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02/05/11 8:40 PM EST
Huge crowd greets champs at Giants FanFest
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The World Series returned Saturday to AT&T Park, without a ballgame but with the atmosphere. That was the scene at the Giants' annual FanFest, where a record crowd estimated at more than 40,000 stormed the ballpark to re-establish contact with their World Series-winning heroes. Predictably, fans shrieked over the mere sight of two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. But they reacted the same way for Brian Wilson, Buster Posey, Andres Torres and nearly 35 other Giants players, coaches and broadcasters who were no longer just participants. They were celebrities. "Three years ago, the excitement over Lincecum was like the Beatles," said Staci Slaughter, the Giants' senior vice president of communications. "Every player was like a Beatle today." FanFest drew roughly 20,000 enthusiasts in recent years. But the combination of the sunny, warm day, the free admission and the charisma of baseball's champions created quite a stir at the corner of Third and King streets. "We thought we might get upwards of 40,000. I don't think we really planned for that," Slaughter admitted. Though season-ticket holders gained early access to the festivities, the lines at the gates were so long that many of those privileged fans waited more than an hour to enter the park. "I do think people were a little surprised that there were big, huge, long lines," season-ticket holder Roxanne Reza said. Giants management closed the gates for nearly an hour to allow the crowd already inside to disperse. The gates reopened at approximately 12:30 for fans still awaiting entry. Once inside, fans stood as much as three hours in line at some autograph-signing stations. But the Giants faithful remained patient. "The lines were horrible, but they were well worth it," longtime Giants fan Annabella Pidlaoan said. One of the featured attractions was a question-and-answer session featuring Lincecum, Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez. The fans' adoring screams as Wilson approached the stage prompted right-hander Matt Cain, who was participating on the previous Q&A panel, to say, "I think the President just walked in." After Cain's group left, Lincecum and Sanchez waited for Wilson to reach the stage, so they conducted an impromptu autograph session. This tested the crowd-control skills of the four policemen on hand. Each Giant proved to be more than crowd-pleasing once the session started. Playing off the "Fear the Beard" slogan that has been associated locally with Wilson since late last season, Lincecum, sporting his wispy mustache and soul patch, suggested that fans can popularize a mantra of "Fear the Fu," as in Fu Manchu. After watching Wilson's recent appearance on George Lopez's show, in which the reliever wore a sea captain's outfit and colored his beard gray, Sanchez, who appeared on the program earlier in the offseason, told fans that he sent the host a text message. "What do you think of Wilson now?" Sanchez asked Lopez. Came the response, "I love that guy." How about guest-hosting "Saturday Night Live"? "I don't think they have a spot for me," Wilson told fans. "I'd love to do it and the reason I'd love to do it is you guys." That elicited plenty of cheering, and each Giant seemed eager to inspire more. Asked to discuss who or what are their inspirations, Wilson said "millions" but cited three: "I play for my Maker; I play for my father -- he's not here right now but he's watching -- and I play for all you guys." Regarding the responsibility of being a role model, Lincecum didn't skirt the subject of his 2009 arrest for marijuana possession. "Obviously I had a run-in in the past," he said, "but when you go out there it's about your work ethic." Sanchez displayed his characteristic intensity when players were asked which opponents they relish defeating the most. While the Dodgers, Phillies and Padres were most frequently mentioned, Sanchez noted, "I hate losing more than I like winning." Still the fans' darling, Lincecum remained the subject of endless fascination. He talked about obtaining a second dog, a half-British bulldog, half-pug puppy named Kayo (the name reflects his family's ardor for boxing). "He's pretty cute," Lincecum said. Responding to a question, Lincecum acknowledged that he had indeed absorbed the reality of winning the World Series, particularly after watching a replay of the final three innings of Game 5. He said that the hair on his arms stood straight up -- "What little hair I have," he said -- and concluded that it was "one of those tearjerker moments." Caught in a rare moment of solitude, Lincecum said that he welcomed the fans' enthusiasm, regardless of how extreme it might have seemed. "I saw it as more of a positive thing," he said. "You see the appreciation and you see the heartfelt questions. We gave them heartfelt answers."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.