Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest 2016

It was back to getting baseball cards signed today, as the Tampa Bay Rays held their annual fan fest at Tropicana Field.

I always look forward to this yearly gathering, mainly for the 40+ retired baseball players who show up and sign for free. Though, many of the same players return year after year, which means less and less new players to add to my collection.
The alumni players are split into 3 groups, each signing for an hour before the next group comes in.
Group 1 

Of the 15 players listed in group 1, I already autographs from 11 of them from previous years. Unfortunately, one of the players listed (Casey Cox) was a no-show. I had ordered a really nice card of him this past Monday night and amazingly it arrived on Friday, just in time for today. Hopefully he'll show up next year.
I still ended up with 4 autographs from group one. Josh Fogg, who spent several seasons with the Pirates and Rockies, was not listed with any of the groups, yet, he was there to sign. He's appeared at these fan fests before, but I just never had a card of him. Thankfully, a fellow collector had extras on him and gave me one.

Here are the aforementioned 4 autographs from that first group.
Mike DiFelice

Brian Stokes

Josh Fogg

Glenn Beckert
I was really happy to get that Glenn Beckert card signed. I bought that card last year anticipating him to be at the 2015 fan fest, but he didn't show up.

I breezed right through the second group. I only needed 2 listed, but one was pushed back to group 3, which meant I was standing in line for 1 guy.
Group 2
Rick Reichardt
Rick Reichardt signed this 1981 TCMA card of players from the 1960s.

I only needed 4 players from the third and final group, which included the last player listed in group two.
Group 3

Bill Stein

Aaron Ledesma 
Seth McClung 
Dewon Brazelton
You have no idea of the fear I had watching Seth McClung sign that 2007 Topps card. Recently, Zach at posted his 2007 Topps autographed cards. However, because of the glossy finish, some of those cards came out very poorly. Luckily, mine came out practically flawless.
I try to stay away from cards with pre-printed signatures on them, but this was the only card that my local card shop had of him.

After the alumni players were finished signing, I decided to walk around to see who else I could get.
I spotted Hall of Fame writer, Peter Gammons doing a Q&A with Rays manager, Kevin Cash and team President of Operations, Matt Silverman. When it concluded, I approached the stage near where Gammons would be exiting.
Peter Gammons
I was fortunate to get him. Security immediately whisked him away when he handed me my card back.

It's not uncommon to see Rays players walking around to different parts of the stadium. They're always with at least 1 security guard who is basically there to thwart people from asking for autographs. While a lot of players won't sign, they do often stop to pose for pictures. There are players that will sign. I was able to find three of them.
Corey Dickerson

Mikie Mahtook

Hank Conger
Coming home with 13 new autographs is a pretty successful day, I must say.
It felt good to get some baseball autographs after spending most of the month of February getting soccer cards signed.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

My Last Soccer Post...For Now

When I first started this blog, it was just going to be about baseball and baseball cards. I had no other intentions for it.
Even the name, 'Keys to the Batter's Box,' based on a common prank used on new batboys, signifies a baseball related website.

This blog is just over a year old. I don't pay attention to dates and just now noticed that I created this site on February 5, 2015. Sorry, no anniversary post for me.
That first post had a total of 18 views. My highest rated baseball related post, Meeting the Mets, had 246 views. That was largely aided by comedian Jim Breuer RT'ing me about that post.
This month I started posting about soccer autographs, a new hobby that I picked up, thanks to me discovering that 6 Major League Soccer teams were having their pre-season near my home. I quickly started buying singles and team sets, hoping to get them signed.

My last post, Yeah, Yeah, Another Soccer Post, far outnumbered my Jim Breuer aided post. A week old and it's had 960 views. The lack of comments is a bit of a downer, but I'm just happy to have people visiting my site.
I never even promoted that post. I just wrote it up and hit send. Didn't share it on any social networks.
Thanks to that post, the US, my home country, is no longer my biggest audience. The Ukraine now leads in that department.

