Early mornings, autographs, and the prospects

I stood by the fence outside the parking lot of the Peoria Sports Complex.  The desert air was still cool with morning but starting to get warmer now.  I’d gotten a few signatures that morning, but there was one I really wanted.  He was someone who embodied the Mariners even more than the players themselves, for me, at least.  It’s because I heard his voice every day on the radio.  He could bring a game to life no matter where I was.  I could be at the park even if I was walking the dog.  Or playing little league.  Those were the best moments, really, playing ball while someone had the Mariners game on in the background.  Soft but there.  It was almost like playing in the big leagues.

I listened to him late at night as well, long past the time I was supposed to be in bed for school the next morning.  He called the Big Unit’s not hitter and I was probably up until 1 AM or later.  I’d fallen asleep to his voice more than once.   This was the man who came up with, I think, the best lines ever.   “Get out the rye bread, it’s grand salami time!”  He was the one who coined “A-Rod.”  I swear this is true, and I was among the first (and all Mariners fans of the time) to hear that nickname.  At the time all of us were giddy over the possibility of ARod and Griffey, the Big Unit, and the Bone playing together for years.

So I remember standing there was a gaggle of other die-hard autograph collectors.  I have the feeling this was early morning.   I think it was the same morning that I’d gotten up at something like 4 AM.   This was because I’d been determined to get another player, a favorite of mine.  But you needed to get up super crazy early for a kid to have a chance.  I’d bene told he would only maybe sign at the time when he came in.  So one morning we did just that.  I’m almost positive it was a morning we did a quick stop on the way in at Krispy Kreme donuts, one of the few places open that early at the time.  But I could be melding memories together into one day.  But anyway my morning target had been Joey Cora.  And I’d gotten him.  In a thin blue sharpie, which hasn’t held up as well as I would have liked.  But it’s still a favorite.  Cora was a fan favorite, a great infielder, good solid slap type hitter with some power on a very rare occasion.

So the morning had started well, but my true target was none other than Mr. Dave Neihaus.  He was my Harry Cary, the voice of my childhood.  One of the good ones who knew the game so well and could make it come alive for a kid like me who dreamed of getting dirt on his jersey just like the Joey Cora’s of the game would (except I could never play 2b, I was a 1b/OF/P).  The morning was getting on and the day warming up as it did.  It’d warm up fast.  It does in the desert.  But those first hours could be nice and chilly, crisp, bright, fresh.  It was reaching the end of that time.

Then we saw someone who might be him come out of the complex.  We all agreed it might be him but no one seemed to want to take the chance to look like a fool, risk getting it wrong.  I didn’t care.  I’m not usually the one to shout for a player.  But this time I did, as best I could.

“Mr. Niehaus!”  I raised my voice and projected as best as possible.  It didn’t work the first time, I think.  The second time it did.  I remember him responding when I asked “Will you please sign?” (At least I think I said please – always say please!).  He turned his head and said “Yes, of course,” or something similar.  But it was that voice.  I recognized it instantly.  He came over and I was nervous, happy, ecstatic at the chance to get his autograph.  He took the time and signed for all of us, chatting, laughing.  His laugh and his play-by-play will live on in my memories.   Thank you Mr. Dave Neiahus for all you gave the game.  You gave this Mariner fan so much joy.  And helped me look forward to dog walking.
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While Spring Training was the time for getting the voice of the Mariners, it was also the time for something else: Prospect hunting!  I would get a lot of my Mariners cards at different shops in Seattle, but my main source was pure heaven for all card collectors my age: The Sports Card Show!

In the prime of my collecting career there were no shortage of shows.  My prime years were between 1992 and 1999, some in 2000/2001.  My last Spring Training games for the Mariners were in 2001.  I remember how hot cards were in the early 1990s before the strike.  Then the dreaded stoppage happened and I worried that baseball might never return.  I couldn’t believe Mr. Tony Gwynn wouldn’t get a shot at .400 that year.  He was so close, a favorite player of mine.  I couldn’t believe that baseball had stopped over something like collective bargaining and money.  But it did.  At this time I do remember that there was worry in Seattle that the Mariners might leave.  The Kingdome was getting old (not to me it wasn’t).  I think there were worries about the market, even though the fan base to me was strong and loved our Mariners.   Seattle has always been a baseball town.  It may have started with the Tacoma Rainers, who played for years and had a large fan base.  I also think it had some to do with Dave Niehaus, who brought the sport to life for so many.  And the players were fun an easy to root for.  Jay Buhner, Joey Cora, Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, and of course Griffey Jr. The Kid.  Seattle loved the Mariners so it seemed impossible to me that they might leave.

But the 1995 season became magic.  It was quite possibly the purest season of baseball for me.  I was 15 years old and it was all that really mattered.  Playing it, and going to as many games as possible. I was in survival mode with high school just trying to get decent grades and keep under the radar socially. Girls were not an option, really.  Of course I had crushes but I didn’t think or believe there’d be any returned interest.  There wasn’t.  So for that summer it was baseball.  As I think back on it now, 1995 was my Sandlot year. That is by far my favorite baseball movie – I love how it captures the joy of kids playing during a long summer, and how much the sport means.  While I didn’t play every day all day I was playing rec little league.  Outfield – yes, right – first base – some center field – and occasional pitching.  This was the year I was able to go to games on my own, taking the 30 minute or so bus ride to the stadium and just taking the entire day.  I was at the game Griffey broke his wrist, and then at all of the Yankees Mariners playoff games.   I go into more detail in this post here on 1995.  To add something new, I landed a key bench player from that team through the mail just recently.  Mr. Rich Amaral!  He was a great pinch hitter and utility man.  These guys are needed for good teams.

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1995 became the year that saved baseball in Seattle.  People say it was Griffey who saved baseball in Seattle – he did – but it would not have been possible without Alex Diaz, Darren Brag, Tim Davis, Bob Wolcott, and many others that year like Rich Amaral.

Leading up to 1995 we were going to Spring Training each year.  I can’t remember exactly the first year.  Maybe 1992.  The Mariners shared their Spring Training facility with the Padres so by extension I was also a Padres fan.  Outside the Mariners, Tony Gwynn was probably my favorite player.  This was because at Spring Training I’d gotten the chance to interact with him occasionally while getting his autograph.  He always signed.  Through these interactions he became more real, more relatable.   He wasn’t just a big iconic star but a guy who loved trash-talking and joking with fans.   These little moments cemented him as a favorite player.  It was these moments that I enjoyed the most at Spring Training, whether or not they were with a big star or hot prospect.  This is a favorite I got of Mr. Gwynn.  Every time his signature remained consistent, bold.

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One of my favorite memories, however, is getting Jose Paniagua, a Mariners reliever.  One thing I prided myself on at the time was really knowing who players were.  I did my best by memorizing numbers and faces.  I couldn’t do multiplication tables worth anything but I knew who players’ numbers were.  I still remember some classmates chatting about basketball and they didn’t know Gary Payton’s number.  I did.  I rattled it off, and some stats.  I remember they were floored by it.  But I digress.  Somehow, I could remember players and their numbers.

In this case I was the only one who knew who Jose was, and I had two cards of him.  Both rookies that I pulled from packs.  Others were shouting the typical “Could you sign?” and he was ignoring us, staring out at the field.   I had the time to snap a picture of him.  Then I went ahead and asked – shouted loudly – “Jose, could you please sign?”  That was when he turned his head and came over.  He took my cards first, signed them.  One got scratched and smudged on the hand off but the other turned out great.  I grinned – I’d done it, gotten Jose in person on cards I pulled.  To me, in this time, it was a great achievement.  And he continued to sign more for others.  The next year I also managed to get that snapshot of him on the fence signed.   He gave me another good signature.   Jose went on to have just an ok career, a short one I believe, but I love this memory of him.  He was like any other player in the Spring.  Full of belief that this was his year.

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Other instances like that occurred.  One was Robert Luce, prospect.  I was walking between practice fields when all of a sudden he was there – I knew him because I’d heard others chatting about him before, and had a prospect card of him.  So I’d gotten what he looked like in my head.  “Mr. Luce,” I said (or something like that) and he turned around. I asked if he could sign the card, and he did.  Unfortunately it didn’t turn out great – thin blue sharpie.  For some reason back then I liked thin blues.  I knew they were risky but when they worked, the results were awesome.  This was a not-so-awesome result.  He seemed very willing to sign another one but it was all I had.  Unfortunately I had to tell him that, and he smiled and shrugged and said he had to move on.  I still have that card.  And it turns out you can still see the signature.  Faint but there.

And though Mr. Robert Luce did not “pan out” as a prospect or MLB player, he lives on in this card and with that signature.  I could go the route of lecturing about the dangers of prospect hunting and missing out.  A lot of guys I got didn’t make it.  But I disagree.  To me a lot of these guys represent those who went all out for their dream.  They were not afraid to fail.  This is huge.  I’m constantly afraid to push forward and make my goals.  It’s a fault of mine, finishing something.  Getting to the point where it gets hard and then switching to something else when I can’t get through.

