Last month I attended two Frisco RoughRiders games (they’re the AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers). While the games were typical minor league contests in that the majority of the players you see will never end up in the majors, there was a different twist to these games. That was because I spent much of my time there with people I knew from Beckett past and present who were there to get as many autographs as they could and then enjoy a nice night of baseball.
One great aspect of the RoughRiders is no matter what, you are basically guaranteed two autographs if you show up when the gates open. For someone like me, who is not really an autograph seeker, just having the players sign the free programs given out is a fun thing to do. The games open one hour before the actual game begins and there is usually a player stationed at the home plate and left field gates for that purpose.
One of my favorite autograph stories comes from a game in 2007 when the two players signing were starter Eric Hurley and middle reliever Bill White. The way our seats for that game worked we got Hurley's autograph first and then White's. Hurley was a big time pitching prospect and when White asked which of his teammates was signing at the other gate and was told it was Hurley, his response was something to the effect of "Now that's a pitcher with talent." I think White was about 30 years old at the time and probably never expected to get a call to the Rangers later that year but he did, arriving in the majors before Hurley. Sadly, Hurley's arm went bad and he never pitched as well as he did in the minors.
The reason I will sometimes attend Friday games is my office is about five minutes from the RoughRiders ball park and it's a nice easy stop on the way home. I even went back on Sunday and after grabbing a couple of ‘graphs, we made our way down to where the San Antonio Missions would come out before the game. Our two goals were to get something signed by Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges. For everyone else, the goal was to get as many players to sign as possible.
I did get a few players to sign my program, of which the biggest name was Rich Dauer, the Missions’ managers who spent several years as the Baltimore Orioles’ second baseman. While Hedges did not sign before the game, Renfroe was courteous enough to sign and my comrades gave me a couple Bowman cards which are now autographed. Most guys in AA sign reasonably willingly for their fans.
Here are some quick stories from one of my former Beckett co-workers who is active in chasing these autographs:
"On the day of the game, or the day before, I'll go through my stack of cards for the teams playing, I'll pull them, and get them ready. That means I rub them down with baby powder (or else the autographs sometimes fade right away), and put them in my card book. I usually fit 6 cards on a page and put them inside two photo corners. This is a lot easier than fumbling around with several cards. I put them in alphabetical order so that it's easy to find what I need. If I have cards that don't fit, or photos/balls, I get those ready too. Most players will start coming out no earlier than 6:15 or so.
I don't have any really funny stories, but last year Nelson Liriano (a former big leaguer with the Toronto Blue Jays) was a coach of one of the teams, and every time I asked him to sign he would say ‘I'll get you tomorrow’. Well, the last time I asked him, I told him he had said that last time. He mumbled and walked over and signed. Most of the guys at the AA level are great. I'd say my success rate is well over 90%. When I don't get a player, it's because I'm focusing on the other team, or another player when he comes out. Rarely do players flat out say no. Usually just about one guy a year."
Seeing these players sign and hearing these stories reminds me of the time I did the show at the Scope circa 1988 and the two signers were former major leaguers Andre David and Tim Tolman playing out the string at AAA. The cool thing was how much they understood their role within baseball and accepted it willingly at that time, I remember thinking how down to earth they really were and how much they understood the real baseball world.
Well my friends were far more ready than I was but they were nice enough to give me a few cards to have signed if the players came over. We were fortunate in Hunter Renfroe coming over and I now have a couple of his signed Bowman cards. Sometimes they even stay after the games and both teams will sign for fans. It’s a lot more fan friendly for autographs than the majors. Any time I get ten autographs before a game, the night is a real win.
Since most of the Beckett guys I saw are also collectors, we also talked a bit about the Dallas show scene. I mentioned there must have been something in the air last Saturday as I had five tables reserved for our Plano charity show and we are pretty much sold out at this point. Everyone else will go on a mailing list.
What's more amazing is the Dallas Card Show promoter says the La Quinta he's been using will have a bigger room soon and I also got a text about someone wanting to take his show monthly. To me, that is a sign that many people are getting back into the hobby and are seeking what they had 20 years ago when shows were prevalent.
About three weeks later I ran into the Beckett bunch again and this time the person we were chasing was none other than future Hall of Fame reliever Trevor Hoffman, who is a roving pitching instructor in the Padres organization where he played for so many years. We hung out and waited and Hoffman was very gracious and signed between watching the starting pitcher for the game warm up in the bullpen.
Frankly it is not very often you see future Hall of Famers sign willingly and freely at any game and I was only there because the ballpark is basically on my way home and I wanted to use a ticket I had. Nothing like a little extra luck to go with the game. We also got Austin Hedges at the batting cages as well as Travis Jankowski before the game.
With all this I also want to thank my long-time rep at the Frisco Roughriders, Ross Lansford for ensuring we have a Tanner Scheppers signed baseball for our show this weekend. Thanks to Ross and the Frisco organization.