The MLS pre-season is wrapping up. The last matches for the teams training here are this weekend. My autograph collecting wrapped up when the 11 remaining cards I had were signed last night.
I ended up with 30 autographs from the 6 MLS teams this month.
It will be back to baseball posts shortly. Actually, I've already gotten several baseball cards signed this spring. I just haven't shared them on here. I'll get started on baseball related posts this weekend. The Tampa Bay Rays are holding their annual fan fest on Saturday, so I'll hopefully have some autographs to share. Many former players will be in attendance signing autographs.
Rays fanfest alumni 2016
Sadly, these future posts will cause me to lose my Ukranian readers. At least I should gain some Americans, and maybe get a few comments, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Yeah, Yeah, Another Soccer Post

I know in my previous post, I mentioned that I had bought a 2016 Topps Baseball Blaster and that I'd post about that box. Well, it wasn't an exciting box. I did get a few Mets, which were nice, but as for the hits, I ended up getting rid of several of them before I even had a chance to scan them.

This concludes the baseball portion of this post. Soccer fans, you're going to love this, especially if you're a Chelsea fan.

So, last night was the second day of the 2016 Suncoast Invitational, a pre-season tournament hosted by the Tampa Bay Rowdies, featuring six Major League Soccer teams.

It was a double header that started at 4pm. The first game was between D.C. United v. Philadelphia Union. The match I was looking forward to was the nightcap, New York City FC v. Montreal Impact. Each of those clubs featured my 2 favorite soccer players, who also happened to play for my favorite team, Chelsea FC in the English Premier League.

When I started actively following Chelsea 10 years ago, I was immediately drawn to Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as my favorites on the team. While I love watching them on TV each week, I never dreamed that I'd see the club play in person. That still hasn't happened, but last night I was able to see Lampard and Drogba in person on opposing teams. Unfortunately, neither of them played, but it was still a thrill to see them.

If you know anything about me, then you'd know some scanned autographs are to be expected. I will not disappoint.

I got to meet Didier Drogba first as he arrived to the stadium. When I ordered a card of him to get signed, I made sure to find one of him in a Chelsea kit. When the card arrived, I had no idea that it would be in Japanese. It's also slightly smaller than a standard card. No big deal, I think it's a nice looking card, especially since it is now signed.
Here's the back of the card.
I have no idea what the serial code is for.

Unknowingly, a security guard captured the moment that I met Drogba with his cell phone. He told me he did it and then asked for my number so that he could text it to me.

Inside the stadium, I spotted Frank Lampard signing autographs for many fans. I managed to squeeze myself in a tight spot and get Frank's attention.
I have already updated my Daily Autograph site, which these cards will not be posted until April of 2018.

I was amazed when I saw those preview pages. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to have both of these Chelsea legends autographs in my collection.

There's no way I could top this day. I joked last night to a fellow collector that I could retire from collecting after the success I just had. By the way, those weren't the only autographs I got last night, but I'll save those for my April 2018.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Day 2 of Soccer Autograph Collecting

After yesterday's successful day of collecting autographs from soccer players, I decided to try my luck with a different team, Major League Soccer's Philadephia Union, who hold their spring training at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, Florida.

I arrived at 9am to an empty field. I figured since the Rowdies started at 9 yesterday, other teams would, too. It was closer to 10 when a Philadelphia Union van pulled up and the driver and passenger started unloading the equipment and carrying it to the field.
Shortly after, a bus pulled up. It stopped right in front of me and I figured this is going to be easy, but as people began stepping off the bus, I wasn't recognizing any of them. They did all have USA emblems on their sweatsuits, and they looked fairly young. I assumed that they must've been the US Men's U-17 team. Just to be sure, I asked one of the coaches, who confirmed my assumption.

Minutes later, vans full of Union players and staff arrived.

I thought I was going to be getting autographs and watching a practice, instead, I got to watch a full game. Oh, and obtained some autographs.