That’s part of why I’m doing this blog.  To find that finish line.  The line that Robert Luce, Jose Panigua, Brooks Kieschnick, and others went for. I haven’t pushed myself that much yet. I am now. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m following this path.  I’m enjoying every moment.  I hope you are too, and decide to push through that fear of failing.  Push forward, write, do your thing.  Don’t ever stop.

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Don’t stop.  Keep pushing.

 

 

The first days of Summer

The first official days of Summer were this week.  I was in the Twin Cities for Drupal Camp.  For work, and personal interest.  Drupal 8 looks amazing and I’m looking forward to digging in and learning all about it.  But that’s enough Drupal and work for now.  It just sets the table.  This is a week where being up here for work allowed me to embrace my love of baseball.

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Since I was in the Twin Cities for work and staying close to Target Field, I decided to go see the Twins play on Wednesday evening the 21st.  The first day of summer.  Then the next night, after a day of Drupal, I went to the Saint Paul Saints game with a good friend of mine.  It was $1 beer night which made it that much better, of course.  We kept it at 2 each.

First observation, I am not nearly as young as I once was.  I crashed at the end of both nights and slept solid for six hours.  Being a dad with two young kinds teaches you to take advantage of sleep when you can! I was not able to make it through the entire Twins game like I would have as a kid or teen.  I stuck to the rule of “don’t ever leave until the game’s over.”  It was religious.  I would not leave.  One never knew what could happen on that last swing of the game.  That has changed for me now.  And I’m ok with it, now.  Priorities change.  But I’m still a die-hard baseball fan.  Just one who likes to get at least 6 hours of sleep.

It was Star Wars night for the Twins.  I’m a huge Star Wars fan.  I first saw them in high school.  I remember my school was having some kind of after school event, where they were showing the movies.  And I walked by the building and it was the scene with Luke’s speeder racing across Tatooine after his Aunt and Uncle were killed by the Empire.  When he doesn’t know it for sure, right before he finds out.  I remember turning my head at that music and just thinking what is that and why haven’t I seen it before?! My parents were pretty strict about TV watching and movie watching.  So it was a while before I saw the movies.  In fact the first exposure I got to Star Wars after that was the radio drama.  I loved listening to it over and over.  They did a great job of portraying the story – and delving into in more detail – over the radio.  Just audio, of course music, dialogue, great sound effects.  At some point as I was listening I saw the movies and loved them from the start.

Star Wars was one of the major reasons I went to the game that night.  Two of my favorite things, Star Wars and baseball.   But the real reason I wanted to go was it was a chance to try and get some autographs again, like I did as a kid and teen.  I wanted to see how hard or easy it was now.  If I could get anyone.  I left work on the earlier side that Wednesday afternoon and thus had enough time to stop at a new card shop.  New for me, at least.  I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it.  I’d planned my timing carefully and would have about an hour there.

It was worth it.  The shop is Twin Cities Sports Cards and they have current cards, but their speciality is vintage and 1980s, 1990s.  Essentially my wheel house.  I geeked out when I first entered.  There was memorabilia and cards that I’d never seen before.  This included a 1955 Bowman Mickey Mantle.  In wonderful condition.   I just stared at it for probably a full minute.  This is a piece of history in my opinion.

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There are boxes for $5 from the early 90s, sets, autographs for $5.  I’ll be back and will enjoy going through the shop again.  I definitely felt like a kid again.  It was almost too much, bringing back a lot of memories and feelings.  It brought back the joy of cards, and also memories of high school and getting bullied that aren’t so great.  But I got over that and could enjoy the cards.  I almost didn’t make it out of the shop in time to get to my hotel and check in.  But I did, and I’m glad I did.

I finally managed to get to Target Field as the gates opened.  Before this game it was always traffic or something else getting in the way.  So I felt good about my chances of getting an autograph.  I also knew that the ushers and rules about hanging out and waiting were a lot stricter.  They kick you out of the prime areas (unless of course you have a ticket) about 30 minutes before the game starts.  I didn’t push this rule.   I was by myself, an adult, and didn’t want to be pushy or rude.  That isn’t the right way.  Respect the rules of the park, even if they hinder getting an autograph.  It won’t feel good otherwise.

I ended up on the side of the Chicago White Sox because the Twins had already taken BP. This was something different, I felt.  I remember that the Mariners would take BP first, but after the gates opened, so fans could watch.  There were many times I got to see BP back in the Kingdome in the 1990s.  Ok, I thought.  A bit of a downer but that’s all right.  I guess I’d bene too hopeful there.

I was in the front row watching the White Sox take BP, saw some home runs, players shagging fly balls.  Then a player came over, started signing.  I made my way to him with my notebook.  Since I didn’t know who he was or have any White Sox or a ball – my own fault – my skills are dusty – I opened the notebook to a blank white page.  He wouldn’t sign it.  Said he couldn’t sign a blank page.  I blanked for a moment, kind of in disbelief.  Back when I used to do this, players actually seemed to like signing a blank page.  They would give you a nice clear signature.  I have a Derek Lowe, Dusty Baker, and Mark Buerhle like this.  They look great.  At some point I’ll put them in a frame, I think, somehow.  But I haven’t done it yet.

So I did end up getting the player to sign the back of the notebook.  It’s cardboard and not white.  He signed it, gave me a clear one.  Anthony Swarsak.  Former Twin, having a great year with the White Sox.  But it didn’t feel quite right.  Not quite the way it had before.  It was that comment he’d made.   I have nothing against him. I’ve heard since that players are being advised not to sign blank white paper.  Must be because of reselling, scams, something like that.  It’s taken some of that grace and mindfulness out of the game.  It’s a mentality I don’t like seeing in this game that can do so much for people.  It did so much for me as a kid.  I want that for my kids, other kids.  It needs to be there.

But thank you to Anthony Swarsak for taking the time to sign.  It is appreciated.  I just wish MLB didn’t have to instill this rule or attitude.  He did give me a nice signature.  I’ll just have to dismantle the notebook if I want to save it, and I probably won’t.

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A few minutes later I noticed one of the White Sox coaches, #29, come over and start talking with some fans.  I asked politely if he wouldn’t mine signing a white page, not optimistic.  He said he would, if I could tell him who was pitching for the Twins the next day!  I racked my brain, saying I didn’t know at first.  He didn’t either, or maybe he did, and was just having fun at my expense.  Not quite sure, but I don’t think it was that.  The Twins pitching is in that state right now.  I’d never heard of Nic Turley before a few weeks from now.  I did remember the name, and told him.  So I guess I kinda sold out the Twins there.  Whoops.  But, he did sign the blank page for me.  It was a fun conversation. So thank you to bullpen coach Curt Hasler for taking the time.

The rest of the night was baseball.  I was high up in the bleachers, section 303.  I love the view up there, it gives you a wonderful full perspective of the game.

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I was there to watch the boys of Summer on the Solstice.  The light breeze gave you the perfect touch, and the sounds, light, and smells were what I remembered.  If I focused on that I could find the peace of the game I remembered.  It was still there.  I relaxed into the game, watching it more closely that I had in a while.  Took lots of photography, even got lucky and got a great shot of a play at the plate.  I’m able to track the plays of a game through the camera without much thought.  It’s a fun way to see the game unfold, though you do miss some things when focused in on a single player.  And I got to meet a favorite character of mine that night.  Two actually.  First, Grand Admiral Thrown.  You have to show respect when meeting the Grand Admiral.  The other I met was Lord Darth Vader.  I guess I did something when meeting the Grand Admiral.IMG_5772.JPG

The night was a good one, but I was tired (maybe getting force-choked by Lord Vader had to do with it).  So I decided to head toward the exit to make sure I got the free hotel shuttle back.  I headed toward the exit, then I noticed someone sitting at the Fox Sports Booth.  A few moments later I realized this was Jack Morris.  He really should be a Hall of Fame.  Somehow he isn’t.  That needs to change.

Of course I didn’t have his card.  I managed to bring Blyleven, Dan Gladden, Tony O, just in case.  But no Jack!  Damn, my skills were rusty.  I did have a Twins team card from Topps Archives so I decided to go with that.  I waited and watched him sign a woman’s jersey, and then I felt comfortable enough asking.  He was good about it and took my notebook, pausing to look at the team card.  I think he was a little confused about it, not sure, or maybe he liked the card.  I think it was the former, though.  He did give me a really nice signature though.  It was quite a way to end the evening! This one felt better than my first two, helping push away the thing with the blank white page.

Thank you Mr. Jack Morris!

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That was my night with the Twins.  They won 4-2.  I got to see Miguel Sano hit an absolute bomb, opposite field power.  Slick play, great pitching (a rarity for the Twins these days) from Jose Berrios.   I think I sensed it then, and I realize it even more now, though.  I loved getting a chance to try and get some autographs on my own again.  But there was something missing.  It was my family, my boys.  I want to show them the joy I got from this.  I also need to be OK if they don’t like to do this.  Hopefully they will, though. It’s up to them, of course.

