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Fun with family and Hall of Famer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 13, 2009 - The Reids did FanFest on Sunday, and we did it with style. Mom went shopping, leaving Bryson, Blaine and me to revel in a fantasy world of baseball cloistered in America’s Center.

We pitched, we batted, we fielded grounders and we caught fly balls.

We had baseball cards made with our own photos and stats, played video game baseball and learned how much my Ted Williams’ autographed baseball is worth.

We gazed at the postseason trophies awarded by Major League Baseball, checked out cool stuff like uniforms of Women Professional Baseball teams, the catcher’s mask Yadier Molina wore the night the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 National League Championship Series and collected enough free stuff to pack a small suitcase.

FanFest runs through 6 p.m. Tuesday and the Reids recommend it. It’s just plain fun. Everyone is a child there because the entire event is based on a game we almost all played as kids.

That’s the beauty of baseball. All the smiling faces, all the different ages, a healthy smattering of diversity and Hall of Fame players around every corner are proof that baseball will live past the steroid controversy, runaway greed and the sagging economy. Baseball is a lot of things bad these days, but it remains enjoyable. Not just the game, the things that surround it.

That’s what will ultimately save it from itself. 

My daughters are 8 and 10, respectively, and I’m 48. But we were our own “Our Gang” buddies on Sunday morning.

We spent three hours at America’s Center before we had to head home. A downpour hit as we drove west on I-44 and the girls were already into their backpacks and giveaway items. Usually when they giggle too much it gets on my nerves. Not Sunday. They were baseball kids. Then I got to be a baseball kid again in the afternoon.

I headed back to FanFest for a three-hour gig with 101 ESPN and began the show sitting next to Gaylord Perry. The Hall of Famer was signing autographs at our table and could hear Brian Stull and me as we named our all-time All-Star teams.

Next thing we know, Perry is shouting whether or not he agrees with us. He’s in his 70s and he was talking with us like we were little boys on the playground. He had no microphone, but he was part of the show.

Perry won 303 games, mostly with the San Francisco Giants and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. Even with more than 300 wins, his biggest claim to fame might be the fact that he was known to “doctor” the baseball with either saliva, Vaseline, sandpaper or finger nail file.

But he just laughs and says, “I just wanted them to believe I was cheating.”

And he says whatever he did “it was nothing like what they were doing,” referring to steroid use. Rather than get upset when some compare him to steroid cheats, he flashes a wry smile and deflects all criticism.

While I have an authentic Cardinals’ jersey with the No. 1, it does not say “Smith” on the back. It carries my own last name. And that’s what Perry called me.

“I want to hear who your starting outfield is, Reid,” he said.

I laughed and said, “One of your former teammates is on it.”

That would be Willie Mays. 

Perry said Mays was his centerfielder for 10 years and I shot back, “That’s why you’re in the Hall of Fame.” The crafty veteran grinned and said, “You got that right.”

It’s times like these as a sports media member that it really is tough to say you’re “working.”

And as thousands of baseball fans milled around FanFest it was tough to be upset with the game.

By the time Friday rolls around, we’ll have some reason to be hacked off at baseball again.

Commissioner Bud Selig will say or do something idiotic and/or some tidbit of bad news will have spoiled the great Karma.

But it doesn’t matter. Because the Reids, Gaylord Perry and 2 million other baseball kids had a great time being a part of the game this weekend. That’s what baseball is really all about and why it still deserves to be called America’s Pastime.

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.