Saturday, March 14, 2009

My WBC Trip: The Autographs

If you've been following this site for a long time then you know I enjoy collecting baseball memorabilia, specifically signed baseballs. I've been collecting for almost 5 years and right now I have about 175 signed balls in my collections, as well as some other things, but pretty much I stick to balls. Having the WBC in my own backyard was a dream come true. I had a lot of lofty goals for the trip, and here's a rundown of the week that was:

I left Buffalo at about 8:30am on Saturday. I had an idea of where the team's were staying but I didn't really know when they'd be leaving for things such as batting practice. I left a little later than expected and that ended up biting me in the keester. I was about 30 minutes away when got a text message from my friend Tom telling me that Jeter left on the team bus and he got his autograph. Needless to say my trip was not off to a good start. Now, I don't want to bore everyone with the details of the entire trip. If I did that, I'd be here forever typing away. I'll just hit on the high points. If you don't want to read through the whole post to see what I got, just scroll down to the bottom.

All four teams were staying at the same hotel. I was there primarily for Team USA. I had only minor interest in some of the guys on the other rosters. The hotel itself had about 4 entrances and it was difficult to watch them all. The primary focus was on the main entrance as well as one of the side entrances. The one side entrance was about 50 feet from a Starbucks, which ended up being a very popular place for the players to visit. It was extremely cold every day. I wore a long sleeve t-shirt, a t-shirt, a track jacket, and 2 hooded sweatshirts and was still chilly. Thankfully, there was a Subway sandwich shop right across the street from the side entrance and a lot of us autograph seekers hung out in there for good parts of the day. I affectionately refer to it as "The Hound House." You could see who was coming or going from Subway. Someone would see someone leave, yell out the name, and then you'd see anywhere from 5 to 12 guys come pouring out of there and chasing down that autograph. Imagine a firehouse and all the firemen springing into action when the alarm rings. That's kind of what it looked like. At times, it also looked like a scene out of that old movie "Oliver." I remember a scene in that movie where all of the little orphans surround a man on the street begging him for money and picking his pocket. We hounds had the begging part down that's for sure. We're pretty much like panhandlers for the most part, roaming the streets looking for a handout. I spent a lot of time each day hounding. If the US played, I would stick around until their bus left, and then head to the Rogers Centre for BP. If the US had the day off, I skipped the games and spent the day hounding. The days would start around 8am and would usually end around 1am. They were long days but the time flew by.

I got my first big name autograph on Saturday night. Dustin Pedroia left the hotel with his wife and I'm assuming his parents. It was cold and drizzling so there weren't a lot of hounds out on the prowl. Tom and I were the only ones at the side entrance when he left. There were about 6-8 out waiting at the front entrance. DP said he'd sign on his way back and Tom and I kept that info to ourselves. Typically, you're more likely to score an autograph when fewer people are around, especially when the player is a big name. Dustin came back and signed as he said he would. I got him on the sweet spot of an official major league baseball. I finished the 1st day with 4 autos. Pedroia being one, and LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Guthrie and Brad Ziegler being two, three, and four. One of my goals was to come away with a ball signed by the entire US squad and that's what I got the other 3 on. There were some guys on the team who I wanted to get on their own balls which was going to make getting a fully signed team ball tough. My plan for those guys was to get them on their own baseball if I could by Monday afternoon and on the team ball if I got them later.

Jeremy Guthrie is now one of my favorite players. He seems pretty down to Earth and was kind of funny. One afternoon as he was boarding the team bus, a kid asked him if he could have one of his bats. He jokingly responded that he could have all the bats he had at the park. That kind of cracked me up. One night, 3 of us went walking around the area looking for some relief pitchers that went to dinner. Guthrie was apparently ahead of us and thought we were stalking him. He had his lady friend walk on ahead without him and he ducked and his behind a jeep parked in the street. The kid who was with us, same kid who asked for the bat, noticed him do that, and said "We see you Jeremy" in a playful little taunt. Guthrie didn't move and stayed hidden so the kid peered his head behind the jeep and saw Jeremy crouched down and hiding. Jeremy popped up and bantered with us for a few seconds. He was a pretty cool guy.

One afternoon, there were about a dozen of us hanging out in "The Hound House" when we spotted Guthrie walking back to the hotel. The same kid from before peered his head out the door and squealed "Jeremyyyyy" and then hid behind a concrete pillar. JG looked around and didn't see him and the kid did it again. JG again looked around and didn't see him but he did spot someone else on our side of the street that we couldn't see. They had an across the street conversation and we were all sitting there wondering who he was talking to. Seconds later, David Wright came into view. The hounds scrambled for their Wright stuff but they didn't have to. Wright turned and walked right into The Hound House, which for those who skipped the beginning is a Subway sandwich shop. You could tell by the look on his face that he knew who we were and I interpreted his expression to be, "Oh crap. I walked right into their headquarters." We let him order his sambo (not sure what it was) and as he was leaving someone asked if he could sign. He did and I ended up getting him on the side panel of a baseball. Wright apparently doesn't sign sweet spots.

The day before the Wright encounter, Ryan Braun also stopped by Subway for a visit. We weren't there at the time but happened upon him while he was there. He was more than happy to sign on his way out. I went with him on the team ball.