My oldest is not quite old enough to have the patience or really know to wait for autographs at a park.  He does love getting envelopes address to him through the mail though, and opening them to find a player has signed them.  We’ve gotten 4 or 5 so far.  I think 4.  I’ll do more for him, as I get back into collecting them as well.  And when, or if, he’s ready, I’ll be the dad that waits long hours with him for his favorite autograph.  I really can’t wait for that.

The Saint Paul Saints – American Association Baseball

Last night I got to go to the Saint Paul Saints game.  My first time ever at their new stadium, CHS Field.  This is a true gem, a “diamond in the rough”.  The stadium is tucked next to the St. Paul Farmers market, it’s own little world.  I arrived early after a nice light rail ride, waited for a good friend of mine.  It was toilet paper drive night.  I played “toss the toilet paper” into a bin and landed one, bouncing it in, and won a black sharpie! Fun start to the night, and unique.  The entire time there was a live band playing across the street.  It might have been part of a festival, or maybe just some guys setting up and playing.  Not sure.  It was certainly a festive feel, relaxed.  On a Thursday night.  It had rained all day and I hadn’t been sure the game would get in.  But late that afternoon it cleared up and rains moved off.  Fresh, clean air rolled in with a slight breeze.  It ended up as another night just right for the soul.

After tossing the toilet paper I got a text from my friend saying he was just leaving work, and that I should just head in, and then hand him the ticket when he got there.  I wasn’t sure I actually could but it ended up working out great.  So I headed in and walked around.  I noticed right away how close the field was, the access was stupendous.   It reminded me of Spring Training ballparks.  I also saw a guy that looked almost exactly like Jack Morris.  I did a double take, though I knew it couldn’t be him, the Twins were playing a game delayed by weather (as my friend reminded me later on).  It was a strange continuation from the night before.

I noticed someone signing shortly thereafter.  I wasn’t sure who it was, but I thought it might be Mark Hamburger, a former MLB pitcher for the Twins (briefly), and now the Saints best pitcher.  I quick went over and got a program thinking I’d look up the number.  But right after I got the program I saw he’d stopped signing.  But then I did see Mark Hamburger standing by the dugout.  I decided to go for it.  I took out my card of him, went down, and asked as nice as I could if he could sign a card.  He said of course, and came over to sign it.  He really like the card – it’s a Refractor of his Bowman Chrome rookie, one I pulled from a pack way back. I told him I’d had it a while and he thought that was cool.  He also said he was pitching Saturday, if I wanted to see him.  I had to tell him I couldn’t make it! I cringed inside saying it. It made me want to come back, and miss all my Drupal training.  What a great, mindful interaction.   He took his time signing the card.  When he gave it to me, I saw why.  I love this signature.  It’s one of my top 5 now.

 

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He took the time to make sure his signature showed up well on this Chrome card.  Chromes are notoriously difficult for signatures.  They can easily smear, or the pen won’t take well to the card.  His did.  He had that mindfulness and awareness that a lot of players or people don’t have.  It’s rare.  He’s got it.  One can see it here.  He even drew a hamburger!  That’s owning something.  Owning his name, embracing it, when others might cringe or avoid it. It’s an important lesson, I think.  Embrace every part of who you are, including your mistakes.  From what I’ve read the tattoos on his arms help Mr. Hamburger with that.  After finding that out I respect him even more and his choices to stay pitching with the Saints.

Thank you for taking the time, Mr. Hamburger.  I am definitely a Saints fan now after this.  It’s a bit hard for me to get to games, but I will when I can.

I had a blast the rest of the game with my friend.  We just talked for three plus hours.  We had standing room only tickets at $7 each.  I got to explore the park at ease, and even chatted amicably and laughed a few times with a first response officer.   He was clearly enjoying his assignment, and ready at the same time for a time he might be needed.  The Saints had a lot of crazy fun entertainment, from an eyeball race (mascot race – imagine giant eyeballs racing around the edges of the field!).

But there was something else about the Saints that I realized while watching them throughout the night.  They have guys like Mr. Straka, pitcher for the Saints.  He reminds me of the old pitcher from Major League (I may have this wrong) who basically has just one year left.  He gives everything he has and literally his last pitch his getting the last out.  He’s done.  This shot of Straka epitomizes that grit, the all-out effort, that sometimes isn’t seen in MLB players.  Not all, for sure, but a small amount.  This is the image of someone who just loves the game.

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That’s when we go all out.  I’m not sure how often I’ve been there.  Only a few times, I think.  He’s there on every pitch.

And the baseball was good.  Tie game 4-4 through the 6th or so.  Then the Saints broke it open, 7-4, then I think it was 9-4 when we decided we could leave.  I was good with that.  Good time with my friend, a couple beers, a summer night right out of the movies.  Right out of the Sandlot, my favorite baseball movie of all time.  The Saint Paul Saints have that feel, that joy, that I remember.  The Twins have it too, but hindered by the blank white page.

That’s something we can all work to fill up.  Eliminate it, tear it up.  Get back to what was there before.  Replace it with #hobbylove and spreading joy to others who love baseball, cards, autographs.  If you have spare cards or signatures that you know would bring great joy to someone else, send it to them.  Bring people back to the seats, fill them up again.  I want to see stadiums filled like they were when I was younger.  Or maybe I just think they were that way, but I think it was true.  It’s interactions like those with Mr. Hamburger that can do this.  It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are polite, respectful, and then these moments can maybe happen.  I’ll come back to a Saints game when I can because of this one moment.

It’s moments like these that we need to nurture, grow, and share.  The hobby can provide an easy way to do that.  It can be done by sending a favorite card to someone else.  A fellow collector, a kid, someone in need.

Keep collecting, my friends.   Remember the #hobbylove.   Embrace who you are.   There’s a reason we all like the cards.

 

 

 

#hobbylove: An ode to the sports card shop

I recently discovered that my old go to Sports Card shop closed in 2009.  Geoff Holland was the owner and an amazing guy.  I still have his business card, which is how I remember his name.   He was great to all his customers and his regulars included.   It opened in 2001 so it wasn’t my childhood sports card shop.  I got cards from various shows, and at the local drug store before his shop opened.  This was back when I had finally graduated from high school, a true rough patch, and had spent my first year in college.  While I’d finally started coming out of my shell, I was still not highly comfortable in social settings and communicating with strangers.  I could do it but it took a lot of effort.  This was not the case when I started going to Geoff’s shop, Sports Card Mint.  This is one of the reasons I love baseball cards, card shows, and events like TwinsFest here in Minnesota.  It seems like I can let go of all the angst, fear, and anger that follows when it comes to being social.  It’s something I have to actively work at.  I recently took an “Emotional Intelligence” test for work.  And not surprisingly, scored low.    My wife agrees with its validity.  It’s something I know I need to work on, and am.  A part of that is living with a focus on joy, as I can get into some very negative spirals that can be hard to get out of at times.  It kind of scares me how low my score must have been in high school and early college.

But when I have somehow managed to find other collectors, and yes, gamers, all of that would go away.  I’m not sure my parents ever really understood that and I probably didn’t either, not until recently.  I’ll tell them soon (or they’ll read about it, but I’m not sure they read this blog, at least not yet).  Being free of all the social anxiety was an amazing feeling and baseball, the hobby, and gaming allows me to completely relax and be who I am.

In 2001 or so I was still an avid baseball fan and casual collector.  I wasn’t quite as die-hard a baseball card guy as I was in high school, where baseball and autographs and cards were my definite escape from the day-to-day of getting bullied and dealing with all the other crap of those years.  But I still would buy cards and boxes every now and then.    In college I’d also become friends with a few gamers.  For us it was Yu-Gi-Oh! In 2001 I really started to get into the game, watched the show, and was buying the cards.  I still have a ton of them.  From about 2001 to about 2004/5/6 or so I played Yu-Gi-Oh pretty intensely, participating in tournaments, the whole thing.

It all centered around Geoff’s shop, Sports Card Mint.  While I was home in Seattle its where I loved to go there and would play almost every weekend.  I lived with my parents but otherwise had a full time job.  This was also the time I was in a long distance relationship with the woman who’d become my wife.  Yes, we made it work.  But at this time I was working first at Borders Books Store and then at a claims insurance company in downtown Seattle, gaming, trying to write fiction, and enjoying baseball.  Sometimes at work I felt like I was living the movie Office Space.  But only sometimes, really.  Though I quickly realized I wasn’t in it for the long haul, there were good people with that company.   I still remember a coworker who started after me – the hip alternative type – come up to me later on after he’d moved up a bit, and literally, I kid you not, say to me – “What’s happening?” A direct line from the movie.  I kinda stared at him.  That’s when I knew this wasn’t for me.  I got out, and eventually ended up in library school.

