Monday, August 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates pregame @Petco Park 8/20/2012

By no means are the Pirates a big, star studded team that attract swarms of autograph collectors, but they are definitely a team on the rise with some good caliber talent.  Therefore, when I arrived at the ballpark at noon per my usual routine, I was not all that surprised to see a group of around a dozen people already waiting.   The Pirates played a 19 inning(!) game yesterday, so none of us were really expecting to see players trickle into the ballpark right off the bat.  Really the only reason I got there that early is because you never want to miss out on a player you are targeting just in case, and I was already in the downtown area anyway. 

I scoped out both of the main entrances, asking the people waiting on each side who they had seen and in essence really just trying to gather as much info about the Pirates as possible.  This was my first time trying to collect the Pirates so gathering tips is always crucial.  In fact, I despise the guys out there who will not tell anyone anything they know, as if leaking this information will somehow doom them to missing out on a player.  That, however, is a rant I will touch on in a future post. 

After waiting for some Pirates to show up for a good hour and a half and only seeing the coaches, I decided to head to the Padres entrance to see if any of the Pirates were getting in that way.  This young guy Jake and his dad were camped out and Jake told me he was racking in the Padres, but no Pirate other than Juan Cruz had been seen.  This confirmed my suspicion that the players were probably given a little leeway in lieu of the late game the day prior.  As I was about to head back to my main spot, Will Venable of the Padres pulled up in his car and signed for Jake, and then signed the Topps 2012 card I had for him.  I congratulated him on the good game yesterday and he said the "ball was carryin'".  Here is that card...
Even though I was there to get Pirates players, I always bring my stack of Padres just in case, and in this situation the move paid off.  I hustled back to the other side of the ballpark, hoping that my main target Andrew McCutchen had not arrived yet.  Turns out, there was still no Pirates activity.  We all waited about another half hour and then at around 2:30, the Pirates started arriving in droves.  First off, I got Gaby Sanchez, the recent acquisition from Miami.  He signed my Topps card.  So did Michael McKenry who arrived shortly after...

Three players pulled up in a cab together, but it was quickly apparent that no one knew who any of the three were.  Turns our they were recent call ups Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, and Jordy Mercer.  I only had a card for Hughes, but by the time I figured out who it was he had already left.  Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Resop pulled up in a cab as well.  I attempted to get Alvarez on a ball but he only signed for Jake who had just arrived from getting all the Padres.  I wish I had tried for Walker instead as he signed for everyone who asked and I had a card for him.  That kind of stuff happens.  Very shortly after this, a cab pulled up with Andrew McCutchen inside.  Seeing the crowd, he waved the cabbie around to the other side where the Padres' entrance is.  Thus commenced the race for McCutchen, as every type of goober imaginable huffed (my buddy Lawrence) and puffed (myself) themselves in a sprint for the almighty autograph.  I am highly aware that this makes me sound like a complete and utter nerd, but I really don't care.  It's a hoby, it's a chase, and it's something I love to do.  Alas, we made it in the nick of time as Andrew signed everything everyone asked him to.  This was a group of around ten (very out of breath) people.  I asked him to sign a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball and he obliged, signing the sweet spot.  I then got back in line and had him sign the Topps card I had. 

My mission was complete.  This guy is the probable 2012 NL MVP, and he was a complete class act.  He conversed with the fans, he took his time to sign neatly, and he signed every item that was asked of him.  McCutchen for MVP!  In the name of oxygen,  Lawrence and I decided to call it a day. 

I'd like to give a shout out as well to A.J Burnett and James McDonald who also signed for everyone at the Padres entrance a little earlier.  I had decided at the time their cab went by not to chase after them just in case McCutchen arrived simultaneously, therefore I did not get either of them.  It was a good day for the hobby if you were at Petco Park. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Ponderings of the Collector's Mind

One thing I have found  is the Celebrity Golf Classic is fantastic for meeting and greeting celebrities.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to attend one of these for a few years.  However, if you are clever enough to hide the fact that you are bringing memorabilia onto the golf course (pretty easy to do) then you are setting yourself up for a real chance at some fantastic autographs.  The one I am specifically talking about, though I'm sure the same goes for most of these types of events, is the one here in San Diego that used to be hosted by Stan Humphries and now carries Drew Brees' name.  The event used to be held at Morgan Run in Rancho Santa Fe, but now is played at the La Costa Country Club.  In essence, it's a hodge podge of celebrities from genres such as sports, music, television, and beyond who come together and play a golf tournament in the name of charity.  Such luminaries as Jerry Rice, Ray Romano, John Elway, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Mike Schmidt, and Joe Morgan have played at this tournament.  This though is just the tip of the iceberg. 