The head coach of the Union, Jim Curtin was the first one I got.
The next guy I got was interesting. A lot of Brazilian soccer players go by just one name, players such as Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaká. Today, I added to my collection, Fabinho.
He isn't my first single name autograph, though. Last summer, Mets prospect Amed Rosario signed a card for me with only his first name. Perhaps he's emulating the ways of the Brazilians.
Former Los Angeles Galaxy player and current Union technical director/assistant coach signed this card for me.
Had to wait for the game to end before I got the rest of these autographs.
Unintentionally, I got two of the Union's French players to sign back-to-back for me. Though, they were several minutes apart when I met them.
First was Vincent Noguiera.
Next was Sébastien Le Toux, who had scored 2 goals, or a brace, for those who know their soccer lingo.
Sébastien asked if I wanted him to add my name to the card. I didn't want to say no and give him the idea that I was going to try and sell it, so I gladly told him my name. I don't mind personalizations. I have no intention of ever getting rid of my collection.
Here's a pic of Le Toux scoring a penalty kick just past the diving goalkeeper.

The last autograph that I got was a huge highlight for me. I was hooked on the 1994 World Cup and loved rooting for the USA. One of my favorites from that squad was Earnie Stewart.
He is now the sporting director of the Union.
I'm happy that I was able to tell him that he's a big reason why I'm still such a fan of this sport. The autographed card from him was a big thrill.
I promise, it's not all going to be soccer talk on here. Look what I bought today after getting all those autographs.
I'll post about those cards in a separate post. I wouldn't want to bore my new soccer readers.

Monday, February 8, 2016

First Time Collecting Soccer Autographs

Today was the day that I decided to try a new experience. After a weekend of having my mailbox stuffed with arriving soccer cards, I decided to take some of those cards to the Tampa Bay Rowdies pre-season workout this morning.

I got to Al Lang Stadium around 8:15 this morning. As I was walking toward the stadium, I noticed several people that looked like players, walking from the parking lot and into the stadium. I couldn't believe how easy this was going to be. The players park in the same lot as everyone else. I hung out for a few minutes, hoping I'd at least recognize someone. An SUV then pulls in and I instantly recognized Freddy Adu behind the wheel. As Freddy is coming toward me, I approached him for an autograph. He said he was going to be late, and then asked what I wanted signed. I held out my card and pen and he said, "oh, just this. Okay." I guess he thought I was going to spring several items on him.
Unfortunately, my first soccer autograph did not live up to my expectations. I didn't prep the card, and it shows. It also got smeared upon him handing it back to me. Oh well, I'm still very happy that I was able to get it.
Freddy wasn't lying about being late as he seemed to be the last one to show up. I decided to walk around the outside of the stadium to see if I could see any players on the field. None were to be found, but I knew that the team has also been working out at the nearby college recreation field.

After getting lost by walking about 4 blocks the wrong way, I backtracked and was able to find the field.

I was very happy to see that it appeared to be the entire squad working out. I soon started recognizing every player that I had a card of.

I hung out at the entrance of this field, which was on the opposite side of where I took the above picture.
As the morning workout was winding down, the coaches and staff were cleaning up and loading the van with their equipment.
Stuart Campbell, the head coach of the Rowdies, told me that when the players were finished, they'd come back to my area to change their shoes, but then they'd exit the field back on the other know, right by where I took that picture. I had failed to notice that there was a gate on that side. He told me that I was welcome to go on the field to get the autographs that I needed. I declined, and headed back to where I was. As I'm getting ready to sit on a bench, I noticed a Barnes & Noble store across the street with outdoor tables and chairs. I crossed the street, propped my book on a table and pulled out each card so that I would have them ready.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps
I was at the table directly in front of the park bench. A portion of the practice field can be seen to the right of the image.
Instead of being bussed between the stadium and the recreation field, the players all walk the short distance.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps
Sitting at the table was a great decision. It gave the players a solid surface to sign on.
I ended up getting all of the cards signed that I brought with me.
The first player to approach the table was Michael Nanchoff. He was walking with Freddy Adu. I wondered if I had waited, if Adu's signature would have turned out better if he had signed it on a table.
Anyway, Michael was showing his card to fellow teammates, commenting on how old the card was. As he was signing it, he was struggling to remember what number he wore when he was with the Vancouver Whitecaps. It then came to him and he added it to his signature.
Tom Heinemann was next. He looked kind of shocked when I called for him. He was just signed by the Rowdies less than a month ago, so it was probably weird for him to be recognized.
Several players were all walking together toward me, and 3 that I needed were all bunched together. I called for the closest one to me, Kalif Alhassan. He stops to sign, notices the 2 unsigned cards (Danny Mwanga and Matt Pickens) and says to the guys to stop and sign for me.