Back to the card shop.  I understood the gaming guys.  We all seemed to connect on some level, and probably had similar tough times growing up with the social scenes.  It also didn’t matter what age we were.  There were older guys like me, teens, younger kids.  One of the best players was, I think, about 5-7/8 years old.  None of us cared.  From the outside looking in, it could seem odd that all of us played this game together.  How are adults playing a card game with kids? Was a common question.  It was, I think, a social setting all of us could get and relax in.   We all just wanted to play.  So I did, and dived into collecting Yu-Gi-Oh cards with the same passion I’d had when I really focused on baseball as a kid.  I remember the best I ever did at a large tournament was #53 out of, I think, about 300.

Though a lot of my focus was on gaming I still would buy cards and try to get autographs when I could.  I was able to go see the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 2000 for the first time.  I saw them play the Mets, and the Expos.  I can still remember watching in awe as Vladimir Guerrero hit homer after homer in batting practice.  I went with my amazing Aunt, who I love dearly.  She’s a great baseball fan as well.

In about 2001 or so I discovered Sports Card Mint.  It was in Factoria, about a twenty minute or so drive from my house.  So quite easy to get to when no one else needed the car.  I’m not quite sure how I found out about the shop.  I must have done some research or maybe heard about it from somewhere.   I pretty quickly discovered they were a great shop and very customer focused.  One of the greatest hits of my life came from this shop, early on.  After working for a full summer I had decided to treat myself with a big purchase.  I thought long and carefully about it and settled on a box of 2001 Topps Reserve.  This was right around the time a hot rookie named Albert Pujols was streaking through the league, absolutely on fire.  I even had him on my fantasy team.  What a pick up! So I really enjoyed following him as he tore things up.  I knew 2001 Topps Reserve had an autographed baseball per box.  At $150 it was expensive but, I thought, worth the risk.  I could end up with perhaps Dontrelle Willis, or others.  But I really wanted the Pujols.  So I went to the shop and made the purchase.  I decided to open there, so I could share the experience.  So I paid and the first thing I opened was the baseball.  I slowly tore open the cover, and saw the label with the name: Albert Pujols! I’d done it.  I couldn’t breathe for a moment.  Then jumped, or whooped, or something.  I can’t remember exactly.  Geoff shared the excitement, and said it was the second Pujols ball someone had pulled.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I still have it, of course, and am not selling.  Pulling it there at the shop just adds to the value of it.  FullSizeRender 14.jpg

The other thing about Sports Card Mint, is I never had a single issue while going there.  This harkens back to the mindfulness of the hobby, the game, and baseball fans.  The one time Geoff made a mistake, he more than rectified it.  I had pulled a 2002 Bowman Chrome Joe Mauer Autographed Refractor – and sent it in to be graded.  It came back a 10.  He was waiting for me to come pick it up and accidentally sold it.  He reimbursed me with 2 Mint 9 versions of the card, and I think some other cards or store credit.  But it was an above and beyond way to apologize.   I’ve still got those cards and am not selling them.  They represent something more than just Joe Mauer cards.  It’s in how I got them.

This is something I’ve seen about the hobby.  The kindness in it.  Geoff had this shop, this place where we could all come and play and be safe.  He would also go to great lengths to make sure we were taken care of if something happened.  There are those who take advantage of the hobby and are in it for making money, and I know owners need to make moneys to stay in business.  Geoff was the right kind of owner.  We ended up fiercely loyal to his shop.  I’d still be going back if it were open.  It closed in 2009, a victim, I think, of the bad economy at those times, like so many other card stores.  I have sent an email out hoping to perhaps connect with him at some point, and hear his thoughts on the store.  I hope that happens.  If not, I completely understand.  But thank so much for having such a wonderful store where we could go play, trade, and be ourselves.  It was so important to me, and I’m sure, others.

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But this kindness is something I am still seeing with the hobby today, currently manifesting in, of all places, Twitter, which can be used in such a negative way.  It’s great to see that it can be used in a positive manner and I’m not all that surprised the goodness in this hobby is coming through on Twitter.  It’s heartening and joyful to find other guys like me who collected back in the late 80s and 90s, and are getting back into the hobby.  It’s good to know we aren’t all crazy.  Or at least not alone, I think there’s a bit of crazy – good crazy – in all of us.

This #hobbylove can manifest in so many ways.  One, more recent, was at the Twins Caravan.  It stops in Mankato once every year.  This past year Paul Molitor, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Pertly were visiting.  It’s not far from my house but the weather was bad – icy rain, slick roads, so tough driving. I got there, survived the roads, and more importantly, the walk from the card to the Kato Ballroom.  I’m in line and am about to buy tickets, when I’m told that it’s cash only.  I don’t have cash.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was being told that I’d have to turn around and go get cash if I wanted a ticket to get it.  I’d barely survived the ice sheet of a parking lot and sidewalk.  This moment took me through a lot of negative emotions.  It was an $8 ticket to get in.  I was just about to give up when a gentleman behind me stepped up, Jerry from Geeks2U in Mankato.  He paid for my ticket.  I couldn’t believe it.  His kindness allowed me to have a great night listening to baseball talk, getting some autographs.  So again the hobby love comes through.  So, Jerry, thank you!

I am making a ton of connection online now through Twitter.  It’s been really fun.  I’ve been able to find the joy in it again, and hope to someday bring that same joy to my sons. I want to show them the joy of the hobby and of baseball.  With everything else available now baseball can easily get lost in all the noise.  I won’t let that happen.  If not through my boys, we need to remind the younger generations of the grace and mindfulness of baseball.  This mindfulness is represented to me, at least, in an a gorgeous autograph, not just the initials of so many current players.  This also comes through in a major way in the connections I am making, and the random acts of kindness I see online.

One amazing instance of this was seeing Robert Ballis send Dub Mentality, an amazing writer, collector, and good dude, a Frank Thomas signed jersey.  He just sent it as a thank you, asking nothing in return.  It was after one of Dub’s posts that really connected to all of us.  We all appreciate his writing because of the way he is willing to share, and not hold back.  It’s inspired me and given me the courage to do the same.  I’ve been able to write and think about some harder things through this blog, and again, because of the hobby.  So thank you Dub and others for writing, and sharing experiences.  We need this so much right now, especially with the negative mentality that can win out so easily.  We need #hobbylove.

One more instance of #hobbylove happened to me today.  I love reading Autograph Blog pretty much every day if I can.  He’ll give a new address of a player or non player to try TTM (through the mail).  One never knows what he’ll put up.  I’ve been able to get a few of my favorite Mariner players because of him, Dan Wilson and John Olerud.  But that’s just the surface.  I’ve had a great time becoming a friend of his and chatting online about baseball, hockey, or non-hobby.  He’s been a sounding board a few times even for work related topics, which have been a big help!

In a recent trade he did something very cool, full of the right mentality.  He sent me some very cool Mariners cards that I don’t have (and I have a lot!).

First there are the 1992-1993 Ultra cards.  I got this set first with basketball, and loved the look.  So to have them as Mariners cards…even better!  Here are these great cards!  First one I saw was the Griffey (a nice touch, my favorite player forever).  FullSizeRender 16.jpg

I loved watching Griffey swing, his personality, his grace with the game, how much he loved it.  Those are just a few reasons.  Then there was “The Bone” , a masher who also had so much fun with the game.  These guys to me were at the heart of the Mariners teams in the 1990s.

Then there are these two Ultras:

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The Big Unit!!! I loved watching him pitch.  I stayed up super late one night to listen to, I believe, his no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers.  It remains to this day the only no-hitter I have listened to pretty much all the way through.  I’ve seen a couple finish but you don’t really get the big picture, just how hard that is, from watching the end.

Then’s there’s Edgar.  He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The best DH in the game, such a pure hitter.  My favorite item in my entire collection is an Edger Martinez signed bat, which I got at the Mariners Fan Fest.  It’s the only time I’ve bought a bat. Got a gold pen.  He signed it.  Still have it, safe and sound, looks amazing.  It took planning and it paid off.  Those are some of my favorite memories, when planning pays off.  It’s the satisfaction of it.  Different from those spontaneous moments. which I love, but sometimes there is something about having a plan that works.

Here it is, perhaps the favorite item in my collection.  FullSizeRender 19.jpg

So thank you, Autograph Blog, for the great Edgar cards! I am realizing I need to add him to my PC list.  Edgar and Griffey are two top guys for me.

The rest of the cards he sent are great – and all guys who will sign through the mail, either with or without a fee.  Ryne Sandberg does for, I think, about $5, and so does Kent Hrbeck (per card).  So at some point they’ll all be signed, I’m sure. FullSizeRender 18.jpg

Also, I’ve never seen the “88 Leaf” before.  These look like Donruss cards…?

But that’s not all he sent.  He decided, after buying a box of Upper Deck Series 2 to use as trade bait (which I completely understand!) for a few bucks at a garage sale, he decides to instead open it up, and send me any Derek Jeter RC he finds.  It’s not the priciest Jeter by any means but I love this card, from perhaps my favorite set of all time.  It means I can now actually complete the entire set.  I hope to get as many of these 93 Upper Deck signed as possible (Ken Griffey Jr is the ultimate goal…!).  At least now I feel like I have a chance!  And it is a gorgeous card as well, in excellent condition, near mint at least.  Tempted to get it grade but probably won’t, because then I can (maybe someday) ever get it signed if I do that.

So thank you so much for the #hobbylove.  This just helps prove to me that there really can be positivity all around, something I can struggle with.  Not diagnosed depression, but sometimes I feel like it might be lurking there.  Experiences like this and connecting with other guys like me has been and will continue to be amazing.

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Thanks everyone for the hobby.  It’s brought so much joy to me.  I just hope I can return the favor to everyone!

Share the #hobbylove.  Every day, and not just in the hobby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools of the trade: Sketchpads and karma

 

Autograph notebooks.jpgI found these in my boxes the other day, my old autograph notebooks.  The first version, was, I believe, the artist’s sketchpad.  It states on the cover “to use for experimentation in the field.”  I’m not sure they meant for it to be used to get autographs, but it worked great for that! The second was the binder. Much sturdier.  I absolutely need to find a binder that size again and make these again.  I just wish I’d gotten those autographs on an index card, not the binder cover! Hindsight.  It did make for a quick surface in a pinch.  Those are my only Rex Hudler and Rolando Arroyo signatures, though, so I need to figure out something for the cover.  Or just leave it.

Mobile devices

These went with me to every game, including Spring Training every year.  They were mobile and could fit easily in a small backup.  What I liked best about them is that they gave the player a hard surface to use when signing.  This is key.  I’ve seen signatures ruined before because a player didn’t have a place to put the card down to sign.  They’re perfectly willing, but the location can sometimes be awkward (I would think this could be true at a hotel, for example).  Initially I must have tried large binders with cards in 9-card sleeves and that method is always cumbersome.  I confess it’s what I’ve used it at Vikings Training Camp with mixed success.  This year I’m finally going to make a new autograph notebook.

Photo tabs

You can find these for under $3 at Wal-Mart or Target.  For example, here.

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To make these, fine large index cards, ideally with holes pre-made.  You could also punch the holes yourself but this is just easier.   The thicker index cards are important as well.  They’ll hold up when you are flipping through the notebook madly to get to that particular player.

Then just set a card down on the index card, and mark on it where the corners are.  Repeat until done.  I would not recommend having too many index cards in the binder, as it can get thick and a bit cumbersome.  It’s also important to remember that you may have to bend the cards slightly as you put them in.  This is the tricky part, as doing so might result in slightly dinged corners.  So choose cards that aren’t worth much for this method.  Back in the day I’d just choose fun looking base cards.  Unfortunately too many of those were glossy, but the signatures have actually held up all right.

Glossy cards vs matte

This is REALLY important.  The surface of a card can mean all the difference between a good clear autograph and smudging that ruins it.  We’ve all heard horror stories of that happening.  When you hear about “prepping” a card it is referring to the process of attempting to get gloss off the surface.  One can use pencil eraser, or even baby powder, if the gloss is particularly thick.  I’ve never actually used the powder, just a pencil eraser.

Sets like 2017 Topps need to be prepped, in my opinion.  There’s just enough gloss on the surface to cause issues at time.  You don’t want that to crop up if you are lucky enough to get Mike Trout!

Topps Archives or Topps Heritage turn out great for signatures without any prep.  This is why certain collectors really love these sets.  In particular this is where Topps Archives shines.  The “fan favorite” autographs are fun hits, but the mix of retired and current players are an autograph collectors dream.  Especially if you do “TTM” – or “through the mail” autograph requests.

“Junk wax” era cards are a mix for gloss vs. matte.  Late 80s and early 90s are generally good.  Generally during that time Topps cards are good choices for surface (though signatures may sometimes “bleed” a bit into the surface), and 89 Upper Deck, 1990 Upper Deck are also good choices.  So far I am finding that 1993 Upper Deck makes a great choice for TTM hunting.  This is one I got from the mid 90s, Mike Mussina (!) and holds up nicely.

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No prep – the gloss must have worn off over time – and the signatures turn out great.  Plus amazing photography, so a bold sign and amazing photos are a winning combination.  AVOID Fleer Ultra from the mid 90s like a plague! Those surfaces are no fun.  Though the 92/93 Ultra surfaces don’t seem bad.  It should be pretty obvious when going through cards which ones will be good for autos.

To any new autograph collector, I highly recommend making these notebooks, or your version.  I’d probably try to make it a little more organized as oppose to just “visitors” but even that little bit helps.

The right mentality and other tips

The biggest and most important tip I can give for those seeking autographs in person is to just be polite, courteous, and helpful to others around you.  It WILL come back to you.  I would not have my El Duque Orlando Hernandez otherwise.  Friends I made at the park got me that signature because we formed relationships while at the park.  You’ll find that regulars will be there, and if you alienate them, it will become that much harder for you. So please be friendly!  Players especially notice how you act and will stop in the middle of signing an autograph if things get pushy or kids are in any danger or scared.

Help the kids get their autographs first!  I’ve done this and I’ve found that then players will sign for me if they have time.  If they don’t at that point, they’ll perhaps be more likely to remember that the next time, and sign.

Ushers

I’ve said this before as well, but become friends with the ushers! They are the ones who can let you hang out in the best spots.  There are ones who won’t, though, no matter how nice you are to them.  But it doesn’t hurt to be as nice to them as possible.  They’re just trying to do their jobs.

Extra supplies

Have extra pens and base cards to share or give away.  We’ve all been there when we don’t have a pen or a card and come away from a prime opportunity with nothing.  So have a couple extras, if you have them, and be ready to hand out in a pinch.  It’s all about helping each other out.

IT IS ABOUT THE KIDS

Those of us who are dads (or not) still remember the thrill of getting that key autograph.  We cherish those memories now, and it’s those stories and experiences that have pulled us back into the hobby.   We want to help make sure that kids get the same chance for these experiences.  So please remember that while we are kids at heart, it can be hard for players to see this sometimes.  They don’t have to sign.  If they see adults pushing kids aside they’ll stop.  And PLEASE think about that kid.  They won’t want to come back and try this again.  They won’t want to enjoy another baseball game.  They won’t be there in the stands as they grow up, or bring their own kids to the game when they get there.

Be kind, thoughtful, share, and remember, it is all about the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

The mindfulness mentality in an autograph

Going through my collection is bringing back memories.  I’m remembering just how big a part of my life collecting autographs and cards was.  As a teenager it was my main drive. Not just a hobby, but it was all I really thought about.  It was fun, a challenge, and I felt more myself when going after an autograph.  I did my best as a kid and teenager to have the right attitude.   I noticed right away that those who were obnoxious and pushy might get one autograph, but that players definitely didn’t like it.  They’d often finish signing right after an incident, a pushy fan.  A classic example of this was, in fact, Adrian Peterson.  He’d specifically tell fans to back off, not push, or he’d have to stop.  For the most part fans would respect but some wouldn’t.  I remember one time I got his autograph, he said that, and looked at me – I backed up right away.  I didn’t realized I’d gotten too close, I guess.  But I had.  I backed off and he did end up signing my item, and continued.  So that’s a borderline time when I came close to that mentality line – the Dub Mentality line you could say.  Dub Mentality is a collector who gets it, who knows the right way to do things.  So I’m calling the “Mindfulness Mentality” the “Dub Mentality.”

But, anyway, that was a time I didn’t quite handle it right.  Another was when I was a kid trying to get Devon White.  It was the only time I’d get a chance to get him for a while.  I kept saying his name over and over, and he clearly got annoyed.  He said something about it, I don’t quite remember, and I tried to back off.  Apparently it was enough because he did give me a good signature.

These experiences and others have really taught me and reminded me to hold to the Dub Mentality Line.  This is to respect the players – they don’t have to sign – remember they are just people – and to help other collectors.  This is a big one.  Especially the kids! Do what you can to help them, get their cards to the players to sign.  Back off – after all, they are the younger generation, the ones who will keep the game going strong.  And players will appreciate this as well.  They might not get to you this time, but if there’s a second time, I think you’ll get good results.

Other advice I have for those looking to get in person autographs

  • Talk with those around you.  You never know who might hand you a pen in quick moment, or even an extra card.  I’ve had both happen.  Especially at an event like TwinsFest, people will give you cards if you need them.  One of the best moments I had was when I gave a young girl a Joe Mauer card.  Otherwise she was just going to get her hat signed, something she clearly wore a lot.  She was excited to be meeting Joe and getting a signature, or it seemed so to me.  So I gave her the card, and then I saw her after – her dad taking a picture of her with the card, a BIG smile on her face.   So I think I did good there.
  • Become friends with ushers!  This served me very well as a younger kid.  They can be instrumental in getting an item to a player, or letting you stay and hang out.  Even now I’ve encountered the rude user who’s very strict about not letting you wait in their spot for an autograph.  It happened to me this year at Spring Training. I moved on to a next space.
  • Have an extra sharpie or two – again, this is good for you, but even better if you can help someone out.  Then they’ll return the favor.