One story in particular didn't actually happen to me, but my friend Paul.  Paul is by no means an autograph collector at all, but a huge fan of the 49ers.  He attended the event with the sole purpose of hanging around Jerry Rice for 18 holes.  Not only did Jerry sign everything Paul had, he drove him around on his golf cart and chatted him up all day.  He treated Paul like a friend, and we are talking about the best receiver to ever play the game.  That is a memory Paul will have forever.  I don't have any stories quite like that one, but I did manage to add some nice signatures to my collection.  Keep in mind this was at the beginning of my foray into the hobby so I wish I had chosen a better pen to use for baseballs to be signed but it is what it is.  One guy I really wanted to meet was Mario Lemieux, as I am a hockey fan first and foremost and Lemieux is one of the top five players of all time.  He signed an Upper Deck card for me, and while he wasn't overly chatty, he signed for the entire group of fans that asked.  Below is a picture of a matted photo I had purchased prior to the Golf Classic with the intent of getting him to sign it...
Some other hockey players I got were Jeremy Roenick, Grant Fuhr, Dino Ciccarelli, Bernie Nichols, and the great Stan Mikita.  All hockey players I have ever come across are cool guys, easily the nicest in any sport as a whole.

I definitely arrived with a bunch of baseballs in my backpack, as I knew there were a few Hall of Fame baseball players that would be playing over the weekend.  The first one is Rollie Fingers, who signs all the time but I didn't have in my collection quite yet...

Another player I got, and someone who I had heard was tough to get, is Joe Morgan.  Between he, Johnny Bench, and Pete Rose I have three of the Big Red Machine.  This was actually the only time that I am aware of that Joe played in the tournament, and it just so happened that ESPN was doing a game in Anaheim that Sunday night, when the booth for the games was Morgan and Jon Miller.  I had heard from fellow collectors that Joe stiffed them all, so I decided to go a less traveled hole where fans didn't want to walk all the way out to.  My intention was to be alone and ask Joe to sign a ball for me when his group got to that hole, in hopes that being a single person would make him more liable to sign.  My plan worked, and Joe actually ended up being quite nice and talked with me until the rest of his group arrived.  He signed a MLB baseball for me on the sweet spot as well.
Finally, the last picture is a ball signed by Ozzie Smith.  The interesting thing about getting this autograph was that I actually got yelled at by the course security who told told me to, "Put that ball away" when I tried to hand it to Ozzie to sign.  At this point I felt pretty much like an ass and was about to walk away with my tail between my legs when Ozzie turned to me, leaned over, and said quietly to follow him to the driving range where the security wasn't present.  I was ecstatic, and did as Ozzie asked me to do.  I wasn't angry with the course personnel for yelling at me as I did technically break the rules by brining outside memorabilia on the course, but I was happy to have Ozzie sign anyway.
By no means was this everyone I got to sign stuff for me, but I need to save some of the pics for other slow bloging times.  For anyone who wants to get into this hobby, I'd highly recommend attending a celebrity golf tournament, where the vast majority of the athletes are in a relaxed mood.. Make sure to attend on a day that is not a tournament day though.  For example, the Friday before the weekend tourney tends to be a day where the celebrities are "auctioned" off as part of a group that gets to play with the celebrity they paid for.  This is where a big part of the charity money comes is.

A side note;  Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos are having a signing at a Metro PCS store in Santa Ana this Saturday the 18th from 11:30-1pm.  It is a free signing so if you plan to attend I'd highly recommend showing up at least a couple hours early.  I may or may not see you there, I'm not sure I want to make the drive up to Orange County twice in the same day, but we shall see...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jered Weaver signing @Pechanga 8/9/2012

As I alluded to in my last post, today was the free signing of Jered Weaver at Pechanga Resort and Casino.  One thing is beyond any shadow of a doubt, and that is a star player plus a free signing plus good publicity equals a BIG line of fans.  I had heard rumors that people would be lined up as early as noon, which turned out to be very inaccurate.  Fans had actually arrived twelve hours before that.  I had in my mind decided to show up around 4pm and see what the line looked like. 

