Saturday, January 30, 2016

Meeting the Mets

Today I went on a 3 hour+ road trip with my brother and nephew to see the Mets fantasy camp at Tradition Field in Port Saint Lucie, Florida.
It was my first time visiting the stadium and I had such a great time, plus, I did really well with getting autographs.
The players and the staff were all incredibly nice. Just about every player took the time not only to sign, but also to have a conversation.

As a lifelong Mets fan, it was a huge thrill for me to see Mets players that I grew up watching, as well as players who played prior to me becoming a fan, including those who played on the Mets' first World Series championship team in 1969.

There were Mets players from all decades of their existence.

The first player that I met was Felix Millan, who played his final season with the Mets when I was only 3-years-old. I didn't become a Mets fan until I was 8, when my dad took me to Shea Stadium in 1982.
Next up was Lance Johnson, who had a solid season and a half with the Mets in the mid-90's.
I love that he added his nickname, "1 Dog" along with his signature.

When I met Pat Zachry, he told me that he wanted to make sure that he was holding the card right, so that I'd get a legible autograph. I told him that he must've done this thousands of times. He replied, "it never gets old," which I really appreciated him saying.
One of my favorite Mets, simply because of his name, Butch Huskey.

My next card that I got signed, I believe, is my first autographed oddball card. I'm not even sure how I ever obtained this card, but I'm happy I had it, as it was the only card I had of him.
Here is Ron Swoboda animated, making his infamous catch in the 1969 World Series.

Breaking up the autograph collecting, I was able to get a picture with comedian/actor Jim Breuer, who was participating in the camp as a player.
After discovering that the original picture that my brother took of Jim and me was too dark, I approached him a second time. Jim was cool about it, grabbed the phone from my brother and insisted on a selfie.
My nephew wanted in on the action, so Jim took one with him as well, which my brother promptly photobombed.
Jim spent several minutes with us. Turns out that he's from the same part of Florida that my brother and I grew up in. I told him that I'd like to print out the picture that we took and have him sign it the next time he's in the Tampa Bay area doing comedy. Off the top of his head, he knew the exact date and venue, and then offered us free tickets. He asked for our contact info, so hopefully he'll come through for us.

Back to the autographs, it was a big thrill for me to get a Met who played on the inaugural team in 1962. Unfortunately, I didn't have an original card, but I'm pleased with the archive card of Joe Pignatano.
A player that I constantly rooted for during his MLB record 27 consecutive game losing streak, was Anthony Young. It was a miserable time to be a Mets fan, but you couldn't help but feel bad for him.
It was cool to finally meet Turk Wendell, a player probably more known for his superstitions than his playing abilities.
Here's the only card that I own of John Stearns. Brian of Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary sent me a package full of Mets cards several months ago and this card was included. Glad I was able to get it signed today. Thanks, Brian!
Here's a Met that I watched in the Minor Leagues, but never had a card of him to get signed, Edgardo Alfonzo.
Another 1969 World Series champion, Duffy Dyer.
The tallest baseball player that I've ever gotten an autograph from, 6'10" Eric Hillman.

It wasn't just retired players at the complex. Immediately after meeting Eric Hillman, I spotted Zack Wheeler exiting the stadium. Literally, minutes before I left this morning for Port Saint Lucie, I decided to bring some cards of current Mets, just in case they were there early for spring training. It certainly paid off.
Happy to add a 1986 World Series champion to my collection, Tim Teufel.
And with that, that ended my day at the Mets fantasy camp. I ended up getting all the cards signed that I brought of the fantasy camp coaches.
As we're leaving, we decide to drive through the parking lot to the opposite side of the stadium. There, sitting in his car with his door and trunk opened, is Lucas Duda.
What a great way to end this day with the Mets.

He wasn't even the last autograph I got that day. We decided to head over to Palm Beach, Florida, where the St. Louis Cardinals were also having a fantasy camp.
Upon entering Roger Dean Stadium, we spotted Hall of Famer, Whitey Herzog, sitting in a golf cart on the first base side.
Such a great signature and the added inscription, which I didn't even ask for.

This was definitely one of my better autograph collecting days. It'll be hard to top the memories I came away with from today.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Three Baseball Complexes in One Day

January is a time for fantasy camps. A time for grown men who spend thousands of dollars to play baseball for a week on their favorite team with former Major League players who actually played for those teams.

It's also a great time for autograph collectors like myself to be a spectator and meet players that I grew up watching, as well as players who retired before I was born.

Today, my brother, my nephew, and myself visited George M. Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the New York Yankees, to watch the Yankees fantasy campers play 2 inning games against the Yankee legends on the final day of the Yankees fantasy camp. There are so many campers that attend these camps, that they have to group them into teams. In order to give everyone a chance to play, they limit each game to 2 innings.
It's pretty cool to see a guy in his 60s get a base hit off of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, but then it's also fun to see El Duque get his revenge and line a triple to center.

