LOS ANGELES — MLB is embracing its past, present and future for All-Star week.
The sport is celebrating the stars of today (and tomorrow) with a series of exhibition events at Dodger Stadium, but plenty of baseball’s history will be on display at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
MLB’s Play Ball Park is similar to the NFL Experience event that occupied much of the same real estate during Super Bowl week in February. Touted as the largest indoor and outdoor interactive baseball theme park in the world, it blends memorabilia exhibits, technology, music, food, shopping and fashion amid a variety of baseball and softball activities for fans. There are batting cages, pitching tunnels, an “Art of Baseball” cleat customization station and assorted hands-on, photo opp-friendly attractions, including a chance to take a picture with the World Series trophy.
Play Ball Park, where current and former players will be signing autographs and prizes will be given away daily, will be open to the public from Saturday through Tuesday, and MLB officials are expecting “50,000 to 75,000” visitors over the four days.
The Play Ball Park experience will showcase artifacts and photographs from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Jackie Robinson is honored with a statue of his jersey number “42” at the main entrance, paying tribute to the 75th anniversary of when the former UCLA multi-sport star broke baseball’s color barrier as a Brooklyn Dodger, becoming the first Black man to play in the major leagues.
Jacqueline Secaira-Cotto, a director of global events for MLB, believes it is important to also embrace the different cultures that have helped shape the sport in one of the country’s most diverse cities.
“We have a very strong relationship with the Negro League Museum,” Secaira-Cotto said of the privately funded museum in Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s an important footprint to us and we will have some great artifacts and graphics.
“It’s important to teach the history of the game and the history of our country. Sometimes it can be pretty sad but it’s still important for folks to know how we got here.”
Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, will record episodes of SiriusXM’s “Black Diamonds” podcast live from the convention center. Guests who are scheduled to appear include 1989 World Series MVP Dave Stewart and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, among others, on Sunday.
Notable former Dodgers Steve Garvey and Andre Either will join Lisa Fernandez, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and former UCLA softball player, for an appearance on Saturday when the exhibit opens its doors to the public. Fans will have an opportunity to meet the trio and take photographs in front of a 12-foot wide baseball, which is recorded as the world’s largest by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The three athletes will also sign the giant ball, adding their names to a surface that already contains visible signatures from notable players such as Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra.
Visitors will have the opportunity to collect autographs from other baseball and softball players at any one of the three booths spread through the exhibit.
“I get a lot of pleasure in seeing kids’ faces light up,” Secaira-Cotto said. “They come in and they’ve never seen anything like this. I love to see when they are meeting someone they’ve only ever dreamed of meeting.
“That’s my favorite part. It’s really something special to create these lifetime memories for families.”
Visitors are encouraged to register for the “Experience Pass” on MLB’s ballpark app to make a reservation and avoid a long wait for one of the sessions.
Reservations might also be necessary for the gaming activations available.
“We have a number of great activations this year,” said Peter Banks, MLB’s senior director of marketing for games and virtual reality.
One of the VR experiences will place visitors inside Dodger Stadium “to swing for the fences” as a Home Run Derby participant, using a specially built bat to hit as many virtual home runs as they can in 90 seconds.
“This is something we built internally at MLB,” Banks said. “It’s super fun and always one of the popular experiences here at Play Ball Park.”
Visitors can also play the “MLB: The Show 22” at the gaming zone. This year’s edition of the video game allows gamers to play against other players across all popular consoles and has the ability to have your in-game progression carry over from one platform to the next.
Artists, pin collectors and other vendors, including Topps (trading cards), will have booths to visit.
There is also a baseball-themed block party running simultaneously across the street at L.A. Live, which will include interactive games, free giveaways, music, a beer garden and more.
PLAY BALL PARK
When: Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Monday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: L.A. Convention Center
Tickets are available for purchase at https://www.mlb.com/all-star/play-ball-park/tickets.