Opat, Carew address crowd at FanFest opening
Hennepin County commissioner, Twins legend reflect on how All-Star Game has evolved
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Opat held up a baseball cap while addressing the crowd at Friday morning's T-Mobile All-Star FanFest Opening Ceremony at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The hat was from the 1985 All-Star Game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Opat, the current commissioner of Hennepin County who helped build Target Field, worked in the concession stands during that game 29 years ago.
"The game started, the game ended, and that was it for the All-Star Game," Opat said.
These days, things are a lot different. FanFest -- a five-day baseball-palooza that runs until the game on Tuesday -- is one of the many events fans have already enjoyed in the Twin Cities area.
The gates opened to the delight of hundreds of fans already in attendance at 8:45 a.m. CT on Friday.
When Opat finished speaking, Twins legend Rod Carew took the microphone to address the crowd. The 18-time All-Star and Hall of Famer is in an ambassador role for the second time -- he also helped out when Anaheim hosted the All-Star Game in 2010.
"It's always good to come back home, because I still consider Minnesota my home," Carew said. "Every time I come back, I enjoy myself. While you're here, enjoy yourselves, because this is all about family, the kids and the young players of tomorrow."
All hail the 'Pin Lady'
MINNEAPOLIS -- Donna Arnott does not want you to call her by her given name.
"Nobody knows that name," she said. "They call me the 'Pin Lady.'"
Arnott set up shop at the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest on Friday morning with more than 10,000 pins in tow. All 30 Major League teams and several other sports can be found in her stash, and she also sells lanyards, programs, patches and scorecards, among other things.
A native of the Los Angeles area, Arnott drove her Ford Edge all the way from a show in San Francisco last weekend to reach Minneapolis ("four days and one left turn," she said) in time for FanFest, which she has appeared at during all 24 years of its existence.
Arnott got her start in the pin business as a show promoter for the Pasadena Convention Center several decades ago, and then she began selling and trading pins at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
When the Olympics were over, a friend suggested Arnott get into the baseball business.
"So I got an application, got a booth and never looked back," Arnott said.
Arnott turned the pin business into a full-time gig after retiring "sometime in the '90s," and she has a mammoth collection of items back home that wouldn't fit in the car.
"I've bought out manufacturers," Arnott said. "I've bought out closeouts. I buy online a lot. If I'm going to Minneapolis, I'll make sure I've got a lot of stuff for the Twins."
Arnott is especially interested in media pins -- on Friday, she swapped a gold Twins pin for a special FanFest pin that she somehow hadn't gotten her hands on yet. To explain her eccentricity, she told the story of her retirement party two decades ago.
"Everybody was boo-hoo-hoo," Arnott said. "Not me. I was booked for the next show."
Carew questions today's generation of players
MINNEAPOLIS -- A question-and-answer session at the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest Clubhouse became controversial when a fan asked Tony Oliva and Rod Carew how this year's All-Stars compare to the players from the 1965 game held in Minnesota.
"There are a lot of good players today," Carew said. "But in '65, there were great players. There's a difference between good and great players."
Carew said one of the primary differences between then and now is how players and teams deal with injuries.
"You had to play hurt," Carew said. "And we played hurt. I'll give you an example: Playing a game in Washington one time, and Tony went up against the fence to catch a fly ball. One of his legs got caught in the fence. He had a gash over his eye. One of his eyes was half-closed. He continued to play in the game. The next day, we went to Chicago, and he could hardly see out of that eye, but he went out and played and got three hits.
"Like Tony says, they're babying players a lot more today. If a guy gets a broken thumbnail, he's going to sit on the bench."
The Hall of Famer said that sports agents and looser Spring Training conditioning programs are two reasons that players sit out more these days.
The biggest change, though, has been expansion, which has created hundreds more roster spots over the years.
"Before, when you had to get to the big leagues, you had to be something special," Carew said. "Even though I went through the process of learning at the Major League level, I think they're rushing kids through too fast. They're brought up without an understanding of how to play the game.
"I think the players today are still learning. Those guys [in 1965] were already established, and they'd played so many years. I don't care what they say about players today -- no comparison with players when I played."
Custom trading cards are all the rage
MINNEAPOLIS -- Alexi Johnson put on the jersey of his favorite team -- the Cardinals -- and smiled for a photo.
A few minutes later, he had his own Topps baseball card.
"It's every kid's dream to get their face on a baseball card," said Tim Johnson, Alexi's dad.
The Johnsons currently live in Minnesota, but they spent five years in St. Louis during one of the greatest Major League seasons ever.
"We were there during the McGwire-Sosa years," Johnson said. "It was an insane time."
Now, they have a 2 1/2-by-3 1/2 inch baseball memory to keep forever. The create-your-own-trading-card exhibit is part of Kellogg's Family Field, and it will be available until the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest concludes on Tuesday.