The Yankee game was not opened to the public, but thanks to my nephew being as charming as he is, he ended up making friends with a few of the campers earlier in the week at the hotel that they were staying at. He was invited to attend the game and was put on the guest list.
Autographs were fairly easy. Players were signing before, during, and after each game.
I ended up getting all 5 cards signed that I brought with me.

After we finished with the Yankees, we decided to drive to Clearwater to see if the Phillies camp was still going on. To our surprise, it was. All 4 fields at Paul Owens Training Facility at Carpenter Complex were being utilized. It was campers vs. campers, while the Phillies alumni coached their respective campers.
 Since the Phillies complex is closest to my home, I visit it the most, and therefore have gotten most of the Phillies legends autographs in previous years.
Of all the legends invited to this year's camp, only 2 were players that I had never met.
Thankfully, I was able to knock one name off that list today. I spotted Chris Coste coaching on one of the fields as soon as I arrived.
That leaves me with Matt Stairs as the only on that list that I don't have an autograph of. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find him today.

After a long day, we headed back to my home. My brother then suggested that we go to Bradenton to see if we could get some Pittsburgh Pirates. I didn't have any of my Pirates cards on me, so while I took my dog out for a much needed walk, my brother went and pulled cards of mine of Pirates he expected to be there.
It was almost 8pm when we arrived in Bradenton. We knew it was the Pirates first day of camp and that there's always a reception party the first night, we just didn't know where. Ultimately, we found it, it just happened to be at Pirate City, the Pirates spring training complex, just a few miles from their spring training stadium. Like the Yankees, this also was not opened to the public. However, from the sidewalk we were standing on, we could see the entire party. We arrived as the Pirates alumni were being introduced to their campers. It was indoors, but even though we couldn't hear anything, we were still able to identify several of the players.
What we didn't know about Pirate City is that they have dorms there, so most of the players ended up staying there. We did get lucky, though. Mike LaValliere came out to his car to get his luggage. I called to him from behind the gate and he was nice enough to come over and sign for us.
It was a fun, long day. Definitely the most complexes I've visited in one day. I'm just happy that there were no wasted trips, since I was able to get at least one autograph at each visit.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Ray Burris Dilemma

I like collecting autographs. I'm not a greedy collector. I would never hand a stack of cards to a player or open a sketch book with multiple cards expecting them to all be signed. I ask for one single autograph and that's it. Once I get a player to sign for me, I never ask that player again, no matter how many times we may bump into each other.
The term "racking" has never and will never be a part of my lexicon.

I have around 1,700 different autographs in my collection. Of those, two I paid for. In 1987, six years before autographs became an obsession for me, I paid $5.00 to meet the 1986 American League Rookie of the Year, Jose Canseco.

That same year, a local baseball card store had Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, Dave Stieb signing autographs for a $2 fee.

Since then I found that I could easily acquire autographs in person at games. Living in Florida has it advantages during the spring, I soon discovered.

Anyway, let me get to the reason for this post.
Last year during spring training, I found out that Ray Burris was a Minor League pitching coach for the Phillies. I had a 1984 Topps card of him, so I looked forward to getting it signed.
I had numerous encounters with him that spring, but he turned me down each and every time. However, he was always polite about it. Spring came and went and my card remained unsigned.

Later in the year, after the baseball season had ended, Ray was back at the Phillies complex, this time coaching in the Florida Instructional League. I attended a game where I was the lone fan. I figured there's no way I'm going to miss him this time. When the game ended, I stood in a spot where Ray would be walking right towards me. As he got closer, I called out to him, "Mr. Burris, can I please get an autograph?" Without stopping, he continues walking and says "nope, I don't sign autographs anymore." I then quickly asked for him to personalize it, before he disappeared into the locker room. Again, he proclaims, "no, I don't do personalizations either. I'm done with autographs." I thanked him anyway, and not even in a sarcastic manner, I was being sincere.
I contemplated just leaving the card there. If I can't get it signed, it's really no good to me. I ended up keeping it and headed home to put away all of the other autographs that I acquired that day. Thankfully, because of where I was standing, I ended up getting an autograph from Charlie Kerfeld, who I didn't even know was in attendance. I just happened to have a card of him on me as we crossed paths. So, thanks, Ray!

For the 2016 season, Ray Burris has a new job title. He is now the Phillies rehab pitching coach, which means he'll be spending the majority of his time here in Florida, working with any pitchers who are injured during the season.

This week, the Phillies Fantasy Camp is going on. I went down there today to get autographs from former players participating in the camp.
Guess who was there? Yep, Ray Burris. Me, being the hopeful that I am, still carried his card with me. He's not there as part of the camp, he's here working with the few pitchers who have arrived early for spring training.

