In just two weeks, St. Louis becomes the center of the sports universe with the arrival of the MLB All-Star Game. The July 14 event marks Major League Baseball’s 80th Midsummer Classic, and the fifth one held in St. Louis. But before the big game itself, the city will play host to a plethora of baseball-related activities to delight fans of every age.

    “All-Star Summer is really an opportunity for people to reach out and touch our game,” says Marla Miller, MLB’s senior VP for special events. Miller, who has overseen All-Star planning since 1998, says the league is pleased with the amount of support it has received here. “St. Louis is an outstanding baseball town. The Cardinals are very involved in the community, and the fan base is tremendous, not just in the city but also in the outlying areas,” she says. “Everyone from the governor to the mayor to the county executive has reached out and given us a high level of cooperation.”

    This year, All-Star Summer is focusing on charitable initiatives and community service, says Miller. “We’re not only going to have an incredible celebration of baseball and its history, but we’re also going beyond in terms of community outreach,” she says. Through MLB Charities and Cardinals Care, nearly $5 million will be donated to local and national charities, with some of the money raised during All-Star-related events held here.   

    The festivities officially begin Friday, July 10, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at America’s Center. The MLB All-Star FanFest will also be held at America’s Center, a five-day, interactive event expected to draw some 150,000 fans. “It’s 450,000 square feet of the ultimate baseball theme park, fans will eat it up,” says Ron Watermon, All-Star Game coordinator for the Cardinals. “Participants will get a chance to strike out Albert Pujols and view a special exhibit from the Baseball Hall of Fame, among other things.” FanFest tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and children ages 2 to 12.

    Another highlight of All-Star week is the free Saturday evening concert underneath the Arch featuring Sheryl Crow and benefiting Stand Up To Cancer. On Sunday, July 12, the first-ever MLB All-Star Charity 5k & Fun Run will take place. The race, featuring appearances by MLB legends and mascots, will begin at Busch Stadium and end at America’s Center. Net proceeds will be donated equally to three charities supporting cancer research and education: The Prostate Cancer Foundation, Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

    Just before the 80th All-Star Game on Tuesday, there will be a Red Carpet Parade through the streets of downtown. “It’s another free event for fans that will feature all the best players in baseball,” Watermon says. “It’s not every day you see Derek Jeter driving down Market Street!”

    Officials estimate more than 250,000 people will come through St. Louis over the course of the five-day event, including more than 2,200 members of the media from around the globe. And, says Watermon, that means it’s an opportunity for St. Louis to shine. “Many of the media will be visiting St. Louis for the very first time, you just can’t buy that kind of publicity.” In addition, he says, the game will be broadcast in 100 million households in 226 countries and 12 languages.

    Watermon says the Cardinals’ and St. Louis’ role as host is just like “opening your house for a party.” Behind-the-scenes preparations include getting the stadium ready and improving the Ballpark Village site, where a number of hospitality events and pregame parties will be taking place.

    Two main galas will be held under a massive tent erected at the Ballpark Village site. Busch Stadium executive chef Jeramie Mitchell of Delaware North Companies Sportservice will be overseeing the task of feeding thousands of hungry VIPs for each party. “We expect 4,000 people for the Home Run Derby gala on Monday, and another 4,000 for the pre-game party on Tuesday,” he says.

    Mitchell says his goal for Monday’s gala is to show off St. Louis. “We’ll have four main areas set up in the tent, each representing a St. Louis neighborhood,” he explains. “We’re trying to get everything from Missouri or within a 150-mile radius. All the produce will come from local farms, the beef will be Missouri grass-fed, and we’ll serve Missouri wines and cheeses.” Some of the food will come from St. Louis landmarks such as Volpi and DiGregorio’s on The Hill, G&W Sausage, Mom’s Originals, Hank’s Cheesecakes and McArthur’s Bakery.  Tuesday’s gathering will be more casual, according to Mitchell. “It will have a tailgate atmosphere, with ballpark fare like hotdogs and barbecue.”

    Inside the stadium, Mitchell says the buffets will be upscale as well. “Instead of displaying the food on a buffet, we’re having carts built to be used as live-action stations,” he says. “We’re also serving special fare like Copper River salmon and Chianti-braised short ribs with barley risotto.”

    When all is said and done, Mitchell expects to have fed approximately 150,000 people in the stadium and at the two galas. In addition to the 140-member kitchen staff available to him on a regular basis, Mitchell says he’ll get help from nine executive chefs from other MLB ballparks and volunteers from St Louis Chefs de Cuisine.

    Mitchell, who’s helmed culinary operations for two World Series and the grand opening of the new Busch Stadium, says he shares everyone’s excitement about the All-Star festivities. “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase the city, and to show the nation and the world what St. Louis is all about.”