Another good place to snag an auto or two was when the guys were getting on the team bus. Even on off days the teams would go to the stadium for their workouts. Derek Jeter took the bus each day and signed every day as he got on the bus. There were anywhere from 5-30 people there waiting and he would normally sign about 10. I got him twice in the 5 days, once on the team ball and once on the side panel of a ball as he also rarely signs sweet spots. The last day he signed only 1 autograph. Hotel security sets up a barricade of sorts so the players have a clear path to the bus. There are 2 barricades, one on each side of the exit. On the last day, Jeter left the hotel and went to the side I was on and signed for the person to my immediate left. As he was signing that one autograph, the other side started flipping out for some reason and the barricade fell over with 2 people face-planting right into the concrete. Jeter turned around, saw what happened, and bounced. I'm not sure why that side flipped out the way they did, but it ended up costing us the chance for an auto. I still can't figure out why they flipped out as Jeter signed for both sides every day. Some people.

Going into the last day, I needed 3 people to complete my team ball. Pedroia, J.P. Howell, and Joel Hanrahan. One of the toughest parts about trying to do the team ball was that I didn't know what most of the relief pitchers looked like. I still don't think I could pick John Grabow out of a lineup. The only one that took the team bus that day was Hanrahan. The other hounds knew I needed him so as he left, several shouted his name and pointed to me. He came over and signed and I can honestly say I never thought I'd be so excited to get Joel Hanrahan's autograph. Team USA was the home team for the last game and that meant they'd be off the field when the gates opened as their BP was first. I had no chance at getting the last 2 but that didn't mean I wasn't going to try. I was the 1st one in line when the gates opened and I sprinted my way to the corner of the US dugout. The corner is a good spot to have as you're literally in the dugout, standing right above the bat rack. Team USA, as I expected, was off the field. When Team Venezuela finished with their BP, the ushers told everyone to beat it and to go to their seats. I pleaded with the female usher to let me stay down there to try and get Pedroia. DP is always the 1st one into the dugout and he always hits up the pine tar, which I could almost touch from where I was standing. The usher reluctantly let me stay but said I had to sit down. I was seated for all of about 1 minute when someone shouted the name "Dustin." I pounced up, slid into the corner, and there was DP right there before me. I could have touched him he was that close. His back was to me so I said, "Dustin, you're the only person I need to sign my team ball. Would you mind please?" He said, "Yeah, just a second buddy." He finished doing what he was doing, signed the ball, and I was down to one: J.P. Howell. The only time I saw Howell before the game was during the national anthem. A core of RPs made their way to the bullpen before the game actually started, but J.P. wasn't one of them. I was more than content leaving 1 shy of being done and coming back in the future to try at a Jays/Rays game. I was tempted to go into the OF section and try to ask him when he was sitting in the bullpen, but they had their jackets on and I wasn't 100% sure I knew who he was.

When I go to games in Toronto, I usually get the cheap tickets and then stand on the lower concourse. I made a popcorn run during one of the innings and found my way to a concession stand near the outfield. After buying my popcorn, I hung out in the standing room section out in right field. As I was standing there munching away, listening to Adam Dunn get heckled, I noticed one of the kids from the team hotel (same kid who I mentioned above) take a seat against the wall that was connected to the 1st base bullpen, which was Team USA's for this game. My feet were killing me so I wandered down and asked the usher if I could go down to talk to him. The usher didn't really care since the place was empty. I know from going to Yankee games in Toronto, that relief pitchers will often walk to the bullpen during the game and they'll use the "back entrance" as opposed to walking across the field. As we were sitting there, Brad Ziegler walked in. The kid asked him if Howell was still in the dugout and Ziegler said he was. I started to get a little excited. The kid I was with, who was probably 13-15 years old, claimed to have an in with Howell. He was wearing a Rays hat he said J.P. gave him. J.P. ended up using the "back entrance" to the bullpen in the 6th inning. The kid caught him out of the corner of his eye and called to him. They acted like 2 old friends catching up after not seeing each other for a while. They bantered for a minute. We mentioned the team ball and he jumped all over signing it. My mission was accomplished! I can't even explain how good it felt to put in that much time trying to get it done and to actually finish it. I didn't think I had a chance once the team bus left that day. Things just fell into place. It was definitely meant to be. Not a bad way to finish off the trip.

Here's the list of what I got on my trip:

  1. A baseball signed by the entire Team USA squad, including Davey Johnson on the sweet spot
  2. Luis Sojo on my 1998 World Series Yankees team ball
  3. Chipper Jones on the sweet spot of an official major league baseball
  4. Derek Jeter on the side panel of an official major league baseball
  5. David Wright on the side panel of an official major league baseball
  6. Barry Larkin on the sweet spot of an official major league baseball
  7. Jake Peavy on the sweet spot of an official major league baseball

Not a bad haul if I do say so myself. I'll try to snap a picture or two and post them if anyone is interested. Let me know.

My plan for tomorrow is to catch up on the week that was in the Yankees universe. There are a few things that went down over the past 7 days and I'll share my thoughts on each. Until then.......

Peace, love and Pinstripes,



She-Fan said...

Wow. Sounds like quite a haul and a great time. Of course, if Pedroia signed a ball for me, I would have thrown it back. :) Good job!