I had many opportunities to approach him, but part of me feared that he'd remember me and say, "what did I tell you 3 months ago?"
So, I left him alone.

I was busy collecting autographs anyway. I was fortunate enough to show up on a day where the Yankees brought their fantasy campers to battle the Phillies campers. They did the same thing last year when I attended. I wasn't prepared that day and saw many autograph opportunities slip by. This year I came prepared and brought cards of all the Yankee Fantasy Camp instructors that I had. I did pretty well.

When the games ended, Ray visited some of the Yankees coaches. I waited for him to finish talking and then I saw someone approach him and successfully get an autographed card from him. I wasn't going to be turned down now, but yet, I still kind of was. As I'm holding my card and marker, I asked Mr. Burris for an autograph. He says to me, "I have to charge you $5.00." I had cash on me, but I groaned and told him, "oh, I don't have any money on me." He said, "it's okay, I'll be around."

I then walked over to the guy that had just gotten his autograph and I said to him, "Burris charges?" He said, "yeah, I had to give him five bucks."

After the autographs that I had gotten earlier, I just couldn't justify slapping a five in someone's hand for an autograph.
I could understand if he was doing a signing like the ones I went to to get Canseco and Stieb, but even those I wasn't handing money directly to the players before they signed my cards. They were being paid for their appearance by a promoter.

I know I'm going to be bumping into Ray Burris many times this spring and summer. That same 1984 Topps card will most likely be with me each time. I just don't know if it will ever be signed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Own Birthday Present

In case you couldn't tell by the title of this post, today is my birthday. In all my years of collecting autographs, I have never gotten an autograph on my birthday. It doesn't really come at a good time as far as the baseball season goes, but thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays having their annual Winter Development Program this week, I headed down to Tropicana Field to see if I could get some cards signed.

Each January, the Rays invite their top prospects to work out at the home stadium so that coaches can evaluate them before spring training starts.
Unfortunately, these workouts are not opened to the public.
I hung out outside of the players parking lot, hoping that I would be able to recognize the guys that I had cards of.
It was tough, but out of the 20+ players that all rolled out together, I was able to spot 2 that I knew for sure.
The first was Brent Honeywell. As of this posting, he is considered the Rays' number 3 prospect.
The other player I got was Ryne Stanek, who was a Florida State League Top Prospect this past season.
Ryne asked me how I was doing, to which I replied, "it's my birthday, so I can't complain." He then wished me a happy birthday before signing my card.

It was a good day. First time getting autographs on my birthday and the first time a player acknowledged it.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First Autographs of 2016

I got my first autographs of the new year today, thanks to the Minnesota Twins hosting their fantasy camp in Fort Myers, Florida.

My brother and I, along with his 4-year-old son drove 2 hours to hopefully meet some former Twins players. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain when we got there and discovered that the day's activities had been postponed. Luckily, I knew the hotel the campers and staff were staying at, so we went there hoping to meet them.
The rain had cleared up around noon and that's about the time that players were arriving at the hotel.
I ended up getting 9 autographs, including Hall of Famer, Bert Blyleven.
Everyone was super nice and happy to sign for us.

I'm very happy with how my collection has started in 2016. Looking forward to seeing who else I will be getting this year.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Favorite Autographs of 2015

I don't really like choosing favorites when it comes to my autograph collection. I'm just as happy getting a Hall of Famer, just as I would be getting a guy who barely got a cup of coffee in the bigs.

However, for the sake of this blog and attracting readers, I have combed through my collection to find my 10 favorite autographs of 2015.

Mike Schmidt

This is an autograph I never thought I would get. My brother worked with him over 10 years ago when Schmidt was managing the Philadelphia Phillies Advanced-A Ball team in Clearwater. He told me that he never saw Schmidt sign autographs for fans and that he would enter and exit the field using the tunnel under the stands, just to avoid fans.
A decade later, Schmidt is helping coach during spring training. It's lightly raining and I'm standing in a dry area. All of a sudden I see a golf cart with Mike Schmidt in the passenger seat. It drops him off at his car and Mike quickly gets in and starts to drive away. I'm several feet away walking towards him in the rain, hoping he'll see me in his rearview. Miraculously, he does, and then actually pulls over, waits for me to approach and rolls down his window as I hand him my card.
A raindrop hit the card as he handed it back to me, causing the slight smear. No big deal to me, just adds to the story.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.

My first conscience decision to forego my black Sharpie. This isn't my first autograph signed in blue. I have many, but the majority of my collection were signed in black, because I had a few in blue that came out awful. For decades, I equated blue as being bad, while the majority of the hobbyists raved about blue and insisted anything else was inferior. In 2015 I joined their mission.
What a great card to start with.

