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.