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11/30/11 10:30 AM EST

Redsfest to be even more fan friendly this year

Walkways expanded; food areas, TVs to watch sports added

CINCINNATI -- The growing popularity of Redsfest in recent years has been visible in the congestion of the foot traffic on the convention floor of the Duke Energy Center. People who wanted to see a particular attraction weren't getting there very fast.

As the finishing touches are being made this week for the 2011 edition of Redsfest, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, organizers hope that fans will have an easier time moving around the more than 200,000 square feet of activities because of some changes. The widths of two walkways were expanded to 18 feet.

"We've doubled the width of the main walkways, which we think will make a huge difference on the two sides," said Reds senior vice president of business operations Karen Forgus.

Last year's Redsfest drew a record crowd of 21,781 fans over its two days, which included single-day attendance records for the event on both the Friday and Saturday sessions. An unintended consequence of the popularity was people were often crammed together as they tried to get from one exhibit to another.

Also alleviating congestion will be the move of some autograph stations off the main floor and onto the second floor. While all autographs are free of charge, the upstairs sessions will be for those fans that have already pre-registered.

Not only should people have an easier time walking, they can find more opportunities to sit down and eat as well. There will be more food choices and more food area seating. There will also be numerous televisions that show sports, namely Saturday's University of Cincinnati college football game vs. Connecticut.

"One thing we've seen and heard back from people is if they come, they want to stay longer," Forgus said. "We wanted to try and make it a little more welcoming. We wanted to keep the pace lively, but still let them know they are welcome to plant themselves."

Redsfest runs from from 4-10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, and from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. on Saturday. One-day tickets are $17 for adults and $7 for kids 12 and younger. Two-day tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for kids. Children under 3 are admitted for free. All proceeds from the event benefit the outreach programs of the Reds Community Fund.

With paid admission, all fans will receive one free view level ticket to any Monday-Wednesday game in April 2012 at Great American Ball Park, which includes a series vs. the World Series champion Cardinals. The first 10,000 fans each day will receive a free drawstring backpack and Reds knit gloves.

More than 70 current and former Reds players and coaches are expected to attend, including players Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Scott Rolen, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Yonder Alonso, manager Dusty Baker and many more.

Most of the familiar features of Redsfest will be held, namely autograph and photo stations, kids activity areas and kids-only press conferences, "Hot Stove" talks with management, a Reds Hall of Fame exhibit and the annual celebrity poker tournament on Saturday.

"We tried not to mess with it too much, because we get feedback that this is what people like," Forgus said of the event's familiarity. "We've made a concerted effort to use the main stage better to get more players up there for questions and answers and personality-driven get-to-know-you stuff. I think it will be noticed. Some player will always be talking."

Some new features will include a game-used memorabilia auction in the team shop and a two-day competition of a new variety-show contest, "Cincinnati's Got Talent." Last weekend, 72 acts performed at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the competition was whittled down to 10 groups. That will be halved to five acts for the Saturday finals that will be judged by Reds players Arroyo, Mike Leake and Todd Frazier.

Redsfest will also mark the official return of former mascot Mr. Red, who was retired a couple of years ago. Mr. Red's return will give the team a league-leading four full-time mascots, as he will join the mustached Mr. Redlegs, Gapper and Rosie Red. The new Mr. Red will be unveiled on Friday.

"We redid the costume. We kind of cleaned it up and modernized him," Forgus said. "We're going to do live mascot races next year. It won't be every game. We haven't landed on the exact pattern, but it will be at least once or twice a homestand."

Specific times for player appearances will be announced 30 minutes prior to the autograph and photo sessions on the info screens on the Redsfest floor and on the Reds' official Twitter page at twitter.com/reds.

Tickets for 2011 Redsfest can be purchased at reds.com, by phone at 513-381-REDS or at the Great American Ball Park box office and Ticketmaster outlets.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.