The Royals are back in town on Tuesday and if you plan to go out to the ballpark to get a player’s autograph, there are a few important things to remember. Here’s the most important one of all:
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It might not be readily apparent, but players are on a schedule. They’re supposed to be at certain places at certain times. They can’t walk off the field whenever the mood strikes them and sign autographs. Not too long ago one fan kept yelling, "Mr. Butler! Mr. Butler!" while Billy was taking grounders. Billy can’t just walk off the field and go sign.
Once you’re inside the park, you can try asking someone to sign just before batting practice when the players first come out on the field. There’s some general milling about and players have a minute. But once they start to stretch or do any other activity as a group, they’re on a schedule. There are hitting groups and while one group is hitting, another is shagging flies and another is getting ready to hit. The players that are coming off the field to get ready to hit don’t have time to sign. And once their BP is over, they may need to go back out and shag. But if you’ve seen them hit, and they appear to be leaving the field, that’s a good time to ask. They may have a few minutes before they go to the clubhouse.
Visiting teams take batting practice after the home team so it’s usually easier to get an autograph from them, the home team may be done hitting by the time you get in the gates.
And remember, it’s not just you. When you’re standing there hoping for an autograph, look around you. Generally, there’s a crowd. If there’s no crowd when the player walks over, one will form shortly once they see someone signing. It’s unfair to think "Why can’t he sign just one baseball?" It won’t be just one. The player has to decide if has time to deal with a crowd and the answer may be no.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that players are people. After games, players have to deal with families, friends, spouses and kids, just like the rest of us. Sometimes they need to keep moving so they can get their kids in bed and don’t have time to deal with fans. Most players feel some responsibility to make an effort. They know without the fans there is no game, but that doesn’t mean they can deal with every fan, every time.
And here are a few other suggestions for getting that autograph:
*Have a pen, players don’t carry them around.
*It’s better to do it at the park than out in public. If you see a player at dinner or with his family, it’s risky to ask. Many players consider that private time and might refuse. Get to the park early and ask as the players are on their way in, or stay late and ask as the players are on their way out. The best places are by the stadium front entrance or player parking lot.
*Know whose autograph you’re asking for. If you don’t really care whose autograph you’re getting, how much should a player care that you get it? And asking a player to go get another player’s autograph is bad form, but kinda funny. When Kanekoa Texeira was on the team a kid called him over, stuck out a ball and asked if Tex could run up the club house and get Zack Greinke’s signature.
*Be young. Players make extraordinary efforts for kids, but have some doubts about a 45-year-old man who’s begging for a signed ball. Claiming it’s
a kid won’t melt a player’s heart—that trick’s been used too many times. I once saw a middle-aged couple, who had dressed their teenage daughter like a hooker, scheming over who she should approach next in their effort to get as many balls signed as possible. I’m not sure what lesson their daughter learned from the experience, but it probably wasn’t a good one.
*Don’t be a jerk. I’ve seen players sign 20 autographs and then get called a name by the 21st guy who didn’t get his baseball signed. That kind of thing sours players on the experience and they’ll be less likely to sign in the future.
*Don’t ask players to sign more than one item. That implies you want as many items signed as possible and might be selling what you collect. Players feel no responsibility to help someone with a scheme to make money.
And finally, just like every place else, please and thank you are appropriate at the ballpark.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.