I still kick myself when I think back to my youth in San Bernardino, CA, when a rookie phenom named Ken Griffey, Jr. would routinely stop and sign autographs after games when he began his career with the San Bernardino Spirit of the Class A California League.
I’ve tried to make up for lost time, and actually pulled several signing coups during my three years living in Orlando, FL. Now, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO is my haven.
I actually had the idea of taking one of those large Donruss baseball cards they produced in the 1980s to a Spring Training game in St. Petersburg, FL when the Baltimore Orioles were playing the St. Louis Cardinals.
The player was Cal Ripken Jr., and yes, I managed to secure his autograph before the game. That is probably my favorite autographed card.
I’ve since branched out to having memorabilia signed. When I go watch the Royals play, I often carry a small backpack full of items – anything baseball-related that could hold a signature. I’ve carried mini helmets, mini bats, mini bases, baseballs and ice cream sundae helmets, among other items. They come in useful when you don’t have a card of a particular player.
Cussing out a player who refuses to sign, while
tempting, isn’t going to do anyone any good.
In a previous column, I mentioned what a class act Royals first baseman Billy Butler is. Mark Teahen, now with the Chicago White Sox, was another player who would sign for everyone, even posing for pictures for fans, young and old alike.
I’ve picked up a few autographs on eBay, but there’s not as much fun in that. Most of the signatures I’ve bought online were from insert cards that were part of an autographed subset. It’s difficult to trust anyone in today’s society when buying an autographed item. Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware).
I have several Johnny Damon autographs. I somehow got his parents’ home address when he was still young and sent him about a dozen cards, along with enough postage that it wouldn’t cost him anything but time. I received them back, every one of them signed.
Of course, it could have been his parents or friends, who wrote his name on the cards. I’ve seen enough Johnny Damon signatures that I’m quite certain they’re authentic, though. Besides, I don’t plan to sell them anyway.
My childhood hero, George Brett, is one of the toughest autographs to get in person.
One thing I found out the hard way, and long after I named my son after him – George Brett isn’t always a nice guy.
The best way to obtain autographs at the stadium is to find out where – and especially when – the players arrive and depart. That shouldn’t be too difficult: just look for the small group of people carrying backpacks, large boxes of baseballs or notebooks filled with cards and photos.
Spring training is the best, because the players are more casual. Of course, once the game begins, even in March, players are prohibited from signing during the game.
I once sent a Nolan Ryan card to the ballpark when he pitched for the Texas Rangers. They returned my card unsigned, but along with what were known at the time as a “Police” card with his signature. Also in the envelope was a polite notice stating that due to the volume of mail Ryan receives, it is impossible for him to personally sign.
I thought it was classy, however, for them to send me the Police card. I imagine Ryan spent hours on airplanes signing a stack of those things.
The most important things to remember about autograph seeking: The players, even with today’s exorbitant salaries, don’t owe us a signature. Making sure to thank them for their time and generosity is a must, as is sending return postage when using the mail system. Cussing out a player who refuses to sign, while tempting, isn’t going to do anyone any good.