I left my house around 3:20, and for the first time ever, my wife decided to go along with me.  Since I knew this signing was one item per person, I brought two baseballs and asked her to wait in line with me when the time came.  We arrived at Pechanga at 4:10, and when we walked up the stairs to the Silk club which was where Jered was signing, we noticed that there was probably around 250-300 people already there.  Feeling a little pessimistic about the whole thing my wife and I decided to head down to play some slots, eat a little something, then check back with the line.   Since we checked back at 5:10 and the line hadn't grown a whole heck of a lot we decided to give it a shot and got our place in line.  One thing to realize at events like this is that the amount of people who get something signed is at the discretion of the athlete and the event staff.  That means you could wait in line for a few hours and get nothing.  I tried to take a picture of the line as it looked at 5:15...
What you can't really see is that the lines are three wide and three times as long as what you see in front of the camera, with a lot of people not seen due to sitting down.  Anyway, it was said that Jered was actually in the adjoining poker room and would actually be signing early (the scheduled event was from 7-9).  He actually began taking the front of the line at about 5:50.  The mere fact that he started over an hour early almost assured me that my wife and I would be making it in time. 

The line moved at a decent pace due to no photos being allowed and the one item per person rule.  I have to say that Pechanga's staff did a very fine job of keeping the line moving at a pace that allowed for as many people as possible to meet Jered.  My wife and I got to the front of the line at about 8:00.  I had heard that he wasn't doing inscriptions, but I saw that some people were walking out with items signed with his no hitter of 5/2/12.  I had my wife ask for the inscription since she is far prettier than me, and Jered obliged.  He was very polite and took the time to sign both of our baseballs neatly and on the sweet spot.  We thanked him, shook his hand, and wished him well on the rest of the season....

When we left, the Pechanga staff had put an end to any newcomers in line, but Jered had to sign at least 800 items for people today as he signed for easily over three hours.  I would like to thank Pechanga and Jered Weaver himself for being a class act and treating his fans with respect.  I saw a lot of smiling faces coming out of the room he was signing in today, which is a testament to Jered Weaver and his interaction with the fans. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chicago Cubs pregame@Petco Park 8/6/2012

After reading on a couple other blogs that the Cubs were pretty good about signing, I decided to head down to Petco Park today to try and see who I could get.  Needless to say, I was a little bit skeptical after being shut out by the Mets back on Friday, but the truth of the matter is you just never know what will happen on any given day.  My friend Lawrence and I went to our normal spot next to the Omni Hotel and we arrived a little earlier than usual this time, getting there at about 11:45.  As usual, the first members of the Cubs organization to arrive were the coaches, who all took cabs.  Dale Sveum, Dave McKay, and Jamie Quirk all signed for everyone who asked, which was only about three people for each.  I had nothing for any of them so I passed.  Pitching coach Chris Bosio went by unrecognized, and we never saw Pat Listach who I actually did bring a card for (it always helps to go through the list of broadcasters, coaches, and front office staff before trying to get signatures since there are often good players of the past that work for each team).

Over the course of the next 90 minutes, only about seven or eight players arrived at the ballpark.  Recent callups like Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson signed, but I had nothing for them either.  Anthony Rizzo arrived by cab and tried to sneak through a side door, but was recognized.  He only signed for one kid and refused everyone else in the group.  Various other players came through and either stiffed everyone or were not recognized in time to ask.  This is one problem when it comes to teams with young players; the hardest thing to do is to realize who a certain player is, then find the item you want them to sign be it a picture, card, or baseball, etc. 

At this point in time I was starting to have my doubts as to my luck being any good on the day.  However, the mere fact that players were arriving by foot or cab was a huge improvement over the entire team riding the bus like what happened with the Mets, so Lawrence and I stuck it out.  Besides, our three main targets were Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, and Matt Garza, none of whom had been spotted yet.  Soon after getting discouraged, I noticed that Chris Volstad was walking down the street, and he is a hard guy to miss at 6' 8''. I asked him to sign my 2012 Topps card and he obliged...
Next, Darwin Barney got out of a cab and signed for the whole group of about 15 people, and not only did he sign for everyone, he signed everything they asked him to sign.  That means that some people had about ten cards signed by Darwin.  What the hell someone needs with ten Darwin Barney signed cards is beyond me, but here is the picture of the Topps card he signed for me...

