PHOENIX — Sly James stood in a large convention center, a few feet away from an exhibit chronicling the history of baseball's Negro Leagues.
All around Kansas City's first-term mayor were signs of baseball and what's coming to town next summer.
Only one thing was missing inside the All-Star FanFest at the Phoenix Convention Center.
"Unfortunately," said James. "It doesn't say anything about Kansas City in here."
That will change next July, when Major League Baseball's All-Star Game comes to Kansas City for the first time in nearly four decades.
This week in downtown Phoenix, the reminders of tonight's All-Star Game are nearly as ever-present as the Arizona heat. Downtown hotels are filled almost to capacity; restaurants and bars surrounding Chase Field are draped in temporary signage; and the five-day FanFest, with exhibits, memorabilia and appearances by players past and present, has taken over this sprawling city block just down the street from Chase Field.
If you squint hard enough, it's not hard to imagine Kansas City on this stage one year from now.
Baseball fans will descend on the Kansas City Convention Center at Bartle Hall for the five-day FanFest, and signage will take over restaurants and bars on the Plaza. Locals and out-of-towners in baseball jerseys will pile into Kauffman Stadium for the Home Run Derby on Monday night, and maybe spend some time in the large-scale VIP tents the Royals plan to construct in the parking lot at the Truman Sports Complex.
This is what the scene will look like during the first national sporting event in Kansas City since the 1988 Final Four.
Welcome to five days in the limelight for the Royals, the city and its residents — or what James referred to as "international exposure that we couldn't buy if we wanted to."
The official countdown begins Aug. 2, when the Royals unveil the logo for the 2012 All-Star Game. But the unofficial countdown begins tonight, when the final out is recorded in Phoenix and Kansas City goes on the clock.
Kevin Uhlich, the Royals' senior vice president of business operations, said Major League Baseball officials will arrive in Kansas City for meetings later this summer, and specific plans will begin to take shape from there.
The framework is already in place. Nearly 3,000 hotel rooms have been blocked off, and plans for the aforementioned VIP tent compound are in the works.
So too is the work of quelling transportation concerns, selling tickets and making sure that Kansas City comes across in a positive light.
"Kansas City has had its NCAAs, and it has had its football playoffs and baseball playoffs and World Series," Uhlich said. "But I don't think there's any event that has ever been seen by 33 million people worldwide. This is a chance for this city to really shine."
Major League Baseball has estimated that the direct economic impact of three days of festivities and five days of FanFest in Phoenix will be between $60 million and $70 million. Commissioner Bud Selig offered up a nearly equivalent number when he awarded the 2012 All-Star Game to Kansas City last year.
Independent studies on the subject have disputed those figures, arguing that it's decidedly lower. Critics say much of that amount will be spent by local residents who would've spent money elsewhere in the city during the same time period. In addition, other events may be crowded out while the All-Star Game dominates the city.
But Hall says the intangible benefits can't be denied.
"It's a good time for teams like ours in smaller markets to put our brands and put our facilities and franchises on the international stage," Hall said. "It's a time to show your ballpark off to those that normally wouldn't see it or wouldn't have a desire to travel to it."
There are concerns, too.
For months, the Diamondbacks had their own list of potential nightmares. Hall worried that ticket sales would be low and that the July heat and ongoing protests over Arizona's immigration policy could steal headlines from the game.
Listen to Royals officials and their chief concern crystallizes just as quickly.
"We're going to have an issue with transportation," Cook said.
Next year's FanFest will be downtown. The Home Run Derby and the actual game will be at Kauffman Stadium. And many fans wills stay on the Plaza. Add in potential activities at the Negro Leagues museum near 18th and Vine streets, and the mileage starts to add up.
"The transportation system is going to be pretty beefed up," Uhlich said.
The Royals plan to develop a temporary shuttle system to move fans from venue to venue. Assuming it operates seamlessly, James sees a potential positive here.
"We're going to be able to show off the entire city," James said, "which I think is a huge advantage for us. Because once people see the city, they fall in love with it."