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01/27/07 8:11 PM ET

Padres' FriarFest a real family affair

Plenty of fun for parents and kids alike as over 5,500 attend

SAN DIEGO -- With Opening Day six weeks off, PETCO Park was buzzing with energy and excitement on Saturday as the Padres staged the first half of their annual FriarFest.

More than 5,500 fans attended the first day of festivities, and at least that many are expected at the event, which resumes on Sunday at 11 a.m. PT, closing at about 3 p.m.

What, exactly, is a FriarFest?

It's Kevin and Jennifer De los Reyes of Temecula bundling Kayla Mae, 9 1/2 months, for the one-hour drive south to experience her first taste of life in the great ballpark by the Pacific with people who share her parents' love of the game.

Kevin knows baby Kayla won't remember much about this afternoon in the sun, at the ballpark, but Mom and Dad will tell her all about it when she's older and they make a return trip.

FriarFest is Jazmine Lealie, 4, tugging at her father, Marc, all the way into PETCO Park, with two-year-old brother Quincy bouncing along in stride, eyes bright and alive.

"Man, she loves this place," Marc Lealie, from Spring Valley and formerly of Chicago, said. "I mean, Jazmine really loves PETCO Park, everything about it. These two are Junior Padres now. They come to games every Sunday. Her favorite player is Mike Cameron."

FriarFest is Carlos Mendez Jr. and Charles III and Carlos' fiancé, Veronica, hitting the autograph tables and looking for memorabilia to add to their growing home collection featuring Khalil Greene, Brian Giles and the rest of the cast.

"I came out here in '92 in the Navy," Carlos Mendez says, "and I've been a Padres fan ever since. It's great to come out here and see the players, start getting excited about another season."

FriarFest is Hayley Jackson, 14, of El Cajon, stepping forward and belting out a professional rendition of "Life's Better with Baseball at Channel 4 San Diego," in one of 30 interactive booths. She is given a free T-shirt for her efforts -- along with the opportunity to win a team jacket, autographed baseball and four game tickets if she's the contest winner.

"I come to games with my mom, Debra," a beaming Hayley says, clutching her T-shirt. "My favorite player? Brian Giles. And now we've got his brother, Marcus, too."

FriarFest is little girls in tiny Khalil Greene jerseys, faces painted, watching in fascination as two mascots -- Thunder of Lake Elsinore Storm celebrity and Frankenfriar, a towering foe -- go at each other in a corridor.

FriarFest is an old pitcher with a wonderful past -- Randy Jones -- walking alongside a young pitcher hoping to make good things happen -- Tim Stauffer -- on their way to an autograph-signing session.

FriarFest is club CEO Sandy Alderson and GM Kevin Towers making the rounds, letting fans know how enthused they are about the 2007 campaign and the promise their team holds.

And FriarFest, finally, is families -- moms and sons, fathers and daughters -- moving hand in hand through the Padres' clubhouse, then into the dugout and onto the field. They're able to get a sense of what it's like to take a lead off first base, to peer out toward the deepest reaches of right-center, where Cameron and Brian Giles pursue long drives.

"My son was in awe, being out on the field," said Carlos Mendez Jr. "We wouldn't miss this."

FriarFest, in the final analysis, is a veritable lovefest for fans of San Diego's two-time defending National League West champions.

"I was sad we lost some of our players," said Mendez, referring to the likes of Dave Roberts, Josh Barfield, Mike Piazza, Woody Williams and Ben Johnson, "but I trust the organization.

"We've won two division titles in a row -- obviously, they're making the right decisions. We're going for a three-peat now. It's going to be another exciting season. We can't wait."

Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was a featured attraction on Saturday, and Marcus Giles will be on hand Sunday along with big brother Brian.

Early birds on Day 2 of the FriarFest can meet new manager Bud Black, who is scheduled to sign autographs in Section 113 with Todd Walker as Brian Giles and hitting coach Merv Rettenmund deliver signatures in Section 110.

Other Padres personnel making appearances include a pair of Camerons -- Mike, the center fielder, and Kevin, the new relief pitcher -- along with Chris Young, Josh Bard, Rob Bowen, Heath Bell, Scott Strickland, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Justin Hampson, Leo Rosales, Mike Adams, Ryan Ketchner, Stauffer, Royce Ring, Paul McAnulty and Sean Thompson.

Coaches Darren Balsley, Glenn Hoffman, Darrel Akerfelds, Craig Colbert and Bobby Meacham are on hand, as well as Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman and names from the past such as Roger Craig, Ruppert Jones, Gene Locklear, Norm Sherry and Broderick Perkins.

The downtown San Diego lovefest is on.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.