The last card I got signed on the day was by the Cubs lone All-Star representative this season, Bryan LaHair.  He showed up in a taxi as well but what made recognizing him so difficult was the fact that he had a hat on, which players usually don't wear on the way to the game.  Thankfully, some of the other collectors spotted him and I was able to see what they had out for him to sign before I could find my card as well...

Finally, Soriano and Castro drove up in a cab together, but seeing everyone that was waiting they decided to have the cab driver go around to the back into the Padres player entrance.  We all hustled around to the other end of the ballpark, down to the cab as they drove up.   In a new twist that threw us all for a loop the taxi was actually permitted to drive into the player garage and out of the reach of pedestrians, which is something that was not allowed before.  Therefore, no one got either player despite the fact that neither is viewed as a "tough get".  This is just one example of this hobby being tough.  Right when you expect a player will be easy to get and they have a certain habit you can follow, it all gets mixed up.  It makes getting the star players more gratifying, because it has become a tough game.  More people are out there than ever before and the players are constantly coming up with new tricks to avoid having to walk next to the collectors. 
Finally, here is a nice tip.  Jered Weaver of the Angels is signing for free on Thursday at Silk in Pechanga.  The signing will take place between 7-9 PM, and I'd suggest getting there early enough to get in line as they usually only allow for a certain number of fans.  Free public signings are rare especially for a player of Weaver's caliber.  I am up in the air as to going or not....but if I do I will post in on here.

Thanks for reading (all four of you).

Friday, August 3, 2012

New York Mets pregame @Petco Park 8/3/2012

The very nature of this hobby demands a lot of flexibility in one's plans.  Today was a perfect example of that.  My friend Lawrence and I decided to go down to Petco Park at 12 in the afternoon to try and get autographs from Mets on the way into the ballpark, as we did a couple weeks back with the Rockies to a great deal of success.  We headed straight for the same spot as we did last time, on a corner that provides a lot of different vantage points of possible ways for players arriving.  When we saw no one in that particular spot, we changed plans and went around back of the park, where the Padres players drive in and park their cars.  Visiting teams have a bunch of different entrances they can choose, and this is one such spot they frequent.  The different options the players have can make it especially difficult to get the player you want as you can only be in one place at a time. This is one reason I say you have to be flexible in your planning.  

Right after we got to the Padres entrance, fellow collectors informed us that we had just missed two injured Padres players, Corey Luebke and Dustin Moseley, who had signed for everyone waiting (which at this point in time was approx. eight people).  I did have Topps cards for both players, but I wasn't real worried about missing out on those two since my main goal was to get as many Mets as possible.  When we asked where the Mets players typically come in, it was rather apparent that no one really knew for sure.  All we heard was that David Wright (obviously our main target) was known to enter at the corner of Tony Gwynn Dr.  at a small security gate, and that he was "really good" about signing.  This was where Lawrence and I decided to wait.

A little more than an hour went by, and not a single player came through where we were waiting.  At this point, there were probably thirty people waiting sporadically around the ballpark, and all of them reported back that there was almost zero activity in terms of players coming in.  The only player that was seen was Mike Baxter, who did sign for the people who had items for him.  Then the guy that was waiting with us told us he heard that almost every player had gotten on the bus from the team hotel, and that it was arriving any minute.  This ended up being spot on, as right when we started heading back to the Padre's entrance, the Mets bus came around the corner.  Unfortunately, there was now about 40-50 people all waiting where the bus parked, which is always an ominous sign.  Players are far more likely to sign when there is a small group, as they don't want to get swamped and/or sign for some people and reject others.  Sure enough, just about every recognizable player/coach on the Mets roster got off the bus, and all refused to sign except for Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy, who both signed one item for the same kid. 

That was it, Lawrence and I were shut out.  A day wasted.  Needless to say it is pretty damn frustrating, but it is all part of the autographing game.  We followed one of the best days ever (the Rockies), with a big skunk.  At this point we headed back home, so the only bright spot was the bus came early enough that we did not waste a whole day.

To make myself feel better, here are two autographed baseballs of Mets I have gotten at the past.  The first is the late Gary Carter, who was a real character and always happy to sign for fans.  I got him to sign a baseball for me about six or seven years ago at the then Stan Humphries Celebrity Golf Classic.
Also, here is an autograph I received from Jason Bay at Petco Park during batting practice in 2005, the year after he won the Rookie of the Year, which I asked him to inscribe...
I'll be giving it another go on this coming Monday when the Chicago Cubs into town...