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Redsfest takes fan participation to the next level

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have noticed that the attendance for their annual two-day Redsfest has gotten seemingly bigger each year. They've also learned that if they keep expanding convention center space, they will have no shortage of people and events to fill it.

For example, the 2012 edition of Redsfest, which took place Friday and Saturday at the Duke Energy Center featured a new third-floor section for the kids, called the Fun Zone.

Young Reds fans could step into a batting cage, throw pitches and even sit inside a round metal cage and become a huge bowling ball. And for the littlest Reds fans, there were magic shows, kids singing, bounce houses and more.

"We've very happy. We were renting the whole building and held the poker every year on that third floor," said Karen Forgus, the Reds' senior vice president of business operations. "So we never really did anything else with all of that space up there. Since 2006, when the team was bought, we've watched the crowd not only grow, but the interest in Reds baseball has grown.

"We have different types of people. In the beginning, it was the true autograph-seeker type of person and avid fans. It's since broadened to a destination, not only for avid and casual fans, but families."

Reds players, like J.J. Hoover, did a storytime session, reading a baseball-themed book to dozens of kids, as mascots Gapper and Mr. Redlegs sat with them. After the reading, the mascots posed for pictures and Mr. Redlegs even did some dancing with four-year-old Vance Hyre of Milford, Ohio. There was also a video arcade, basketball hoop, putting green and place for the kids to run themselves ragged at the steal home challenge.

But moving the kids upstairs also left plenty of extra room for the more diehard and adult fans on the main floor. The entire event featured about 250,000 square feet of space.

"This is my fifth one, so I'm kind of a veteran when talking about Redsfest," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said. "As a team, it keeps getting better. The fan base, they keep coming out. From what I can tell this year, it's crazier this year than it's been in the past. We've been playing so well and they're so excited about the team, and they should be. It's been pretty fun for us."

Much of the current roster of Reds players and coaches attended during the weekend, including Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Phillips, Bronson Arroyo, Aroldis Chapman, Ryan Hanigan and manager Dusty Baker. Alumni players included Eric Davis, Dave Parker, Ron Oester, Dmitri Young and Ted Power. There were also about a dozen Minor League prospects, including Billy Hamilton, Ryan LaMarre and Robert Stephenson.

Throughout the two days, there were more than 100 autograph and photo sessions.

The main stage also featured the annual Hot Stove question and answer session with general manager Walt Jocketty and Baker. There were also "kids-only press conferences," with players and other question and answer sessions with the broadcast crew that included icon Marty Brennaman, Jeff Brantley, Chris Welsh and Jim Kelch.

Other events on the main stage included Reds' twists on familiar game shows like "Name that Tune," with Latos, Logan Ondrusek, Nick Masset and Tony Cingrani. There was also a play on "Family Feud," and an appearance from a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Arroyo capped Saturday's main stage action by performing a concert with his band.

"I'm most pleased with the main stage," Forgus said. "The essence of Redsfest is the chance for our fans and anybody to see the players in their casual clothes and not tied to the game itself. They get to see them as a person and to connect with them. We've given people a huge area where they can sit and take a load off, but also give them a lot of different entertainment."

On other spots around the floor was a celebrity home run derby, a Reds Hall of Fame display and, in a turn towards the 21st century, a Reds Connect room that featured players taking to Twitter and answering questions. Phillips, Latos and Brennaman were among those that participated in sessions with the fans as Better Off Red blogger Jamie Ramsey emceed.

"I like the interaction, I really do," reliever Sam LeCure said of the general spirit of Redsfest. "It is nice to see the excitement of the fans and to see all your teammates again. The sting is kind of out of last year a little bit. There are a lot of good hugs and laughs and stuff like that. Then you're re-energized for those last workouts leading into Spring Training. It's building that excitement and anticipation."

Next year, the Reds might even expand into more spots of the convention center, as there were several smaller rooms that were not used. Taking a nod from Disney, the club is thinking about doing mascot lunches and a Santa brunch with the kids.

"If we earn their time, we want to make sure they have a really good experience, because our whole goal is to hook people for life," Forgus said.

Cincinnati Reds, Bronson Arroyo, Zack Cozart, Johnny Cueto, Ryan Hanigan, J.J. Hoover, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto