It started in early January when I met Juan Berenguer at the Minnesota Twins Fantasy camp in Fort Myers, Florida, and ended with Felipe Lopez just a couple of weeks ago at his former high school in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
|Felipe Lopez, 2009 Upper Deck|
|Juan Berenguer, 1992 Upper Deck|
Let's take a look at some of the highlights between me meeting Mr. Berenguer and Mr. Lopez.
The month of January always has fantasy camps operating just about every week. I was able to visit 7 different camps (Twins, Orioles, Mets, Cardinals, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates and Orioles). I added 37 players from those teams.
January also happens to be the month in which I was born. On my birthday (January 13th) I went to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, where they were holding a winter development program for their top prospects. It's not opened to the public, so I just waited outside and got Brent Honeywell and Ryne Stanek to sign for me when they were finished. It was my first time collecting autographs on my birthday.
|Brent Honeywell, 2014 Bowman Draft|
|Ryne Stanek, 2015 FSL Top Prospects|
February is when pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training, but it's also a time when soccer players in Major League Soccer and lower divisions begin preparing for their upcoming seasons. I decided to start collecting soccer cards this year, beginning with players from my local team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Freddy Adu was my very first soccer autograph. Unfortunately, I didn't prep the card well enough.
|Freddy Adu, 2007 Upper Deck|
|Claudio Reyna, 2007 Upper Deck|
|Earnie Stewart, 2002 Panini|
|Tony Meola, 1993 Upper Deck|
|Jozy Altidore, 2015 Topps|
|Michael Bradley, 2015 Topps|
I started following the English Premier League in 2006. I selected Chelsea FC as my team and have been a fan ever since. In 2016 I met 4 players who have played for Chelsea during my time as being a fan. I never expected to meet any of these guys when I watched them on TV. Now my collection includes perhaps two of their biggest stars, one of whom is Chelsea's leading goal scorer and 4th all-time in the Premier League.
|Didier Drogba, 2015 Panini|
|Frank Lampard, 2014 Topps Premier|
|Shaun Wright-Phillips, 2005 Topps|
|Joe Cole, 2014 Topps Premier|
March is when spring training baseball games start. The Phillies spring home is about 15 minutes from where I live. Really close. Sadly, I do not drive, so, I rely on public transportation. It's 90 minutes by bus. I'm dedicated to my hobby and don't let it bother me. Of the 15 home games the Phillies had this spring, I was there for 10 of them. I only ever try for visiting teams during spring training games. I added 28 new signatures to my collection. It started with Astros first base coach, Rich Dauer and ended with Twins outfielder, Byron Buxton.
|Rich Dauer, 1984 Topps|
|Byron Buxton, 2015 Topps Pro Debut|
The Florida State League kicked off its season in April. I don't know how many games I attended, but I saw every team multiple times and visited 4 different stadiums. The FSL season helped me add an additional 153 autographs. It started with David Harris of the Dunedin Blue Jays and ended with Stephen Tarpley of the Tampa Yankees.
|David Harris, 2015 Dunedin Blue Jays|
|Stephen Tarpley, Bradenton Marauders|
In September, after the conclusion of the FSL season, I decided to try something that I have never done in all my years of collecting autographs. I requested an autograph by mail. I had heard that the 1952 American League MVP, Bobby Shantz, was a great signer and returned items quickly. Knowing that he was 90 (he turned 91 the week after I sent my card) and that I'd probably never have the opportunity to meet him, I decided to write him a letter. Six days later my card came back signed. So far I am 3-3 with autograph requests. I have also written to Pat Neshek and Tom Willis.
|Bobby Shantz, 1993 Ted Williams|
|Pat Neshek, 2016 Topps|
October is a time for playoff baseball and the World Series, but here in Florida, we have the Instructional League, where younger Minor League players get extra work to improve their skills. It's also for injured players to rebound from injuries and for players traded to new teams to get acclimated with their new coaching staffs. If you buy a lot of lower-level Minor League team sets, you'll do great with autographs in the FIL. I came away with 44. Ryan McKenna of the Orioles was my first and I finished with Jojo Romero of the Phillies.
|Jojo Romero, 2016 Williamsport Crosscutters|
|Ryan McKenna, 2015 Bowman Draft|
I got some impressive names during the FIL season. The very first player chosen in the 2016 MLB Draft, Mickey Moniak, Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer, Craig, son of future Hall of Famer, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., a couple of big name prospects that the Yankees acquired in trades, Clint Frazier and Dillon Tate, a Yankee who was rehabbing from an injury, Greg Bird, and a Yankee 4 home runs shy of 700, who came down to coach for a weekend, Alex Rodriguez.
|Cavan Biggio, 2013 Panini U|
|Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 2016 Bowman Platinum|
|Greg Bird, 2016 Topps|
|Dillon Tate, 2015 Bowman Draft|
|Alex Rodriguez, 1994 Classic|
November is typically a month where it's tough to get baseball autographs, but in Dunedin, Florida, Roberto Alomar hosts his own fantasy camp featuring several former Blue Jays players. I was able to add 4 players that had eluded me all my years of collecting.
|Devon White, 1992 Upper Deck|
|Pat Tabler, 1990 Upper Deck|
|Frank Catalanotto, 1995 Upper Deck Minors|
|Lloyd Moseby, 1991 Upper Deck|
In December I attended the first annual Wiffle with the Pros tournament.
Having the chance to see 3 top prospects who play for teams that don't train in Florida, was a big reason for me to attend this.I'm very happy with my successes this year. I met some great soccer players, promising baseball prospects, players turned coaches that I grew up watching, but let's finish up this post with the Hall of Fame members that I met this year. I added 4 to my collection in 2016.
|Whitey Herzog, 1988 Topps|
|Bert Blyleven, 1991 Upper Deck|
|Bobby Cox, 1984 Topps|
|Pat Gillick, 2015 Panini Cooperstown|
Happy 2017, Everyone!