Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's official. I'm still pretty much 11 years old.

Autographs. I've never been a big fan of them. If I'm close to a celebrity, I tend to want to take their picture rather than be a big disruption (so Kinnearing is a possible outcome). When I was a kid, I waited in line to get Dan Issel's autograph, and one of my most prized possessions was a basketball autographed by the 78/79 Denver Nuggets. But I can't remember the last time I got an autograph. Most occasions to gather autographs would entail me elbowing my way through a forest of kids anyhow, and that's out of the question.

But on Saturday, I attended a pretty cool talk by Portland-area MLB greats (Dale Murphy, Johnny Pesky, Scott Brosius, and a few others who aren't as household-name). After the talk, when the line for autographs stretched around most of the outfield, Swankette and I ducked out. "I don't know what I'd have them sign anyway," I said.

Pause. Light bulb.

"Actually, it'd be cool if I brought my scorebook. The could sign under their name for a game I saw them play."

"Wow!" Swankette was impressed. I love this woman because, among countless other reasons, she understands the things I would find very cool. "Now THAT would be worth waiting in line for!"

To be fair, the only person on the panel I'd seen play was Brosius. I figured it'd be cool to pick out his best performance in my presence (reviewing the stats, it'd be this game where he hit a home run for the historic 1998 team), and have his signature right there in my scorebook.

Fast-forward to today.

For Beavers' season ticket holders like me (sorry, Jack), today was set aside for the chance to watch AAA All-Stars take batting practice and to get autographs from the players and coaches.

I sat down with the rosters and referred to my Access Database (yes, I actually have one) of stats in games I have attended. I looked for each player. About half had played in my presence...a handful in past major league games, a bunch in recent Beaver games, but significant numbers in long-ago games at lower levels all across the US.

I put sticky notes in my scorebooks, headed to the ballpark, and waited in some lines.

Much of the autograph-seeker culture feels a little slimy to me. I didn't care for the guys there who asked ballplayers to sign three, four, five, even as many as eight copies of the same card. The ushers in charge clearly said one item per player, but people ignored it--including the players, who probably didn't want to be seen as stingy. I guess I don't know why an adult would want eight cards signed. It's not a really great financial move. My 1985 Topps set, still in the box and in near-mint condition, has only doubled in value from $20-ish to $40 over the last quarter century. They wouldn't be worth THAT much more signed, would they?

Of course, in a way, I should talk. I was in line right with them. But I was having them sort of officially mark past games they'd been in...the verb "consecrate" isn't quite right, since ballplayers aren't holy, but there it is anyway.

The result was different from what I expected.

The ballplayers were sort of rotely scribbling their names on whatever was put in front of them...cards, bats, balls, programs. Few adults talked to the players (and what would they talk about anyway?). Some players would give kids a thrill by chatting a little, which was nice.

When I would walk up, though, they'd have this different experience.

For instance, I got to J.D. Martin, an all-star from the Rochester Red Wings (AAA in the Nationals system...if you count the Nats as major league...)

"Hi! Could you sign this scorecard down by your name? I think it's your first start for Kinston."

His response: "Wow!"

Next to him, pitcher Jim Miller said this: "Now THAT'S impressive."

But what was fun is that I sort of got to SHARE these past games with the players.

Nelson Figueroa is a AAA all-star this year, but in 2002 he was in the rotation of a horrendous Brewers team. I saw him pitch a game that April.

"Could you sign this scorecard from a game you pitched for Milwaukee back in '02?"

Figueroa: "Wow! I actually got into a game?" [Quite well-spirited and tongue-in-cheek. I was worried a little about players being upset or wistful about major-league appearances. They were not.]
Me: "Yep. You started. It was the first game after the manager was fired."
Him: "Yeah! Davy Lopes! And it looks like we won!"

What I liked best about doing this was the way that the players would perk up when they saw what they were signing. Almost all asked one thing: "How'd I do?" Because I tried to pick out their best games, I usually got them in a good mood.

Portland's Chad Huffman signed a game from his days as a Eugene Emerald. He habitually began signing "Chad Huffman #17," but then stopped. "Wait. What number did I wear that year?" I saw it was 31, and said so...so Chad Huffman signed his name as "Chad Huffman #31" for the first time since he was in the Northwest League.

Colorado Springs Sky Sox outfielder Matt Miller signed a game I saw him play as a Modesto Nut.

HIM: "How'd I do?"
ME: "One-for-four with a walk and a run scored."
HIM: "Yeah...[signs]...I see here I had a strikeout. I remember that. It was a bad call."
ME: [examines the scorebook] "It was swinging, Matt."
[he laughs]

When I then asked the guy next to him to sign a game I'd seen him play as a Chicago Cub, he remarked that I clearly "get around."

Yup. I do.

[Nearly-40-year-old former-high-school-nerd still likes props from jocks. Film at 11.]

The Beavers' Scott Patterson said that he'd never been asked to sign a scorebook or scoresheet before, but Fresno's Kevin Pucetas, seated next to him, said that mine was the third he'd signed that day. Maybe I started a trend. I hope so.

Because rather than commodifying their signatures, the signature was an opportunity to share their game with them. Fans don't often get to do that, really, on a one-to-one basis.

So the net result of this is that I am now into autographs. I will NOT seek them out during batting practice, after games, or anywhere else where I would be competing with kids for ballplayers' attention. That's just wrong. But I'll keep an eye out for events like this one where there are autographs to be signed, check my scorebooks, pick out a game, and ask the ballplayer (or ex-ballplayer) to sign them. I had enough fun yesterday to justify doing it again under similar circumstances. And when I do, whether I'm getting a signature from a career minor-leaguer or from a Hall-of-Famer, you can rest assured that he'll say this:

"How'd I do?"

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