Thursday, September 15, 2005


Someone recently asked me when the baseball season will be over. Although the major league season extends well into October for the play-offs and World Series, the season ended locally on September 5th when the Isotopes failed to qualify for postseason action.

I will take advantage of the “down time” known as winter to deal with the baseball cards I got autographed this summer, and reorganize the cards I had pulled but failed to get signed for any of a number of reasons. Oftentimes, I will pull cards of a player who is on the roster of a visiting team several days before they come to town, then he will get traded, injured, or pro(de)moted within that particular organization, and not make the trip. Sometimes players will simply refuse to sign their cards. As unbelievable as that may seem, it is completely true. Sometimes I fail to get a card signed because I do not recognize a player in time to request an autograph before he climbs into the van that shuttles teams to/from their hotel and the airport.

Other times you can try to catch players and managers and ask them for an autograph include right outside the clubhouse either several hours prior to game time, or up to a couple of hours following a game. I’ve found that it is a good idea to avoid hanging around outside after a game if the team gets beaten badly. Sometimes you can recognize players out and about around town, but that is normally pretty difficult. Every once in a while, teams will schedule official autograph signings. This is a great way to get started collecting. Ballplayers often make appearances at baseball card shows, but I don’t have it in me to pay someone for an autograph. I would NEVER purchase an autograph via eBay as I prefer to get my cards signed in person. That said, another popular method of getting cards signed is to mail them to the appropriate stadium addressed attention to the player you want, and include a nice and brief note thanking them for their time. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to return your cards, and be patient, as some players will wait to the end of the season to answer their fan mail.

I ended up getting just over 300 cards signed this season. Without question, my favorite one is this 2002 Topps Harmon Killebrew card (no. RB-HK) near the end of the season. Not only is Mr. Killebrew a Hall of Famer, but is also a genuinely all around great guy!

You may not realize it, but there is an entire subculture of baseball fans that are completely addicted to the sport of autograph collecting. Albuquerque has a group of about a dozen “hard core” collectors. Although you may notice a larger crowd of people hanging around the dugouts before and after games trying to get players to sign for them, it is this main core of fans for which collecting is truly an art. These guys estimate that they get between 1,000 and 3,000 cards signed per year. Most of them do not ask to have duplicate cards autographed, but it does happen.

Many of these collectors are as interesting to talk to as are the baseball players themselves. Most of them will arrive at the ballpark at least a half hour before the game starts. That’s normally when cards are traded, and discussion topics include what players (if any) got called up or sent down overnight, who everyone still needs to get autographs of, and rumors about when team sets are due to be released. It is also safe to expect that out of this group of a dozen collectors, you will see at least four different rosters printed out for the same team before the first game of a series. By the end of a homestand, most of the chatter revolves around the best autographs people have gotten, or how much of an asshole George Brett is.

Everyone has their own system of organizing the cards they hope to get autographed that day. (I tend to keep mine in alphabetic order sorted by the last names of the players. However, if I am attending the game as a fan and the visiting team has their numbers displayed on the front of their uniforms, I will reorganize my cards into numeric order.) Everyone has their favorite writing implement(s). Probably 90 percent prefer a blue Sharpie for cards, there’s always the odd duck who prefers black Sharpie, or is always trying out some new metallic pen that invariably sucks.

Unfortunately, I believe the team’s front office personnel misunderstand these collectors. Although they assume these guys are hounding players for autographs, then turning around and selling them on eBay, I honestly don’t think this is the case MOST of the time. Sure, some do it, but most of these guys are simply nuts about the game, and enjoy meeting the players and getting their autograph. How can you tell when you meet one of these guys? Simply look for the telltale Sharpie marks on their hands!

Speaking of Sharpies, it is a good idea to always carry an extra old Sharpie to GIVE to kids who ask to borrow yours to get their hat, glove, or program signed. Nothing ruins a Sharpie faster than the bill of a baseball cap.

My favorite baseball cards have always been those that feature a photo of a player in the act of signing an autograph for a fan. I have yet to see a baseball card of a player signing a huge contract, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

I recently discovered a very interesting website maintained by Pat Neshek, a pitcher for the New Britain Rock Cats (Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) who is into collecting autographs. His site contains a message board where people can discuss what players are great at giving autographs, and which ones you might as well forget about. Neshek also displays a bunch of kool proof shots, or photographs of himself in the act of signing autographs. I can’t decide which one I like better- the one of him signing next to a van with the Hostess Twinkie logo on the side (ps #5), the photo of him signing a baseball while jumping on a trampoline (ps #9), or the picture of him signing a shoe while pumping gas (ps #23). Neshek has a very unique signature; one that I’d like to add to my collection before he tires of signing. Pat’s website also has a fabulous feature he calls “Grapher of the Month.” These are the guys I'm talking about! Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Neshek’s website is that he will give away his game tickets to fans who trade him autographed cards of other players. What an insanely beautiful concept!

