Hopefully my last article made you want to attend this year’s Guards Fest. For me, it’s the best way to break up a long offseason and get the same feeling that walking through the Progressive Field’s gates gives me. If you weren’t able to attend, here are some highlights from this year’s event.
Player and Coach Accessibility
Guards Fest gives you plenty of opportunities to meet players unlike you’ll find while attending a game. It seemed that, this year, there were more of these opportunities than in years past. In my case, I had an autograph session add-on that I attended with my brother. We attended the first Session B and were able to meet Juan Brito, Angel Martínez, José Tena, and hitting coach Chris Valaika. After this, we had decided to add on one more session and got in line to do so.
While in line, a fan in front of us asked who was in our session. We told him and asked who was in his. Once he said my favorite player’s name, I knew which session we were going to attend next. So we bought two tickets for Session C and made a beeline for the ballroom it was taking place in. There, we met David Fry, Gavin Williams, and – my favorite player – Eli Morgan who had remembered me from the last time we met.
Outside of the autograph sessions, players could be found all over the convention center willing to take photos with fans and even play games with them. For example, Josh Naylor was at the Cleveland APL booth cuddling puppies and talking with a group of fans. Across the center, José Ramírez was shooting hoops with some fans at a game station. Further back, new manager Stephen Vogt was tossing balls to young kids in the batting cages. This kind of accessibility to the players and coaches is something we should be very thankful for as not all teams get to experience something like this.
Team Shop Sales
The sales in the makeshift team shop were simply too good to pass up this year. While a lot of seasonal clothing like spring jackets and t-shirts were on sale, so was merchandise from players no longer with the team. My brother picked up a Zach Plesac banner that hung outside Progressive Field last year for just $35 while I scooped up a baseball signed by Cal Quantrill for just $25 (originally marked at $125).
They also had a wide selection of game used merchandise both for sale and up for auction. Some of these items included a hat signed by Steven Kwan, a lineup card signed by Jason Kipnis, and lots of locker name plates from players and coaches alike. (Props to the guy that was stoked to have found a Boone Logan name plate.)
If you had taken the time to visit the booths set up by local businesses, you’ll be prepared for the upcoming season. From schedule posters to t-shirts and sunglasses, countless local businesses and team sponsors were giving away all kinds of Guardians merchandise. One of these booths was the Lake County Captains, the Guardians High-A affiliate. They had a QR code that, when scanned, sent you to a form to fill out with a chance to win tickets to their home opener. (Fingers crossed.) While you may want to skip these booths, they always have something fun to take home and are definitely worth checking out.
Lots to Do for Kids
While this part wasn’t necessarily for me (though I’d love to have been able to take the bounce house for a spin), it was great to see so many of the next generation of baseball fans enjoying what the convention had to offer. From the Little League players getting tips from Major League players and coaches to the toddlers singing and dancing with Slider and the Hot Dogs, there was something for kids of all ages to enjoy. Making the game accessible to kids in ways like this will keep these younger generations interested and help grow the sport for generations to come.
Networking and Socializing
One of my favorite parts of Guards Fest, or even just attending a game, is catching up with all of my favorite team members. No, not the players, but the people that make the games possible. Throughout my years as a baseball fan and an influencer in the sport, I’ve made many great connections that I cherish. From the first flip of a light switch to the last piece of garbage picked up, every single person that works at Progressive Field is necessary and important to putting on a game. Guards Fest is a great opportunity for me to chat with these people, thank them for what they do, and wish them a great upcoming season.
Not only is the convention a great way to talk to staff, it’s also a great way to meet like minded fans and make new friends. I saw so many people wearing the same jerseys, asking each other about their memorabilia collections, and telling stories about their favorite on-field moments. It reminded me why this sport is so special and just how much bigger it is than the plays on the field.
Guards Fest is by far my favorite offseason event, and this year was one of the best yet. Thank you to everyone involved in putting on this amazing event. Next stop: Opening Day.