Cleat Geeks

All-Star Game Fanfest and Meeting Dave Parker

roseparkerdhugap_zoomEver since it was announced Cincinnati would host this year’s All-Star Game and the festivities which coincide with it I made it a point I was going to go to the All-Star FanFest for at least one day. Every year the NCAA has the Final Four Indianapolis I have attended its FanFest at the convention center in downtown Indianapolis. With that experience, I knew what to expect when I ventured about 90 minutes southeast Friday to Cincinnati.

As the days approached I watched to see what Reds’ legends would be in attendance on Friday and who I could meet. When I saw Dave Parker was going to be in attendance on Friday I couldn’t be more excited about the event.

See Parker is the reason I love the All-Star Game. It’s because of him every All-Star game since 1979 has become appointment television for me. He wasn’t even on the Cincinnati Reds. He wasn’t even one of my favorite players – actually another right fielder in the American League was my favorite player in Reggie Jackson.

parker and robBut two plays made in the 1979 All-Star Game at the Kingdome in Seattle catapulted Parker into one of my favorite players. In the bottom of the seventh inning Boston Red Sox slugger, Jerry Rice, hit a high blooper near the ceiling of the Kingdome. Parker lost because the white ceiling of the dome and the baseball. Parker finally saw the ball as it dropped to the field. As Parker recovered the ball Rice rounded second and headed to third. “The Cobra” retrieved the ball and then threw the ball on a line to third baseman Ron Cey, who tagged Rice out.

After the National League had taken the lead in the eighth inning, the American League mounted one last try at a comeback. Brian Downing was at second base when Graig Nettles hit a liner to right. The ball bounced off the Kingdom astroturf just right for Parker to jump up to catch the ball and then throw another strike. This time his throw was to Montreal Expos catcher Gary Carter, who tagged out Downing trying to score the game-tying run. As Carter went to tag out Downing, who was the catcher for the AL, you could see Pete Rose helping the plate umpire, George Maloney, by already calling Downing out at the plate.

In future seasons, regardless of how many Cincinnati Reds made the All-Star Game because of those two plays by Parker I wanted to watch that game. It’s also why I never complained about playing outfield in Little League because I wanted to have the opportunity to emulate plays like Parker in my own games.

My mission Friday was to meet Parker and asked him about those two throws.

There was a great deal for those wanting to attend the All-Star FanFest on Friday – you could buy two tickets for the price of one. I bought the tickets and then invited one of the biggest baseball fans I know, Sam Simmermaker, to attend the event with me.

Simmermaker is the long-time Hall of Fame broadcaster of Columbus, Ind. sports. He loves the St. Louis Cardinals. I always tell him that’s his fatal flaw. He goes to Jupiter, Fla. every March to see the Cardinals in spring training and goes to various games at Busch Stadium, Great American Ballpark and earlier in the week had went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cardinals-Cubs series.

We met in Greensburg and then traveled the rest of the way to the Duke Energy Convention Center for FanFest and spend our day together in celebration of the great game of baseball.

allstarRobWe walked around and looked at all the different things you could see and also do within the three levels of the convention center. After finding out we needed to sign a waiver and get our wrists stamped to do the interactive games we set out to hit the batting cages.

I hadn’t hit in a batting cage in forever. It looked like the pitches were only being thrown at somewhere around 40 mph. Out of the seven pitches thrown to me I hit all seven of them. The machine for some reason though was not throwing it directly across the plate but way inside. So far inside that the last pitch thrown I had to jump back a tad and got all the barrel on the ball. I whacked it right at the head of the gentleman who had been putting the ball in the machine.

We went upstairs and looked at all the memorabilia that was around about the Cincinnati Reds and the All-Star Game and baseball in general. We then stopped by the MLB Network booth and got our picture taken. We wore blazers with the MLB Network logo patch on the pockets and held microphones with a green screen behind us. When the picture printed out there we were on a recreation of the MLB Network set with Sean Casey. Simmermaker was in the middle between Casey and I. I captioned the picture on my Facebook page saying Sam was explaining to us why the Cardinals would always win the NL Central.

After having a Cincinnati staple – LaRosa’s Pizza – for lunch, we again walked around to see other memorabilia and do some trivia games. We also went into another batting cage called “Home Run Derby” again I hit every pitch thrown and even hit two over the wall for home runs. We even got our pictures taken looking like we were jumping up to rob someone of a home run.

Around 3:45 p.m. I said it was time to make it to the World’s Greatest Baseball as Parker was expected to be there for photo opportunities at 4 p.m.

1979allStargameDaveParkerWhen we got there the line was already lining up for Parker as former Reds’ great George Foster wrapped up his session. About 20 minutes later Parker arrived. The volunteers would take your phone as you walked up on the stage to take your picture. As I approached Parker, who was seated in a chair in front of the baseball, I told him it was an honor to finally meet the player who hooked me on the All-Star Game in person.

“Those two throws in the ’79 All-Star Game to this day the two best plays in my history of watching the game,” I told him as we both smiled and the volunteer I handed my phone to took our picture.

“I got lucky,” Parker replied and shook my hand again.

Day made. All-Star Fanfest mission complete.

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