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New PLAY BALL PARK unveiled in Cleveland

@castrovince
July 5, 2019

CLEVELAND – When the fuchsia-colored creature sailed high in the air over the baseball diamond, pumping his fist, PLAY BALL PARK was officially open for business. Slider the Mascot’s ceremonial first zip-line across a blue Northeast Ohio sky Friday morning was the beginning of a new take on fan engagement

CLEVELAND – When the fuchsia-colored creature sailed high in the air over the baseball diamond, pumping his fist, PLAY BALL PARK was officially open for business.

Slider the Mascot’s ceremonial first zip-line across a blue Northeast Ohio sky Friday morning was the beginning of a new take on fan engagement in the lead-up to the 90th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. Once Slider -- who overcame a reported fear of heights to literally rise to the occasion -- made it official, crowds poured into the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland and onto Malls B and C to experience the rebranded and reimagined take on the event formerly known as MLB FanFest.

All-Star Game presented by Mastercard: Tuesday July 9, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

“This is beautiful,” said former Indians All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga, who was on hand for an opening ceremony that included local youth from the Cleveland Baseball Federation’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. “What Major League Baseball is doing here is special.”

Here, with more than 40 attractions spanning more than 600,000 square feet, fans can celebrate the game, learn about the game and even participate in the game.

“It’s the one-stop shop to be fulfilled,” said Natasha Watley, a former member of the USA Softball Women’s National Team, who also took part. “If you’re adult, you’re going to walk away with smiles. If you’re a kid, you’re walking away with smiles. Everybody’s running around and wants to play. It really connects adults, youth and the city.”

The 2019 installment of PLAY BALL PARK marks the first time this signature piece of All-Star Week is situated both indoors and outdoors.

“Once we saw all this cool, green space [outside the Convention Center], it got the creative juices flowing,” said Jacqueline Secaira-Cotto, MLB’s director of special events. “If we’re playing the game outdoors, we should be outdoors. After all those years indoors, being outdoors just feels so good.”

The outdoor elements include batting and pitching cages, a Home Run Derby station, and a field available for youth league teams to play and participate in clinics. Drills will be led by former All-Stars and coaches.

The above is an extension of MLB’s broader efforts, through the Play Ball program, to grow the game at the youth level.

“By the end of the day, the end of their participation, they’re excited,” said David James, MLB’s vice president of baseball and softball development. “And if they’re not playing in a youth baseball or softball league, coming out of this, they go, ‘Mom, Dad, I want to play!’”

The indoor portion of PLAY BALL PARK has assorted elements that appeal to fans of all ages, including an additional practice field. Fans can even get their exit velocities and launch angles analyzed with Blast Motion technology. A taste of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is available, with a traveling exhibit of artifacts and exhibits (think of it as a condensed Cooperstown). There are also displays honoring the legacy of Latino players, women in baseball and the Negro Leagues. Plus, fans can take home their own mementos thanks to three autograph stages featuring a regular rotation of baseball dignitaries.

Sprinkled amid all of this are live music, food trucks, contests, mascots, games, a custom cleat display and even a 12-foot picture backdrop in the form of the world’s largest baseball.

Admission is required for the indoor experience, but the outdoor elements are free, except for a zip-lining activity that requires an extra cost. PLAY BALL PARK is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. The outdoor portion closes early at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday to clear the area for the concerts headlined by Twenty One Pilots and The Killers.

“This setup is unbelievable,” Baerga said. “If I’m a parent and I’m a kid, I say to my parents, 'Bring me!'”

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.