It was a very successful day for me. The players were all extremely friendly.
I'm not ready to give up on baseball autographs, but it was so refreshing getting autographs in a relaxed atmosphere.
Fun day, with hopefully more ahead. The plan is to go see the Philadelphia Union practice tomorrow in Clearwater.
Any more soccer talk and I may have to change the name of this blog to Keys to the Goalie's Box.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A New Hobby

Before I became a baseball fan and baseball card collector, the sport I fell in love with first was soccer.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies became a team in 1975, the year after I was born. They joined the NASL (North American Soccer League) and promptly won the Soccer Bowl in their first year of existence. While I have no memory of that inaugural season, I do remember my parents taking me to Rowdies games at Tampa Stadium when I was around 3 or 4. I got to see some great players in those days, including, arguably the greatest of all time, Pelé, when he played for the New York Cosmos.

The NASL folded in 1984, ironically, the same year that I started collecting baseball cards.
Soccer was no longer a part of my life until 1994, when the World Cup took place in North America. I was caught up in the hype and watched every match that was broadcast. From then on, I looked forward to every 4 years to watch the World Cup.
In 2006, after the conclusion of the World Cup in Germany, I discovered a cable TV network called FOX Sports World. On it, they aired live and tape delayed matches from the English Premier League. I was once again hooked on soccer, with Chelsea FC becoming my favorite European team.

In 2010 the Rowdies came back, though, due to a licensing issue, they were called FC Tampa Bay. I went to their first game, held at the New York Yankees spring training stadium in Tampa that April.
In time for the start of the 2012 season, the Rowdies were officially allowed to use their name.

As long as I've been a soccer fan, I never felt the need, nor really wanted to collect any cards. As far as I know, the NASL never had any licensed cards and the English Premier League cards were hard to find and very expensive.

February is not only a time for spring training in baseball, but for soccer as well. The Philadelphia Phillies have their spring home in Clearwater, Florida. Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union have followed, and make their spring home right across the street from the Phillies.

If you're not bored already, let me get to why I decided to create this post.

The Rowdies are hosting a spring tournament this month, featuring 6 MLS teams. 
Not only do I want to attend these games, but I also want to try and get some autographs. This week I've been buying a lot of soccer cards from COMC, eBay and Amazon.
Several cards began arriving today.
First, I went over the Rowdies roster and ordered cards of anyone that I was able to find a card of.
Perry Van Der Beck played with the Rowdies when I was a kid. He is now the Technical Director for the Rowdies.
Here's cards of players that are currently on the Rowdies roster.
Freddy Adu
Matt Pickens

Kalif Alhassan
Michael Nanchoff

Tom Heinemann

Danny Mwanga

This tournament features my favorite player who used to play for Chelsea.
Frank Lampard is Chelsea's all-time leading goal scorer with 211 goals. He now plays for New York City FC, but I just had to find a card of him in his Chelsea kit.
Since the Philadelphia Union will be training so close to my home, I decided to buy a 2015 team set.
Only 4 players from that set are no longer with the team.
I also bought cards of the Union's coaching staff.
Chris Albright
Jim Curtin
Mike Sorber
Also picked up a card of the Union's Sporting Director, Earnie Stewart. I remember watching him play for the USA in the World Cup in 1994.
I ordered a 2014 and 2015 team set of the New York Red Bulls.
Only the 2014 set has arrived thus far.
Inside that set was a card of Claudio Reyna, a former US player and current NYC FC Sporting Director.
I didn't know he'd be included in this set, because I had already ordered one elsewhere. Well, now I'll have 2 once the second card arrives. Luckily, I ordered myself a different card.

I'm looking forward to getting some of these cards signed. It's going to be all new to me, and I really have no idea what to expect, but hopefully I'll figure out the right places to stand and get a chance to meet most of these guys.

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