Chase Utley
I didn't stick with blue after getting that Jackie Bradley, Jr. card signed. No, I foolishly stuck with black for 12 more autographs. Chase being the 12th. Chase signed for a group of about 10-15 people. I was last. My pen died. Poor Chase, you could see he was trying to get some life in it. It looks like he signed his first name 3 times. It was dead, and with that, my use of a black Sharpie came to an end.
Even though the autograph is terrible, it has a great story, worthy of a mention on here.

Sandy Alomar

Sandy Alomar was another autograph I never thought I would get. I had met his sons, Roberto and Sandy, Jr. during their playing days in the 1990s, but never thought I would get the patriarch of the family.
Sandy is employed by the Toronto Blue Jays and just happened to be at a Minor League game in Dunedin, Florida, watching Toronto's Class-A affiliate play. Luckily, I happened to be carrying this card with me.

Wei-Chung Wang
Wang spent the 2016 season with Milwaukee's Class-A team, the Brevard County Manatees. I didn't understand why, but I wasn't going to miss out on getting his autograph.
I remember the night before seeing his team play, I Googled how to say "thank you" in his native language. I thought it would be cool to show him my appreciation by at least learning a phrase that he would understand. I practiced saying it all night and the following day, "gam-sia.'
When the chance finally arrived and Wei-Chung handed me back my beautifully signed card, I looked at him and said...wait for it..."thank you," completely forgetting what I had been practicing for hours beforehand.

Michael Conforto
The name might not be familiar to you, but...oh, who am I kidding? I was looking forward to seeing Michael play from the day he was drafted. I ended up seeing him play in person for 2 different teams in 2015. He started the season with the St. Lucie Mets. I got this autograph just days before he was promoted to AA.
I saw him play again when he returned to Florida, this time as a Major Leaguer with the New York Mets, when they came down here to play the Tampa Bay Rays. It was an exciting year for Michael and the Mets. I only hope good things continue for him.

Buddy Borden

I never ask for multiple autographs. All I want is one and then I never ask again. I made an exception with Buddy. I was in attendance on May 13th, when Buddy, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays Class A affiliate, Charlotte Stone Crabs, pitched a no-hitter against the Clearwater Threshers. That night I ordered a card of him, hoping to get it signed the next time his team were in town. I also saved my ticket stub. About a month later the Stone Crabs were playing in Dunedin. After the game I approached Buddy and asked him to sign my card. When he finished, I explained that I never ask for more than one autograph, but told him I was going to make an exception. He didn't mind and offered to sign anything that I had. I then pulled out the ticket stub and asked if he knew the significance of it. He smiled and said "that's my no-no." I told him that I was at that game and then asked if he would sign it and add an inscription, which he kindly did.

Miguel Cairo

Sometimes you show up to a game and you see a person there you totally weren't expecting. That's what happened when the Cincinnati Reds affiliate, Daytona Tortugas came to play Clearwater. Miguel Cairo, who works in the front office for the Reds, was dressed as a coach in the Tortugas dugout. I wasn't expecting to see him there, but a fellow autograph collector was, as he had several of Cairo's cards that he was hoping to get signed. Out of the kindness of his heart, he gave me an unsigned card for free, which I promptly got signed that same day.
It's a bit of a confusing card. Miguel is in a Mets jersey, yet the team logo on the card is that of the Yankees.
I'm just very grateful that I was given this card. When I got home, it turned out that I didn't own any of Miguel's cards. This is my first and only.

Yoenis Cespedes

This guy had such an impact for the Mets in his short time with them. I actually met him shortly before the trade deadline, when he was still with the Detroit Tigers.
My brother wanted to go to the team hotel when they came here to play the Rays. I'm not really fond of getting autographs of players at the hotel. I feel they deserve some space away from collectors like myself, but my brother insisted, so I tagged along. Yoenis was very nice and thought he'd be signing multiple items, but it was just the card. He held his hand out waiting for my brother to hand him something, but my brother, like me, adopted the 1 autograph per person policy. My brother had met Yoenis during spring training and got a picture signed.
I think I had a better looking Cespedes card, but I really wanted to get a Stadium Club card signed. Plus, at least this card showed him with his current the time.

Ron Darling/Keith Hernandez

I know I said top 10, but 11 would just be odd unless I was somehow mentioning the fictional band, Spinal Tap.
Anyway, I got these 2 cards signed back-to-back at the team hotel when the Mets visited. I know I mentioned hating going to the hotel, but the Mets only visit this area once every 3 years. I really wanted to meet these 2, as I enjoyed them as players and appreciate them even more as broadcasters. Thankfully, I succeeded.

Well, there you have my top 10 11 autographs of 2015. I acquired nearly 300 autographs in 2015, so this was not easy for me.
I hope you enjoyed. Also, if you follow my Daily Autograph site, this post is basically a sneak preview, as most of these cards aren't scheduled to be posted until late 2017/early 2018.
The things I do for my readers.

Happy 2016, everyone!

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