Monday, 25 Oct 2021

Play Ball Park a public celebration ahead of the All-Star Game

The kid with Rockies-colored curls waited for nearly an hour outside the Denver Convention Center to experience his favorite game.

Kingston Combs, a 6-year-old baseball superfan from Denver, has missed the fun inside Coors Field. But he had a seemingly permanent grin on his face once inside Play Ball Park — a five-day MLB showcase for all things baseball. Combs was the first in line.

“We haven’t been going to games since COVID,” Combs said. “This is fun.”

The event began on Friday and marked the beginning of All-Star Week in Denver, which also includes the Home Run Derby on Monday and culminates with Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

Play Ball Park is free and open to the public. It has everything from memorabilia to batting cages to autographs to three indoor diamonds. Major League Baseball expects up to 100,000 total people to come through by the end of Tuesday.

The league has spent the past 11 weeks constructing the site, which covers more than 400,000 square feet indoors and nearly 200,000 around the convention center.

Stepping inside feels like a baseball wonderland, especially for the game’s youngest fans. One booth, called the “home run robber,” has kids suit up in a Velcro suit. A booth attendant tosses up a baseball, and the goal is to make a jumping catch before “landing” — sticking — against a fake outfield wall.

Combs went first as his family watched. His catch was punctuated by a resounding thwap noise. The purple curls seemed to help.

“He had his hair done this morning,” said his grandmother, Yvonne Rodriguez. “We love the Rockies.”

But children weren’t the only ones smiling Friday.

Matt and Nicky Dunavant traveled from their home in Washington, D.C., to Denver for All-Star weekend. The husband-and-wife duo participated in the “performance-training” booth for flexibility exercises, a timed 40-yard dash and batting cages that measure swing speed.

It’s the Dunavants’ third Play Ball Park experience, which holds a special place in their hearts.

“We got married right before the D.C. All-Star game,” Matt Dunavant said of the 2018 game. “This is kind of like our anniversary event now.”

Older baseball fans — and those less interested in physical challenges — also have a reason to check out Play Ball Park with exhibits from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Negro League Baseball Museum.

Colorado resident Leonard Kippes, 73, looked through the historic memorabilia with his 11-year-old grandson, Luke.

“It’s really neat,” Kippes said. “My favorite player growing up was Mickey Mantle. He was a Yankee and they always won.”

Play Ball Park caters to softball fans, too: The indoor space includes an exhibit honoring the world’s top players and the notable women throughout history, including current MLB assistant coaches Alyssa Nakken (Giants) and Bianca Smith (Red Sox).

The Brighton Cardinals club softball team came because of the nod to women’s roles in the game. Fifteen-year-olds Anastacia Salazar and Carmen O’Connor even wore their Cardinals softball uniforms proudly while eagerly waiting for a turn in the batting cages.

“A lot of girls at our school play softball,” Salazar said.

“But when I hit a baseball, it travels way further,” O’Connor added.

Friday morning kicked off with an opening ceremony that featured the Mile High Color Guard from Buckley Air Force Base. Rockies’ owner Dick Monfort also spoke, saying: “Two-and-a-half months ago is when we got the call to do this. … What they’ve done to make this an all-star city is just incredible.”

Families attending Play Ball Park should plan ahead — especially for parking (suggested lots are listed online at mlb.com/all-star/play-ball-park). The event is completely free except for the food court and shopping opportunities.

A limited number of entry passes will be made available each day. Major League Baseball said 100,000 tickets have been handed out.

“We want people to use those tickets,” said Jacqueline Secaira-Cotto, MLB’s director of special events. “If you don’t think someone is going to make it, call your neighbor or your best friend. Don’t miss out. … We’ve been cooped up for over a year. This is the first opportunity for fans to celebrate and be a part of the All-Star game experience.”


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