So in the end it’s really about talking with others, making connections, and friends.  Which gets back to another part of the joy of collecting: Making friends.  Helping each other, making sure we all get a chance at that one autograph we’ve been searching for, making a connection with a player that holds meaning to us.  We all have those certain players that for whatever reason, we follow.  Perhaps its because we see something of ourselves in them, if we were able to play ball like that.  Or maybe something they did to help our team uplifted us in a down moment.  Kept us going.  I think this is a big part of why I like certain players.

My favorite player of all time was Ken Griffey Jr.  He was my childhood sports icon.  I became a big Mariners fan in the early 90s, as I headed to being a teenager, a period of time that was tough as I started at a middle school where I was definitely the outsider looking in on all the cliques.  This was in about 6th grade or so.  So baseball again was the thing I could enjoy (and some other things, but in reality it was baseball) and really get into, and be myself.  And growing up in Seattle I was a Mariners fan.  That really ended and began with Griffey, for me.  He was The Kid.  It was so effortless for him, and he had so much FUN.  I yearned to have that much fun and be that good at something.  I got to watch him or listen to the games pretty much every day.

So my No. 1 player of all time is Griffey.   And here are my Griffey Rookies:

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I got one graded, not the others.  Grading wasn’t all that important to me back then, but I’m glad I did do the Griffey! Pretty awesome having a 9.  I don’t have any of the harder to find Griffey’s like the Bellingham ones, but would love to own them sometime.  That’s one thing I’ve noticed as well with my collection.  It doesn’t have much focus in terms of set collecting.  I kept buying different packs, moving onto the next “shiny” thing.  Which actually makes sense now.  I have ADD/ADHD.  So of course I couldn’t stay focused with my cards! Always after the next new set.  Except I was able to, in a way – I collected Mariners, and autographs.  Those were my thing.  They helped me stay sane and focused in the rest of my life, even as I was going after the shine.

Speaking of shine, there was something about Tony Gwynn and the way he played the game

There was just, well, I don’t know exactly, about Tony Gwynn that I loved watching.  He was such a pure hitter, for sure.  I was astounded at how he could hit the ball pretty much wherever he wanted.  One of my great disappointments was not seeing him get a real chance at .400 in the strike shortened season of 1994.  I was a huge baseball nut, nerd, fan, when the 1994 strike happened and cut off an amazing season and left us with what ifs.  I remember being genuinely worried that baseball wouldn’t come back.  At a camp that year I actually wrote out the rules and some stats about players as if baseball really was going to die, and I needed to save some part of it.  Not sure why I thought that way but that’s how nervous I was about the games future.  I think I really like Tony Gwynn because he didn’t let the 1994 season get to him.  Or at least it seemed that way to me.  He meant that to me, at least.  A symbol of a player who just kept hitting and succeeding.  Enjoying every moment of it.  That was another big reason why I liked him, and other players.  The sheer joy of the game and getting a hit was there in every swing.  I think that’s why he was so good at it.

My interactions with Tony Gwynn when I got some autographs of him just cemented that feeling.  He would have so much fun with fans – trash talking us – but with a smile the entire time, and giving EVERYONE a nice, bold, wonderful signature that was him.  He loved signing.  That was clear to me.  And because of the way he interacted with fans and the way he put everything he had into a single, he’ll always be a favorite of mine.

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I wasn’t actually able to go to his last home game, but I did get that ticket, which meant a lot to me.  These are some of the favorite items of my collection and I need to find a good, proper way to display them.  I got all of these at Spring Training – the Padres and Mariners shared a Spring Training facility.  So I was able to carefully choose the items I wanted to try and get signed, and was successful more often than not with Mr. Tony Gwynn.

A Yankees fan for a night…

I know, I know.  I’m a Seattle Mariners fan within my childhood heart, a present Twins fan living in Minnesota, and a Boston Red Sox fan because I lived there when they won the 2007 World Series.

But for this night, an amazing night, I was a Yankees fan.  Let me explain.  Even though the Yankees were hated rivals, I respected them. Especially Derek Jeter.  He was a star SS, like an up and coming Alex Rodriguez, who I was aware of and becoming a fan of (I think I have the timeline right, if not, it makes sense in my head).  He was, frankly, one of the biggest stars of the game.  Who played it right and carried himself right.

So I packed up my key items in my backpack and headed to the game WAY early.  By this time I’d made several friends (see tips above!) and some would be there as well to try and get our Yankee players.  I got to the park and we exchanged some cards – I gave them an El Duque Orlando Hernandez card, and some others, I don’t quite remember.

But the amazing night started during BP.  I was that nerdy kid watching the players warm up and then a moment later Derek Jeter jogged by, and tossed a ball to us.  AND I ENDED UP WITH THAT BASEBALL.  I have no idea how.  But somehow I had a used baseball tossed to me by Derek Jeter.

I couldn’t believe it.  I would have been happy there.  But then I somehow heard – or maybe knew beforehand – that Reggie Jackson was there as well.  I must not have known because otherwise I would have had something.  But I heard, and set off on a mission.  I ended up in a good spot – and as luck would have it, he started signing.  And I ended up getting Reggie Jackson on that baseball I got from Derek Jeter.  On the sweet spot.  On a high now, I pocketed that ball safe in my backpack (protected as best as possible), and got back to my other spot, about halfway between the dugout and the outfield.

I also had a Sports Illustrated with me, that had Derek Jeter, Rivera, and Tina Martinez on it.  I had hopes of maybe getting one of them.  Jeter…?

It happened.  Jeter came over, and signed.  He signed my Sports Illustrated perfectly.  Who knows, maybe he saw me get the ball and signed because of that.  But more often I just got lucky.  So on the night I’d gotten a Jeter ball, and Reggie Jackson on the sweet spot of that ball.  Then I got Jeter on my SI.

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I couldn’t believe it, I was on cloud nine – thanks to the Yankees, of all teams.  That didn’t matter.  For just this night, I could be a fan of a rival.

I thought I was done until one of my friends came over, and handed me my El Duque card – signed.  He even said it was the only one Orlando Hernandez would sign of the three they had.  They said El Duque liked it the most of them.  It would have been so easy for them to take the card, but they brought it back.  These were friends, I knew. Though I haven’t stayed in touch with them, they were, for those Summers at the park.

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That was a magical night, full of joy, and the wonder and grace of baseball and the mindfulness of the collecting family I’d formed at the park.

There isn’t anything like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the joy of collecting

Digging through boxes and memories…Commons.JPG

Baseball and collecting helped me get through some very tough times in high school.  I was a nerdy, dorky kid who got picked on nearly every day.  There were a few who didn’t, some friends, but I haven’t kept in touch with anyone.  There was one who I might have except he passed away unexpectedly way too early before I’d gotten the chance to reconnect with him.  I wish I had.  He was one of the few in those years that didn’t care what I looked like, or that I wore tight jeans on the first day (a HUGE mistake).  Pretty much every day was verbal abuse – I won’t mince words – that I just had to try and ignore.  Sometimes I was able to, sometimes not.  He was one of those that were genuinely chill, relaxed.  Fun, and a friend.   I did not have many of those back then.  Which is a big part of why I turned to baseball and the hobby and autographs back then.

Baseball and cards to me were my haven, like I have said before.  When I was at a game, I was myself, who I wanted to be.  I knew baseball.  I had confidence, and other regulars at the park getting autographs and enjoying the game knew me.  Since I left Seattle after college in 2004 the bulk of my collection has been in my childhood home. So this week was really important to me as I got the most of my collection mailed to me from my parents.  Thank you Mom and Dad! I got a total of 7 boxes.  Not all cards – there were yearbooks, photographs, YuGiOh cards (I’ll talk about that in a later post, probably) books, and more.

But the cards and autographs are really what’s important to me, in a different way than even the photographs and especially the yearbooks.  Yearbooks I have mixed feelings about. Reading through some of the end of year thank you’s makes me think that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember.  But then I recall that yes, it was.  So I am probably not keeping those at all.  But maybe, especially if I find one signed by my friend who’s no longer around.

The cards and autographs bring me joy.  I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately as I move into being a dad and family man as oppose to one trying to achieve his own dreams, like writing a novel.   I’ve been working really hard to find joy in everything around me and in the now.  It’s this idea (and NOT mine) that you should surround yourself only with things that bring you joy.  Joy almost seems to be too simple a word.  Perhaps its a combination of joy and peace.

So in the next few weeks or so I will be going through my boxes and thinking about what they really mean to me.  It won’t really be about monetary value, but about the joyless factor in them.  Was it a favorite player? Do I like the photography? The stats? Something silly to it? Was it a Mariner? A Twin? What is it about this card or item that really connects to me? What memory is associated with it, and how important is that memory to me? These are some of the questions I’ll be asking.

