By Bobby Tanzilo and Andy Tarnoff   Published Jul 10, 2002 at 5:33 AM

While lucky ticket holders in Milwaukee got ready for Tuesday's All Star Game at Miller Park, baseball fans from across town and around the country got their last chance to check out the All-Star FanFest.

The five-day event at the Midwest Express Center kicked off July 5 and wrapped up July 9. In its 12th season, the annual tradition transformed 300,000 square feet of convention space -- and nearly an entire block of North 4th Street -- into a living, breathing baseball experience.

Think of it as one big baseball-themed amusement park, fun for adults but even better for kids. Fans could play right along, attending clinics and standing in line for autographs from local and national stars.

Unlike the events at Miller Park, FanFest opened its doors to the public, charging $15 for adults and $12 for kids. And the public poured in Tuesday afternoon as groups of youngsters flooded through the doors.

For those who have never had the opportunity to visit baseball's Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, the event brought a little of the history right to Milwaukee.

This year, FanFest featured the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, including the Kenosha Comets and the Racine Belles. Several of the women, who were the inspiration for "A League of Their Own," were on hand for autograph signings. Robin Yount and Bud Selig also made an appearance Tuesday.

"John Hancock All-Star FanFest is the premier fan event of All-Star Week," said Morgan Littlefield, director of special events for Major League Baseball. "And for the first time in the Midwest, families can experience this bigger-than-life event that has been capturing the baseball imaginations of fans across the country."

What really captured fans' attention at the event was the memorabilia. An entire section of the mammoth third-floor exhibition area served as home to sports collectibles vendors from across the country.

And if you think that commemorative bobble-head doll you just bought on eBay is rapidly appreciating in value, you may want to think again: scores of vendors slashed their prices on the dolls by Tuesday afternoon. Said one vendor who was hawking bobble-heads for $5, "We're just trying to move the inventory we've got."

Fans lined up to call a game -- you could choose from about a half-dozen real situations -- like a pro announcer. They then could take home their work on a free videotape. As you might expect, the final out of game seven of the 1982 American League playoffs (Yount picks up Carew's grounder and tosses it to Coop to advance the Crew to the World Series!) was one of the most popular choices, according to a FanFest worker.


Others waited eagerly to take some cuts in the video batting cage only to be reminded that it's not too easy to hit a Ben Sheets fastball hurtling past at upwards of 80 mph. Pitching cages tested fans' speed and accuracy.

Younger fans especially appeared to enjoy stations that offered startlingly life-like baseball video games. Meanwhile, older fans drank up the history on the mezzanine level, which featured displays celebrating baseball in Milwaukee and beyond. Nearby sat the great old bullpen car from County Stadium … you remember, the one shaped like a baseball, capped with an old-style Brewers' hat. Hop in and get a picture!

From the artisans weaving stitching on baseballs and explaining that professional ball stitchers can sew up a pro ball in 10 minutes, to the kids learning how to steal home, the FanFest proved to be -- at the very least -- a slick and well-planned event. At best, fathers and sons led each other by the hand from attraction to the next. At times, it was tough to tell which one was more giddy to see another slice of America's pastime.