Ma­jor lea­guers have soft spot for au­to­graph-seek­ing kids

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JANIE MCCAULEY

OAK­LAND, CALIF. — Ray Fosse re­fuses to oblige a fan re­quest­ing his au­to­graph next to Pete Rose’s sig­na­ture on a photo of their 1970 All-Star Game col­li­sion. Dave Roberts leans on his mother-in-law to han­dle the in­flux of fan mail he still re­ceives daily from ap­pre­cia­tive folks in Bos­ton, an ef­fort to speed re­sponses al­most as swiftly as his fa­mous swipe of sec­ond. Oak­land out­fielder Ra­jai Davis doesn’t touch the grow­ing pile in his club­house cubby, in­sist­ing his job is just to play base­ball and he will sign for any­one who asks in per­son. From re­tired stars to cur­rent favourites, ma­jor-lea­guers deal with the some­times daunt­ing in­flux of fan mail in many dif­fer­ent ways. Even the busiest of ballplay­ers who might pre­fer to leave the let­ters to stack up over a six-month sea­son seem to have a soft spot for the lit­tle ones — and, yes, they can clearly tell kid-writ­ten notes by their far-from-per­fect pen­man­ship. Catcher Stephen Vogt re­cently got caught up on two years’ worth of fan mail. He re­mem­bers be­ing that child col­lect­ing au­to­graphs at ev­ery chance, so he knows just how much it can mean. “That was one thing my dad al­ways taught us was when we go to a base­ball game, you ask po­litely for an au­to­graph. If they don’t give it to you, that’s fine, they were busy,” Vogt said last month be­fore he went from Oak­land to play­ing for Mil­wau­kee. “Un­der­stand­ing that they have a job to do and their job isn’t to sign au­to­graphs, their job is to play base­ball. But some guys will sign them and it’s cool if you can get them. I ap­pre­ci­ate es­pe­cially when peo­ple take time to put a hand­writ­ten let­ter in there, ‘Hey, we’re a big fan of you, this is why.’ We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate those things. We never get a chance to thank the fans for do­ing that.” Sup­port­ers from Bos­ton and be­yond still thank Roberts for his post-sea­son stolen base off Mar­i­ano Rivera and Jorge Posada in Game 4 of the 2004 AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries, when the Red Sox were three outs from be­ing swept by the ri­val Yankees. With Bos­ton down 4-3 in the ninth at Fen­way Park, Roberts pinch-ran af­ter Kevin Mil­lar’s lead­off walk. Af­ter div­ing back three times on pick­off at­tempts, Roberts swiped sec­ond and scored on Bill Mueller’s sin­gle. Bos­ton won 6-4 in 12 in­nings, then be­came the first team in ma­jor league his­tory to over­come a 3-0 deficit and win a post-sea­son se­ries. Roberts did not play as the Red Sox swept St. Louis for their first cham­pi­onship since 1918, but re­mains beloved through­out New Eng­land. “Ev­ery day,” Roberts said of ar­riv­ing mail. “Do I an­swer them? I read ’em but a lot of it is ‘thanks’ and ‘sign some­thing.’ I get to back to them but I don’t re­spond, ‘Thank you for their sup­port.’” Hall of Famer Rickey Hen­der­son still shakes his head at how hard he tried to get Reg­gie Jackson’s au­to­graph for his en­tire youth, even sneak­ing into the Oak­land Coli­seum as a boy grow­ing up in the East Bay. “I signed most ev­ery­thing. I prob­a­bly was that guy, be­cause I had a hard time when I was grow­ing up try­ing to get au­to­graphs,” Hen­der­son re­called. “Be­cause Reg­gie dogged me so much I al­most wanted to hang him many times, ‘Hey, I don’t even like you no more.’ But he was my idol. I used to get in trou­ble, I used to go home and I’d get on pun­ish­ment be­cause I was wait­ing on that. Ahhh! I told him that all the time.” So there was Hen­der­son do­ing his list of chores such as clean­ing up, wash­ing dishes, mow­ing the lawn. At age 71 and re­tired since the end of his 21-sea­son ca­reer in 1987, Jackson gets it now. He ac­tu­ally rel­ishes go­ing through his mail and re­mains com­mit­ted to an­swer­ing the roughly 100 pieces he re­ceives each week. “When you’re young, you don’t re­al­ize a lot of that stuff. I’m old enough to re­al­ize it’s still special,” Jackson said. “The fan mail, you get kids that sit down and say the short­est lit­tle ... make the short­est com­ment. You know they’re sin­cere and stuff like that. And they’ve sat down and scratched out what they wanted to say to you. I read a lot of it, be­cause it’s short, it’s all over the page. It looks like they were in the ocean when they were writ­ing it. I ap­pre­ci­ate it and ad­mire it and I’m grate­ful that it comes.” His as­sis­tant’s as­sis­tant han­dles open­ing the mail. Jackson does his part to pre­pare it for re­turn. “All of it,” Jackson said mat­ter-of-factly, “all of it is pretty good. We don’t get any­thing bad.” Fosse fi­nally put his foot down with that one per­turb­ing fan re­quest. When a Kansas City em­ployee chased him down re­quest­ing he sign along­side Rose on the col­li­sion photo, the former catcher and cur­rent Oak­land broad­caster de­clined. There are some cour­te­sies those sign­ing ap­pre­ci­ate: pre­paid postage. Fosse notes it was far more af­ford­able back then. These days, there’s a fairly stan­dard rule. “SASE, self-ad­dressed stamped en­ve­lope,” oth­er­wise no deal, said Fosse, who re­ceives 200-300 pieces per year.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Stephen Vogt au­to­graphs fan mail be­fore a base­ball game in Oak­land, Calif. Vogt re­cently got caught up on two years’ worth of fan mail.

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