What about you? What brings you the most joy out of your collection?

Part of what I’ll do is look at each item, and examine joy closely.  What aspect of joy does this represent? As I look at each item, I hope it will help figure out what joy is, and how I can focus on it more.  It won’t just be the cards.  But the cards will be the easiest.

A few early ones for me:

Early Ichiro autograph

This one brings me joy because it helps me remember Spring Training baseball, good times with my family – we’d go with my Mom, Dad, and even my sister.  It also brings me joy because its a unique item and early signature of a favorite player – the great Ichiro! So this is a mix of good family time, and the success of getting the autograph.  So a mix of internal emotion and external, more materialistic pleasure, perhaps.  Something to think about more.

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Beating the odds: Albert Pujols 2001 Topps Reserve Autographed Baseball

Another item that brings me a lot of joy is my Albert Pujols ball, valued at now (I think) about $800 or more, since he hit 600 just recently.   I bought a box of Topps Reserver back in 2001 at my favorite card shop.  The owner new me by this point, was always friendly, fun, and would cut me deals sometime.  In this case I got the box for $150 and decided to open it there at his encouragement.  So I did, and I got this ball.  We both just started at each other and then I know I jumped up and down, or whooped, or something.  I was ecstatic – we both knew he’d be a star at this point.  Probably the best one, but maybe not.  Turned out that we were right, 600 home runs later!

So again there is monetary value here, more so than the Ichiro since the Pujols is certified, but there is also that memory of getting it.  Sharing a moment with someone who only cared that I liked baseball cards and went to his shop.  He always treated me great and with respect.  I would like to thank him for that – it’s what made me a customer for life while I was out there.

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What brings you joy?

So I encourage you to look at your collection again: What brings you joy?  What helped you? I really hope you can at least think about things this way.  It has really helped me, and I hope it will help others.

Keep collecting!

 

Broken bats, swings and misses

A few of you might recall that about a month or so ago, I was lucky enough to get three signed cards from one of my icons, Walter Ioos, Jr.  His photographs have inspired my own love of photography and in particular sports.  My own skill will never be anywhere near his, but there are few things quite like getting that action shot or a close cropped photo that show’s a players emotion, good or bad.  Sports provide a unique challenge and opportunity to really show and capture a moment that can tell an entire story, or is representational of similar moments.  The broken bat.  The missed strike.  The foul ball.  A pitcher giving up a home run.  These are the universal moments in baseball, that all players experience, that all fans know.

We all know this moment, whether it’s in sports or in life, when we’ve given up that home run, failed at something big.  We’ve all been there.  I know I have.
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The other challenge is finding those key moments throughout a game that reveal a player’s emotions.  When you can capture these truths, the rawness unfiltered, that’s when a photograph has a chance to become iconic.  It’s when you look at a photograph and it instantly gives you a visceral, charged reaction, that’s when it’s one of those photographs.  This isn’t one of those moments, but it is one of anticipation.  This is something we can all relate to as well.  The sleepless night before a big job interview or a test.  Or the nervousness that comes before getting married, or a myriad of other events.  It’s the last moment before the storm hits.  Not the calm moment, but that point at which everything is about to explode into the unknown.  You might hit it out of the park, or swing and miss.

This is something we’ve all known as well:

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I’ll keep posting some of my favorite photographs that show these moments.  The ones we relate to, and the ones that capture the raw grit of perseverance.

One of my favorite things to do is get these photos signed.  I’ve had the most success taking photographs of Minnesota Vikings players.  It seems like players do like to sign unique items, and sometimes they’ll see a particular photograph and let you know they really do like it.  This has happened a few times for me.  Once was Jeff Locke, former Vikings punter.  He really liked an action shot and asked me to send it to him over Twitter.  I did so.  Didn’t hear back, but still really cool that he liked it.

Another more recent one seemed to be Adam Theilen.  The evidence isn’t quite as obvious, but he was signing for a lot of people at camp, and starting to hurry through to finish up.  I had my photo out, and he spotted it.  Paused, and then made sure to sign it.  That signature is another one of my favorites.

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Maybe they’re seeing a small hint of that joy, raw emotion, or grit that can make a photograph iconic.  But I’m probably deluding myself there.  I know I am.  The photograph of Adam Theilen certainly isn’t iconic.  But it does show a calm moment, contemplative.  Quiet.  We’ve all been there also.

One of the main reasons I enjoy sports photography is the way it reveals the best things about the game.  It shows how every game has its unique moments, and they are moments that any fan can connect to, or relate to. Each moment is a struggle and can be akin to our own struggles.  Or it can remind us of the joy in baseball and provide us with a calming influence.  It can help remind us that things aren’t so bad.

I think this is a big part of why I like baseball and the hobby.  It’s an easy way to keep joy in my life, and keep the darker thoughts and moments away.  It’s my haven.  If it’s your haven, embrace it.  Use it.  Show others what it can do for you.

Thanks for reading and continue to pay it forward, and let’s show everyone what baseball and the hobby can do.

Please feel free to use any of the photographs I post.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top baseball moments: Futures at Fenway

Futures at Fenway 2007-2008
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Writing these moments does remind me that in two years living by Fenway, I do have a tone of memories related to the Red Sox.  It shows just how unique they are and how ingrained the Sox are in Boston.  I’m also realizing just how ingenious and generous the Sox are with marketing towards their fans and potential fans.  In reading Feeding the Monster, it talks about how John Henry and Co. shifted the marketing focus to become much more fan-friendly.  In other words, they actually made an effort.

In 2007-2008 I was seeing this marketing to full creative effect.  The Red Sox did something very creative during the two years I was there.  They held a “Futures at Fenway” event which was essentially a double header of minor league baseball at Fenway Park.  They heavily discounted tickets and for about $25/$25 I got front row seats behind the dugout at Fenway Park for two minor league games on a Saturday in Fenway. I still remember the starting pitcher for one of them, Stephan Fife.  He didn’t end up doing much but I was that close to watching him at Fenway.  In seats I’d only dreamed of for under $30.   Absolutely perfect weather.

Another big part of it was between games the minor league teams would sign autographs, for free.  You’d get to go down a line and get most of the top prospects.  At the time this included guys like Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden.  I got autographs from both, and at the time, was stoked about it.  Masterson has done OK in his career, but never really lived up to the hype back then.  The other fun thing about these games were rehabbing stars and ex stars as coaches.  One was Julio Lugo, rehabbing from injury.  I was lucky enough to get his autograph on one of my roster scorecards.  There’s one signature that could be Tim Raines (coach with the Harrisburg Senators), but I don’t think it is (if so, it’s a hurried version, and on wrong scorecard).  It’s more likely to be Jason Tyner.  Please help me figure it out (the one in question is to the right of Bowden):

Michael Bowdan

Other names that are recognizable in these rosters now include Stephen Vogt, Hunter Strickland, Tim Fedorowicz, and Chris Carter.  But I don’t think I snagged any of them.  So there were some names that I saw that went on to have decent careers but not many.  It shows somewhat just how hard it is to make it in baseball and how many top prospects don’t live up to the hype.

But that’s not the point here.  The point is that these “Futures at Fenway” events were a prime opportunity for a fan like me to experience Fenway up close and personal.  There’s no other way I would have been able to be that close to a game at Fenway.  It was a brilliant example of marketing and fan promotion.  I still remember those double headers, the sun, the players, the fans, and the crowd.  If more teams put on events like this – easy, cheaper access to minor league games at ballparks – I think it would be a brilliant way to show what baseball really is and gain more fans.

My top baseball moments

Ripken

Inspired by Dub Mentality’s post about top players at each position, I thought I’d run through my top baseball moments.  These include games I’ve attended or spontaneous occurrences, cards shows, and so on.  These moments are what define me as a baseball fan.  This will be a series, no real order, but perhaps leading to my absolute top few moments that made me a baseball fan for life.

An autograph from the Iron Man Cal Ripken, Jr.

This is one of my top five.  I went to probably a dozen games a year at the Kingdome and then Safeco Field later on.  In one of the last few years at the Dome, I think it was in 1997,  I got to go to another Mariners/Orioles matchup and see Cal Ripken Jr again.  This was probably one of the last times I got to see him in person, if not the last.  I was determined to get his autograph that night.  So I made sure to get to the ball park early, when the gates opened.  I didn’t waste any time I sped to the visitor’s dugout and got in the first row with the resolve to not move from my spot no matter what.  That was a lesson learned the hard way:  It’s best not to move from a prime spot.  Unless it’s a player like Derek Jeter.  Even then, you can strike out and come up empty the rest of the night because of one bad move.

