Pretty much ever since cousins Jacob Cruz and Anthony Saucedo of Chandler were born, they have done everything baseball with their grandmofther, Diana Navarrette.
Saturday was a first for all of them - they were among thousands in attendance at the Major League Baseball's All-Star Fan Fest at the Phoenix Convention Center - 400,000 square feet of everything baseball - a heaven on Earth event for those who love baseball, and even families who want to do something fun with their kids.
Among the things to do at Fan Fest: makeshift baseball diamonds so kids can run the bases, a Topps baseball card booth exhibiting the latest in baseball card technology and simulated baseball games online by using baseball cards, and demonstrations on how a baseball is handmade at the Rawlings booth. Hundreds waited in long lines for nearly two hours just to get an autograph and maybe shake the hand of Hall of Famers such as Fergie Jenkins, Luis Aparicio and Rollie Fingers. Brothers Cameron Cordes, 19, and Christopher Cordes, 30, each waited in line to get a baseball card signed by Fingers.
There's also the staple booths for the old-school baseball fans - exhibits showing history of the Negro leagues before baseball was integrated, an exhibit dedicated to the history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed from 1943-54 and inspired the movie "A League of Their Own," and dozens of vendors with breathtaking memorabilia.
The Fan Fest continues through Sunday and concludes Tuesday, the day the 82nd Annual Major League All-Star Game will be played at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
"We've been planning this trip for the last two weeks," said Saucedo, 19, who said he and his cousin had to make sure they both weren't working and attend the event.
"This is everything we expected to see and more," Cruz, 17, said. "It's neat seeing all the old pictures and collectors' items. The trophy room was neat. They have the crystal baseball bat that will be presented to the All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player (the Ted Williams Trophy) on display."
While Cruz, Saucedo and Navarrette were inside the All-Star Clubhouse exhibit that was set up to look like a locker room with jerseys of Major League all-stars past and present hanging up in cubicles, they looked over their map.
"We're trying to find the Baseball Hall of Exhibit," said Navarette, who works as an usher at Chase Field during Diamondbacks games. "They have one of Babe Ruth's jerseys on display there."
Navarrette said she hopes to accompany all eight of her grandsons to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. - but as that remains on their to-do list, they were able to see some artifacts from baseball's greatest players who were All-Stars decades ago.
As Navarrette and her grandsons made their way to the next exhibit, she said, "You'd have no idea what you'd see unless you come here. I would have regretted it if I didn't come here."
And, you'd have no idea who you might see if you're a died-in-the wool baseball fan paying attention.
On Saturday, the day New York Yankees star Derek Jeter hit a home run for his 3,000th hit, Vera Clemente - the widow of Roberto Clemente, one of baseball greatest players who finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits - presented former Arizona Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez with a plaque inducting him into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. Robert Clemente, who played 18 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a 12-time All-Star, was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame last year.
On New Year's Eve 1972, Roberto Clemente perished in a plane crash in Nicaragua that was en route to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims. His remains were never recovered.
After Gonzalez, whose parents were born in Cuba, accepted the plaque before a large hometown crowd, Vera Clemente and her oldest of three sons, Luis Clemente, spoke a little on how they are fulfilling a promise that Roberto started a few years before his death: continuing to run the Roberto Clemente' Sports City, a nonprofit organization that helps support baseball and arts programs throughout Puerto Rico and the United States. More than 40 schools, and a number of hospitals, post offices and other facilities, bear the Hall of Famer's name.
"I promised myself to try hard to keep his name alive," said Vera Clemente, who lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and now has 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. "We wanted to give the children something positive. I feel very proud. We have been very successful. If I die tomorrow, I know I will have completed our mission."
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