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Sports

Fans flock to first day of FanFest

| Saturday, July 8, 2006

Eleven-year-old Brendan Donovan robbed Albert Pujols of a home run Friday afternoon, and he has a photo to prove it.

"I dug my spike into the wall, I spun around and I caught it, right on the end of the glove," the beaming Carrick boy said. "It would have to be the best catch I ever made."

Brendan's over-the-wall snare against the St. Louis Cardinals slugger -- albeit sprinkled with a bit of embellishment -- came during the opening day of the All-Star FanFest at David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Except for a couple of food vendors running low on pizza and pierogies, the opening day of the five-day FanFest went smoothly.

For a couple of moments, Brendan turned from all-star Little Leaguer to the game-saving outfielder in front of his father, Tim Donovan, and his friend Donna Spillane.

"I went up," Brendan said, "and caught the ball."

The interactive baseball theme park, which runs through Tuesday, gave baseball-hungry fans a chance to pitch to Barry Bonds, take swings against Roger Clemens, get free autographs from former major-league stars and browse Hall of Fame-quality memorabilia. The most imposing line stood outside the Major League Baseball Legends exhibit, where past and present baseball players signed free autographs.

Gary Basilone shuffled along in a queue that stretched halfway through the west wing of the convention center. The 53-year-old Ross Township man was waiting to add to his collection of 400-plus autographed baseballs. After 75 minutes, he was nearing the table that included Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro and Pirates farmhand Neil Walker.

"There's normally a two-hour wait," Basilone said. "I don't mind."

The lines were worth it, especially for Donovan. He posed with the ball in his glove near the 398-foot sign at the Game-Saving Catch exhibit and got the free photo to take home. All of the attractions are included in the price of admission ($20 for adults, $15 for children younger than 12 and senior citizens).

Joy James, 33, of Mars tried her pitching luck against a life-sized Barry Bonds video in the FanFest Bullpen exhibit. James struggled to find the plate, but enjoyed the experience.

"I threw a lot of balls," she said. "I hit him once."

The Video Batting Cages offered a chance to take five swings at a larger-than-life video of pitchers, ranging from Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood to Tim Wakefield and the Phillie Phanatic.

Zack Strutt, 13, of Baldwin tried his luck with Clemens, whose fastball reached about 70 mph.

"It was hard to see the ball," Strutt said. "I give myself a two (out of 10)."

Strutt attended the FanFest with Jim Stallings and his son, Nick, 13, of Bethel Park and Tyler Verere, 13, of Baldwin.

Jim Stallings also faced Clemens, and made contact on two of his swings against the Houston Astros' hurler.

"He was tough, except when he threw them over the plate. I hit those," Stallings said. "The low and away ones, I couldn't handle. They were moving."

Additional Information:

All-Star Game and FanFest 2006


Click here for complete All-Star Game coverage
Click here for complete FanFest coverage

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