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Fanfest frenzy

| Friday, July 7, 2006

A five-day All-Star party kicked off this morning at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center with Pirates legend Bill Mazeroski cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

"I just want to welcome everyone," Mazeroski said. "Have a great time."

Immediately after the ribbon-cutting, the Pirate Parrot jumped into Mazeroski's arms, to the delight of the 300 people that turned out bright-and-early for the ultimate hardball, hard-core fan experience.

Zandra Specter, a Mt. Washington grandma, was dancing the calypso strains of the Ambridge Area Steel Drum band, which jammed to Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

Specter brought her grandson Anthony Rabinovitz, 13, one of several collectors who showed up early. He said he wanted to spend $70 today on baseball cards including a card of Andrew McCutchen, an up-and-coming Pirates minor leaguer.

Dave Ashby, 57, and Brian Ashby, 32, an uncle and nephew from Maryland, were the first in line. The pair of autograph collectors arrived at 5:50 a.m.

"FanFest is big with me," Dave Ashby said. He said he's been to eight All-Star Games and comes for the autographs. "It's like a baseball carnival. You don't usually have that much access to Hall-of-Famers."

Ashby estimated he has 3,000-4,000 signatures from actors and athletes, including his most-prized autograph: Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio.

A few fans said they wanted the Roberto Clemente McFarlane action figure, which was expected to be on sale at FanFest. Vince Yanni, 16, of Mt. Oliver, said McFarlane advertised the Roberto Clemente doll on its Web site.

Jim Cronin, 47, a lifelong Pirates fan, drove from Uniontown this morning. He said he was excited to see the Pirates exhibits at FanFest. "I want to see the history of the Pirates that I grew up with," Cronin said.

The first thing fans saw at the convention center was an entire wall of minor league hats, some action-shot oil paintings and a booth with baseball cards from all the Major League teams.

It looked like hardball heaven.

Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy told the crowd that 80,000 tickets had been sold for FanFest, far outpacing last year's FanFest when the All-Star Game was in Detroit.

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