Bringing my autographs into the 21st century
One of the things I missed as a kid, not having attended any Mets games except that one time with my brother’s Scout troop, was the chance to meet the players and get autographs before the games. It never even occurred to me that this was a possibility, it always seemed like something only the lucky few up front got to experience. The first time I was able to see such things firsthand was at Yankee Stadium in 2000, where it was only kids getting autographs and the general atmosphere made anyone without baby teeth feel like a selfish monster for wanting to interact with the players. Stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez were right there just a few feet away, but my place was taking pictures from the other side of the screen. I was too old now to take part in the things I missed out on as a kid.
Screw that, I’ll do whatever I damn well please, age-appropriate or not. I watch cartoons, collect action figures and baseball cards, and ask baseball players for autographs before games. It beats getting drunk and passing out naked on the side of the road, that’s for sure.
My autographed baseball collection began back in the ’90s when autograph signings were plentiful at every card show or random event (or non-event). Even with over 1,000 certified autographs on baseball cards now in my collection, it’s the ones that I got in person that mean the most. I’ve got a pile of Gary Carter 1/1 autographs, but how about this Lee Mazzilli autographed ball, with the ink faded and bleeding into the cover? I never met Carter, but I did meet Mazzilli in Filene’s in the Galleria at Crystal Run in Middletown, NY.
Almost 20 years later, that stack of signed balls was looking a bit outdated. Ed Kranepool is still the longest-tenured Met, but he hasn’t played since the ’70s. Tommie Agee, Catfish Hunter, Enos Slaughter, Bob Feller, and Bobby Thomson have passed on. It was time to do something to breathe new life into this collection and this year’s minor league games looked like the perfect opportunity.
Let me just say that doing this sort of thing does not come easy to me. I would prefer it if there were some designated off-field spot to get autographs, like a holding pen for the players to mill around in before being let onto the field. I think there are laws against that sort of thing though, so the only window of opportunity is from the time the players enter the dugout until they are done with warmups. Even this wouldn’t be so bad if there were a place set aside for autographs, but in most cases there isn’t. I hate to get in anyone’s way, but the only place to wait for autographs is either in front of someone’s seats or in the aisle that people use to get to their seats. Some people are polite and understanding when they ask to get by, but others react to any perceived wrongdoing with outright hostility. And if that weren’t enough, you have to make a spectacle of yourself to get the players’ attention to ask for an autograph when they’re trying to warm up for a game. If I had tried to do this as a kid, I probably would have run off to hide in a dark corner out of embarrassment.
Binghamton Mets, 11-13 May 2012, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Manchester, NH
This would be my first test and the early results weren’t very positive. After arriving too late for autographs to the first of the three games I had tickets to, I only managed to get the autograph of Juan Centeno before the second game (and even then only after someone else called him over to the edge of the dugout). I did get the lay of the land though and arrived on day three ready to ambush the players as they entered the dugout from the clubhouse. My approach worked and I got Mark Cohoon, Matt den Dekker, Reese Havens, Jefry Marte, and Raul Reyes to sign the remainder of the six baseballs I had brought to this series.
Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-8 August 2012, Lelacheur Park, Lowell, MA
My next chance for autographs was three months later when the Brooklyn Cyclones came to town. This team was loaded with recent draft picks and day one went about as well as coud be expected – Brandon Nimmo, Phillip Evans, and Kevin Plawecki all spent plenty of time signing on the field next tot he dugout. With all of the big signing bonus picks out of the way, I had plenty of options for the last three balls I had with me on day 2 (should have brought more…). Jayce Boyd’s solo home run provided all of the offense the night before, so he was an obvious choice. Boyd’s 2012 draft classmate Stefan Sabol is also a promising prospect, but I was more interested in the autograph itself – just look at it. Never pass up a chance to get Stefan Sabol’s autograph, it’s a thing of beauty. Julio Concepcion rounded out the day’s autographs.
Buffalo Bisons, 18 August 2012, Fenway Park, Boston, MA
Down to my last chance for autographs this summer, I brought 12 baseballs to Fenway when the Bisons came for Futures at Fenway. With so many future and/or former Mets on the team, it was impossible to prioritize who I was after. And, based on my experiences to date, opportunity would dictate wh I would be able to have sign for me. When Wally Backman appeared in the dugout, my first target became clear. I absolutely was not leaving without Backman’s autograph; this was just the third time I had met someone from the 1986 team. Unfortunately, getting to him was a problem, as was the person in front of me who started a long conversation with Backman when I finally got within arm’s reach. After waiting politely for a while, I forced my way in for the autograph. I hated to do it, but nobody seemed to mind. Mike Nickeas, Val Pascucci, and a few other players were nearby at that end of the dugout, but the crowd around them was just too thick to get through. Reluctantly, I left that area to take my chances in the outfield.
Things started out slowly at the edge of the outfield, but eventually Lucas May, C.J. Nitkowski, and Robert Carson came over for autographs, while many other players passed by in one direction or another. With the outfield emptying out, I went back to my seat behind the dugout in pursuit of one final player – Josh Satin. When I got there, several players were milling around in the dugout, but few were visible enough to identify. Lucas Duda, too tall to miss even in a dugout, didn’t hear when I called to him. Neither did Satin a few moments later. Rather than stand there like an idiot shouting his name over and over, I chose to stand there like an idiot holding up a ball and a pen until he looked in my direction while scanning the crowd and motioned for me to throw the ball and pen over. Hey, whatever works. After that, I probably could have shouted random player names and gotten someone’s attention, but I decided to just be satisfied with the five autographs I was able to get. And then I saw this directly in front of me as the player introductions began:
And so ended my first season of hunting for autographs at baseball games. The final tally of 17 autographs in 6 games was better than I would have expected, but less than I could have gotten knowing how everything works. Still, it was enough to fill a shelf up with 32 autographs, all but three of which were obtained in person (which three should be obvious). With the top two rows filled with prospects, there are bound to be a few changes in the years to come, with some of this year’s autographs inevitably getting shuffled off to another shelf with guys like Dave Telgheder, Mike Torrez, Willie Randolph, and Lou Piniella. Hopefully some of the ones who stick around will start a second championship row above the players from 1969 and 1986.