I was eight or nine the first time I got an autograph. It happened at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and I know it was sometime during the 1992 season because I got it from Cory Snyder before a game one day. Snyder was in the midst of hitting .269 in his only year with the Giants and Baseball-Reference.com tells me he was worth just one win over a replacement player, someone who wouldn’t have been starting on a team better than San Francisco’s 72-90 club. Still, the faint autograph Snyder left on my Giants hat earned him my everlasting gratitude and to this day, I remain a fan of his.
Sometime around college, getting autographs lost its luster. I majored in journalism, studying more or less to be a sportswriter and one of the sayings in that world is, “No cheering in the press box.” Next to that maxim is an implicit understanding that gathering autographs on the job is strictly frowned upon. It just isn’t professional. I got autographs a handful of times, though by the time I graduated, I’d come to more enjoy the chance to make connections with athletes, to talk with them and get a glimpse of them as people. I value this over a signature and if there’s one part of my childhood gone forever, it’s that autographs hold little magic for me anymore.
It’s not to say that everyone I know shares my viewpoint or should. I have a few friends in the memorabilia world and autographs are big there. I also know that other people haven’t had the luxury I’ve had of getting to chat with a few dozen ex-MLB players, from Hall of Famers to journeymen. For some people, an autograph is the closest they’ll get to that world, and I admit that in a sense, we’re both living vicariously. Getting an interview with a famous baseball player is no more a sign of acceptance into their world than getting their signature. Ultimately, both are souvenirs, and if an autograph puts a smile on someone’s face, who am I to judge? I digress.
I got a new full-time job about a month ago, writing ad copy for an industrial supply company called CWC. I’ve been working hard to help the company launch a new website, and I guess the owner is happy, because a few days ago, he distributed some of his Oakland A’s season tickets that he wasn’t going to use. I got four tickets to Tuesday night’s A’s-Rays game. Better, it happened to be my birthday and my parents were already coming to town for dinner, so I got to surprise them. All things considered, it would prove to be an awesome way to spend a birthday, even if the A’s lost 8-0.
Generally when I go to a game, I sit far up in the stands. I don’t really mind, and it’s usually just cool to be at the ballpark. I don’t get there enough, and if the only way I can do it is through a $12 seat in the upper reserve, so be it. That being said, my boss has season tickets 16 rows from the field, just to the right of home plate, so my folks and I were sitting in style on Tuesday evening. We were also just by the tunnel to the visitor’s dugout and when we sat down, I quickly realized I might be able to get an autograph for a friend who’s a Rays fan and has been going through a rough stretch. I borrowed a pen from my mom and walked over to the railing beside the tunnel.
I wasn’t sure which player would come my way and I would’ve settled for any of the Rays. I wound up catching one of their outfielders, Sam Fuld. One thing of note: Fuld attended Stanford and has arguably made more of a name for himself as a writer than as a ballplayer, contributing to sites like Grantland between hitting .251 over parts of five seasons. Fuld recently did a piece on Brett Butler for a project at Hall of Very Good (one that I was invited to take part in but couldn’t make) and I mentioned this after Fuld agreed to sign something for my friend. Fuld told me that Butler had actually reached out to him earlier Tuesday about his piece. It was a cool moment and much as my friend got a personalized autograph on the back of a ticket stub, I walked away with an anecdote and an excuse for this post.