For players, kids, a FanFest of their own
Rockford Peach remembers playing days as young fans frolic
NEW YORK -- As grandiose as the All-Star FanFest gets over the years, Shirley Burkovich appreciates that there is a constant.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League -- made more popular by the 1992 film, "A League of Their Own" -- continues to be included. Burkovich was one of three former AAGPL players who talked about their experiences at the Aquafina Diamond on Saturday morning at the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan.
"This is my fifth FanFest," said Burkovich, who played for the Springfield Sallies in 1950 and the Rockford Peaches in 1952. "This all means so much to us, for us to be able to tell our stories."
The players spoke of the significance of the league, which was started after World War II caused many baseball players to be drafted into the military.
"We were just playing to be playing," Burkovich said. "We didn't realize what we were doing. In fact, I didn't realize what were doing until the movie. We were just playing ball."
Added Delores "Dolly" Brumfield, who played for the South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets and Fort Wayne Daisies from 1947 to 1953: "Opportunities for girls were very, very limited. Because of this league, we got the opportunity to play."
Burkovich said she enjoyed speaking to younger children, an age group who had plenty to do at FanFest.
The first event at the Aquafina Diamond was a clinic on infield play led by Baltimore's Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and brother Billy Ripken, who also played second base for the Orioles.
A Little League team from Lodi, N.J., participated in an hour's worth of drills, working on aspects such as backhand scoops and underhanded flips to second base.
"All these little things we just did are the building blocks of playing baseball," Billy Ripken said.
In the stands, 11-year-old Harrison Sokoloff, an Orioles fan who was wearing second baseman Brian Robertson's jersey, watched and learned as the brothers Ripken imparted some of the knowledge that made them such an effective double-play combination.
"It's unbelievable," Harrison said. "I've never dreamed of learning from a Hall of Famer who's one of the best shortstops ever."
After the clinic at the miniature diamond was Round 2 of the State Farm Mascot Home Run Derby. Tampa Bay's Raymond defeated Houston's Junction Jack, Baltimore's Orioles Bird and Cincinnati's Gapper.
Shaena Morales, 10, helped Raymond distract the other mascots during their at-bats, dancing and acting as goofy as possible.
"And then we got to take a victory lap around the bases," Morales said. "So fun."
Morales came with a local Boys & Girls Club group. It was the second day of FanFest for Cary Feliciano, a program director and one of the group's chaperones. She said she'd likely familiarize herself with all 450,000 square feet of the event soon.
"Yesterday, I conquered this half," Felicano said, pointing toward one end of the facility. "We'll see about today."
Meanwhile, Jake Rosenberg, 8, and Zach Rosenberg, 5, posed in Yankees jerseys for photos to be placed on their own baseball cards.
"Mine's going on my desk," Jake said.
Their father, Jason, also had a baseball card made for himself, and was also impressed by the amount of memorabilia at FanFest.
"I don't think they're quite as into the historical stuff," Jason said. "But there's something for everybody, really."
Indeed, there are many choices to make inside FanFest and in the video batting cages, where Bill McGuinn of Valhalla, N.Y., opted to hit against the Mets' Pedro Martinez. As a Yankees fan, McGuinn badly wanted to get a hit off Martinez, formerly with Boston, but McGuinn went hitless as his wife, Lisa, captured it all on their video camera.
"That footage might end up missing like those Nixon tapes years ago," Bill McGuinn said.
The Watergate tapes?
"Exactly," he said.
Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.