball and Hall of Fame artifacts and photographs from Cooperstown.

Meanwhile, kids of all ages can test their hitting, fielding, pitching and base-stealing skills in the event’s many interactive areas.

Near a mini-field where kids went trough baseball drills, former Twins pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant signed autographs at a booth next to other past major league all-stars, including Rollie Fingers and Bert Campaneris.

Grant, now 78 years old and living in Los Angeles, said the All-Star Game and its events like FanFest that lead up to it gives him the opportunity to catch up with friends like Carew, Tony Oliva.

“This is my first FanFest, like it is for a lot of people here,” he said. “It’s great to see the guys I haven’t seen for a long time.”

Ekholm, who was enamored by the old baseball glove, said that although FanFest is a good time, he is really looking forward to attending Tuesday’s game.

“I’ll get to see all the players you don’t see all the time on the field together,” he said. “I hope it’s a good game.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.