So this time I stayed where I was.  Watched batting practice, tracking Ripken everywhere.  I’d brought a special 8 x 10 of him and had it easily accessible with a blue sharpie handy.  Batting practice was finishing up.  I started getting nervous that he wouldn’t stop at all or that I’d miss him, despite my prime spot.  Which would happen a lot.  Patience won out.  And paid off.  He came over and started signing.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then the next best thing: He started moving down the line.  He got closer and I had my 8 x 10 ready, and my binder with a firm surface to make it easier for the Iron Man.

Then he was almost there and I can still remember the press of the crowd behind me as he got closer.  It didn’t matter.  He was there, and then he took my pen and signed the 8 x 10.  It turned out perfect.  Even with the crowd and everything else he still took his time and gave me a great signature.  I was a big fan of his since the early 1990s but this interaction convinced me he truly is a class act.

Recently I’ve learned he’s coming to Minnesota for a card show, and I hope to go.  I’m already excited about the chance to get one more signature from him.  It’ll either be something related to game 2131 (which I stayed up to watch late into the night) or his 1994 Upper Deck card.   This is the one I had with me when I went to the game where Griffey broke his wrist and I got to go into the press box.  Ever since then – 1995 – I’d always wanted to get that card signed.  So I might just get that one signed.  A simple baseball card.

Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman

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I went to Spring Training for the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, AZ for several years in the early 90s.  This was a unique time for Spring Training.  It was popular but not nearly at the levels it is today.  There was a lot more access to the players.  They’d walk between practice fields without a fence, and even invite kids onto the field to play catch.  The Padres would do this, and I stared in awe (and some jealousy) as they got to play catch with the Padres regulars.  Though my heart was with the Mariners, I’ll give the Padres this: They knew how to treat their fans.  I’ll always have a soft spot for them.

They’d also sign really well, pretty much all of them.  And they enjoyed talking with fans. Especially Trevor Hoffman and Tony Gwynn.  I got smart, I’ll admit, and started not wearing my Mariners gear when I went over to the Padres.  Because they wouldn’t sign for non-Padres fans.  Or at least give them a really hard time (in a good natured way) before signing something.   One time with Hoffman, he signed a card for me and not the person next to me.  I did feel guilty, but I’m pretty sure Hoffman did sign for him as well eventually.

Tony Gwynn was such a fun-loving person.  He genuinely enjoyed interacting with fans and signing.  Smiling and yes, trash-talking.  But not swearing, at least, not much.  There were kids around after all.  I don’t remember what exactly he said when I talked to him but I remember laughing.  With a Hall of Fame player.  One of the best hitters of our generation.  He had me laughing, a nerdy, nervous, kid.  But while getting autographs from ballplayers, that nervous side of me vanished and I was in my element.  Its one of the reasons why I still do this, I think.  Its something that brings me true joy.

My next post will get into more autograph collecting moments, and more games.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the heart of Boston

Pesky

I lived in the heart of Boston while getting my library science graduate degree from 2006-2008.  Yes, I am proud to be a Librarian! A sports-card collecting librarian.  One of my jobs while in graduate school was working at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA as an Archives Tech.  This essentially meant I got to go through their incoming collections and organize them.  At the Heritage Museum this meant I got to handle and see a lot of Presidential papers and photographs, including autographed photos from Lyndon B. Johnson to Billy Graham.  It was pretty amazing going through this and didn’t feel like work.  It’d take me two plus hours to get to the Museum from the heart of Boston but I didn’t care.  It was a great internship for a grad student.  I even got to chatting with a Master Mason and having regular lunches.  I don’t remember his title but I think he was fairly high up in the organization.  Fascinating conversations.

This job was something I loved and reflected my love of collecting autographs.  Where I lived in Boston the first year was about 10 minutes from Fenway Park, in the graduate dorms of Simmons College where I got my degree.  With my class schedule I could often head over to Fenway about three hours before a game and purchase standing room only tickets for about $26.  Such an amazing deal.  I was able to get to about 5-7 games each year this way.  One I remember distinctly in 2007 was, of course, against the Yankees.  It was late in the year as they were pushing for the playoffs.  The day had started out simply amazing.  I’d gotten lucky enough before the game to get Mariano Rivera’s autograph on a ball.  Still have it, of course.  He signed probably about twenty minutes for a lot of people.  Even though I’d never been a Yankees fan and was enjoying bing a Sox fan in Boston, I greatly respected Rivera and he’s actually been a favorite player for years.  So getting an in person autograph from the Sandman was an amazing experience.   So that was just the start of the evening.

The game was one of those long affairs, starting a bit after 7 PM.  It was sometime after midnight in the bottom of the 9th inning.  The Red Sox were down by 2 runs, I think.  They got the bases loaded and then the Yankees brought in Rivera.  Couldn’t believe my luck.  I was going to see Rivera pitch at Fenway Park.  An amazing chance to see one of the best of the game work his craft. Of course I was cheering heartily for the Red Sox but just a small part of me wanted to see a shut down inning from Rivera.  I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity again.

I don’t remember who came up before David Ortiz.  But I remember the crowd roaring and the chill Fenway air.  I could see my own breath.  This was classic, straight of movies.      There were a few pitches from Rivera, that cutter.  Then Ortiz got into one and hit it deep to center…and then it was caught.  Yankees won it.  Deflating, and exhilarating at the same time.  I’d gotten Rivera’s autograph and seen him close out a game in the same night.  It’s one of my favorite memories at Fenway.In 2007 I lived five minutes from Fenway Park.  I could see a bit of the Green Monster and the Citgo sign from our bedroom.  It also meant I could hear every game being played.  We could hear the walk-up music, Sweet Caroline in the 7th.  I knew when it was the 7th inning because of that song.  I also learned one of the best ways to watch a game was with the windows open.  I got the game on TV, Jerry Remy announcing, and live crowd noise.  One oddity was there was about a 30 second or so delay between the crowds reaction and what we’d see on TV.   It was a bit of a surreal experience watching a Red Sox game while hearing the Fenway Park crowd.  I would know if a good play or bad one was about to happen.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

When the playoffs and the World Series arrived the area around Fenway became festive. I’m pretty sure one time I was outside Fenway, walking by just to enjoy the atmosphere before a playoff game, and almost ran into Stevan Tyler of Aerosmith.   He moved quickly by me with an entourage but I’m 95% sure it was him.

It was a unique, amazing experienceliving that close to Fenway during the playoffs and then the World Series.  Our apartment got buzzed by the flyovers before the game, windows rattling.  Thrilling.

The other part about living in the area – the Fens neighborhood – would be running into players on the street.  There were other apartments nearby where rookies and recently acquired players would stay before they found other places.   I ran into Eric Gagne once, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  I took to carrying a baseball around with me and got lucky enough to get Ellsbury on a ball on the street.

So living this close to Fenway I didn’t really have a choice but to become a baseball fan.  One thing I know now after living in Boston is that being a sports fan there is a religion.  It’s everywhere.  The media coverage is constant and never ending.  Fenway Park is a shrine, a haven, it’s own ecosystem.  The park lives and breathes and changesthroughout the day.  Walking down Yawkey Way and around the park when there’s no game is an experience every baseball fan should have.  You can just pause and take in the park and imagine the crowds, the noise, the games.  And doing the same thing before a regular season game, before a playoff game, before a World Series game, was a completely different experience.  Those crowds are full of anticipation and energy, nerves, chatter, smells of hot dogs and beer.  The park is full of people and lively.

I remember walking by during a game, Clay Buccholz pitching – a no hitter – and the crowd roaring.  It felt like the park was breathing, pulsing with it’s own life, it’s own heartbeat.  There’s just so much that’s happened in Fenway that I came to believe the Park has its own spirt, its own unique energy, that makes it what it is.  There’s something there that’s unique and different.

It’s in the moments when you are enjoying walking around the park before a game, and end up meeting Jonny Pesky and getting an autograph from him.  Or when the Red Sox have alumni sign before the game – these moments get at the history of the Park, everything that’s happened here.

It’s in those quiet times as well, when Fenway Park sits and waits for the next game, the fans, the players.  It’s how it’s a part of the Boston skyline and the city.  It can represent the worst, and the best, of the city.

Those two years in Boston settled into me as baseball fan and I’ll always have a soft spot for the Red Sox.  I’ll always follow them and root for them.

The Seattle Mariners were my childhood team, and where my heart really lies.  I’d say the Boston Red Sox are my second team, one I’ll enjoy, and one that will always be a part of me.  I’m a Red Sox fan, but not a die-hard Red Sox FAN who lives and dies with the team.  I guess I’m not there with any team right now.  Though I’m starting to get there again some with the Minnesota Twins, since I live in Minnesota now.  But I’m not there yet.  I’d like to get there again with a team.  I guess I’m still figuring out where my true heart lies.  My childhood team, or the Red Sox to which I was so close for two years, or the Minnesota Twins?

Perhaps it should just be all three.  It probably will be.  Though I’ll always remember walking by Fenway before a World Series game, and listening to crowd as I watched the Sox on TV.  There wasn’t anything quite like living in the shadow of Fenway during a World Series run.