I realize that I already mentioned that I prefer to get my signatures in person. However, I think in Pat’s case I will make an exception. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of his cards, so I’m going to send him a team logo card for the Quad City River Bandits (where he pitched in 2003), and duplicate Matt Erickson and Andy Pratt cards I have signed in hopes that he will trade me a couple of his.

Monday, September 12, 2005

not my father's catapult

My dad owns a number of slingshots. Prior to visiting the New Mexico State Fair this weekend, I was convinced that he had at least one of every type of catapult ever produced. In fact, he even boasts that his collection includes the actual sling that David used to dispatch Goliath! (Don’t worry; I will spare you the punch line.)

At any rate, one of the strangest “rides” available at the Fair this year has to be the “Human Slingshot Ejection Seat.” He definitely doesn’t own one of these! I got close enough to snap a few photos, but the thought of climbing on board never entered my mind. Forget the $25-$30 price tag, I wouldn’t participate if it was FREE!

So I’ll email these photos to my dad, and wait till next summer to find out if he will be adding yet another new event to the Summer Nationals Slingshot Tournament.

The rest of the Fair experience was just as interesting. The Fair has so much to offer, whether you are interested in livestock, artwork, food and beverages, horse racing, or even watching demonstrations of promising “miracle” products that you will never see on TV. If people watching is your sport, then head on out to EXPO New Mexico at some point within the next two weeks. I was greatly amused by the carnie named “Bozo,” who earns his living by putting on clown makeup, and sitting in the dunk tank shouting insults at the crowd. The ironic part is that he wasn’t half as offensive as some of the people I watched trying to dunk him.

I’m wondering if ANYONE can explain to me the appeal of throwing dimes at glasses, cups, saucers and plates that you can pick up at the Salvation Army for a nickel each. Fair goers didn’t seem able to get enough of this kind of action. I saw one fella carrying a battered cardboard box containing at least a half dozen drinking glasses and an ashtray around the midway. I suppose he was searching for a ride that would allow him to carry his new trophies with him. I thought he must have been having a spectacular afternoon.

Undoubtedly, the koolest attraction on the midway is the bulk candy tent. I would like to nominate whoever came up with this idea for an upcoming Nobel Peace Prize. I’m telling you, this place has it all- salt-water taffy, jawbreakers, Razzles, candy smokes and bubblegum cigars, Pez, individually wrapped circus peanuts, Bit-o-honeys, mints, jellies, Bottlecaps, Pop Rocks, chewing gum, strips of candy dots, those hookless candy canes of various flavors that I first encountered at Stuckey’s as a kid, and even frozen Charleston Chews (just to name a few). I walked out with a 10-ounce bag of strictly banana Runts and the desire to run back in and squeeze all the tiny wax bottles containing sugary colored liquids.

Finally, I wonder if a corndog prepared in the finest restaurant in the world would taste as delicious as one eaten outdoors at the Fair. I doubt it!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

i gave at the pumps

No, I haven’t been on vacation, but thanks for asking! I haven’t been blogging of late in part to do my share of conserving energy. What I’ve discovered over the past five weeks or so is that one person can’t do it alone. Seems like the rest of the cyber universe continues to spend TONS of time ranting and raving about subjects that are completely out of anyone’s control, so why should I remain silent?

The big question that seems to be in the back of everyone’s subconscious is, “How can I get my grubby paws on one of those kool “I GAVE AT THE PUMPS” t-shirts?”

With that question in mind, I recently set up a store at CafePress that will allow people to purchase these thought provoking t-shirts, as well as stickers, magnets and even postage stamps. You wouldn’t believe how proud I am to be able to help people say “NO”- with an attitude! Expect, but accept no substitutes.

Each item offered for sale includes the base price as established by CafePress plus the current market value of one gallon of gasoline. Although I can’t say what the CafePress folks do with their share of the money, I can assure you that not one cent of the remainder of the proceeds will be donated to any form of charity or “cause.” In fact, every penny generated from sales of these items will be invested in my personal transportation costs (including gasoline, bus fares, and new Chuck Taylors).

I would ask that if you happen to be one of the people who insists on driving around the city while jabbering on your cell phone to please refrain from ordering any products from my site (especially the bumper stickers). Thanks for your understanding!