It’s always weird when you approach a famous person and request their signature on a piece of paper. Sure, they’re used to it, they’ve done it a million times, but for us those few seconds are terrifying. I have, somehow, procured some interesting autographs over the years – athletes and musicians and the President, but we’ll get to that later. I have also doodled my own autograph in countless notebooks over the years.*
*When I was in high school, I was a compulsive doodler. I would spend hours signing my name (you know, in case I suddenly became famous), and I would also draw cubes and brackets and shapes and that S thing. I have a theory that doodling is actually a really good habit – I think it contributed to some semblance of concentration during school hours. It’s a meditative practice. I also think back to that Larry David quote: ‘You know what I find very interesting? I can’t draw to save my life, but yet I’m a very good doodler. Don’t you think that’s ironic?’
The first time I remember approaching anyone for their autograph was in February of 2001. We were in Florida on a family vacation, and we went to visit the Red Sox spring training facility in Fort Myers. The 2001 Red Sox were an interesting crew – they had Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez in their prime, but they also had David Cone and Hideo Nomo and Izzy Alcantara and two hefty relievers named Rod Beck and Rich Garces. The curse was in full force. But even as a Yankee fan, I wanted some autographs because, well, I was 10.
I set myself as close to the action as I could, and when the players were done with their workouts, they came out to sign autographs. The first one I got was Tim Wakefield, then Carl Everett, then Nomar (who only signed about 5 balls, but I was one of the lucky few), and then finally Dante Bichette and manager Jimy Williams.
Everett, you’ll remember, was known as one of the bigger jerks in the game. He had famously headbutted an umpire the year before, which led to a 10-game suspension. He also denied the existence of dinosaurs, which led to one of my favorite nicknames – Jurassic Carl. But, he was one of the few players that signed every single autograph that day. He took his time, talked and laughed with fans, and made sure no one was left hanging. It was one of the odder sights that I have seen.
There have been other autographs through the years. I approached John Flaherty at a Yankee game in 2006 and he signed my scorecard.* I used to be a ballboy and got John McEnroe’s autograph in 2008. A year later I met Wynton Marsalis after a concert, and he signed my program.
*This was back when I kept score at baseball games – his signature was so big that I had no more room to keep score. This did not sit well with me.
My old baseball camp, Summer Trails, used to bring in athletes and ex-athletes to give demos and sign autographs. Clay Bellinger came once – that was really cool (for the year 2000). So did Joe Pepitone and his horrible hairpiece. So did Tommy Holmes, who played for the Boston Braves in the 1940’s.
At one point I went through a phase that we in the baseball card community like to call TTM (through-the-mail) autograph collecting. It was an old-school method – you would send a letter to a player and enclose a baseball card with a return envelope. I would peruse the online baseball card blogs to see which players were the most receptive, and I actually did ok for myself (except for Yogi Berra, who wanted money).
Up to this week, my most prized autograph was the one I got from Angel Berroa at an Independent League baseball game last summer. And no, I’m not joking – I wrote a whole blog post about it back in July. It was the only time I had actively traveled somewhere to get an autograph.
Well, it was going to take a lot to top that one, but I think I did. Granted, I wasn’t there when he signed it, but Alex was able to get me one from the leader of the free world.
I mean, yeah, this is about the coolest thing ever. Could you imagine owning a JFK autograph? Or an FDR one? Getting an autograph from the President, while he is still the President, is a great thrill, even though I am sure it took at most 3 seconds.
But, hey, that’s 3 seconds out of a historic Presidency that Barack Obama took to sign my book. He’s the President of the United States, and I’m just this guy – but, for one moment, our paths kinda-sorta crossed. I don’t know, I just think that’s really neat.