For au­to­graph hounds, it’s just like fishin’

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - AARON REISS Minneapolis Star Tri­bune

Af­ter the New York Yan­kees’ fi­nal team bus de­parted for Tar­get Field, a dis­ap­pointed mid­dle-aged man hold­ing a folded Aaron Judge jersey left his spot out­side the Grand Ho­tel. He was too em­bar­rassed to pro­vide his name. He had waited for about 14 hours, since 1:30 a.m., and left with­out a sin­gle Yan­kees player’s au­to­graph. About 20 peo­ple had clam­oured for Judge out­side the down­town ho­tel as he boarded the bus. Speak­ing later that af­ter­noon from the Tar­get Field vis­i­tors’ club­house, he said he ap­pre­ci­ates the sup­port, but nei­ther he nor his team­mates signed a sin­gle au­to­graph. “I don’t think any­body else would like some­body else to come up to your front door at one o’clock in the morn­ing or some­thing and say, ‘Sign this,’” said Judge, the Yan­kees’ rookie right fielder and a lead­ing con­tender to be the Amer­i­can League MVP. Yet the prac­tice per­sists. For se­ri­ous au­to­graph col­lec­tors and sell­ers, this is the step be­yond show­ing up at the play­ers’ park­ing lot or bat­ting prac­tice. Is it ob­ses­sive? “The same thing as fish­ing,” said 15-year-old Cay­den Hatano from Cot­tage Grove. He and his friend, Noah Acree, spend sum­mer days pur­su­ing sig­na­tures. They get rides into down­town in the morn­ing. They wait out­side the vis­it­ing team’s ho­tel un­til two buses de­part for the game. They eat at Cow­boy Jack’s. They go to Tar­get Field to watch base­ball. Then they come back to the ho­tel af­ter the game for an­other chance at au­to­graphs. There’s lots of wait­ing. There’s an oc­ca­sional pay­off. Just like fish­ing. Acree’s mother would pre­fer he get a sum­mer job. “I tell her I have Twins games to go to,” he said. The friends, who started col­lect­ing au­to­graphs be­fore ado­les­cence, be­gan their hobby when the Yan­kees came to town last sea­son. Hatano con­tacted about 20 dif­fer­ent Twin Cities-based au­to­graph In­sta­gram ac­counts, which col­lec­tors use to tout sig­na­tures they’ve nabbed. He asked what ho­tel teams stayed at, and one told him. The stan­chions set up out­side to cor­ral a group of mostly mid­dle-aged men, young adults, par­ents and a few chil­dren are a dead give­away. This isn’t a grand se­cret, but some col­lec­tors treat the prac­tice as such. They do not want to di­min­ish their chances of se­cur­ing a sig­na­ture. Chris, who claimed to sell mem­o­ra­bilia, said he trav­elled from Chicago be­cause he thought there’d be fewer peo­ple wait­ing out­side the Yan­kees ho­tel in Min­ne­sota. Still, Mon­day’s group, which stayed around 20 for most of the af­ter­noon, blocked part of the 2nd Av­enue side­walk. Tim Feia, a valet at the Grand Ho­tel for about a year, said he sees many of the same peo­ple dur­ing each Twins home­s­tand, re­gard­less of the team. He knows the “un­spo­ken rules” ad­hered to by most au­to­graph hounds: Don’t cross the front of the stan­chion bar­rier, re­spect the space of peo­ple who ar­rive ear­li­est, and don’t chase play­ers through the city. Only purists fol­low all of th­ese. Twins catcher Chris Gimenez said a woman in Chicago tried to pull the same trick two years in a row. She waited at a Star­bucks near the team ho­tel, ap­proached play­ers and asked in­no­cently, “Are you ...?” Then she re­quested a sig­na­ture for her grand­son. “Next thing you know, she’s got 35 balls in her purse,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of grand­kids.” Play­ers went to an­other Star­bucks. Gimenez, a nine-year veteran who has played for five or­ga­ni­za­tions, said the num­ber of peo­ple who wait out­side ho­tels de­pends on how many mar­quee play­ers are on the vis­it­ing team’s ros­ter. Judge cur­rently has the most cov­eted sig­na­ture in base­ball, and he said it’s an “hon­our” when some­one asks for it. “I used to be that lit­tle kid down the side­lines ask­ing for au­to­graphs or some­thing,” he said. “So any time I can go out there and do that for some­body, it makes my day.” Still, the 25-year-old val­ues per­sonal space. “I try to do what­ever I can for the fans,” he said, “but I try to knock it out at the sta­dium.” The in­ter­net has changed the dy­namic. On­line bid­ding sites have al­lowed any­one to be­come a mem­o­ra­bilia dealer, and in­creased me­dia ex­po­sure al­lows play­ers to be­come greater pub­lic fig­ures than ever be­fore. The mar­ket is ro­bust — es­pe­cially for base­ball. Leila Dun­bar, a sports mem­o­ra­bilia ap­praiser for PBS’ “An­tiques Road­show,” said in an email that be­cause base­ball has the long­est his­tory of the ma­jor sports, it stirs the great­est ap­petite for col­lec­tors. Gimenez said he’s seen more than 50 peo­ple wait­ing out­side the ho­tel when his team ar­rives in the morn­ing’s wee hours. “You have to won­der,” he said, “what on earth makes peo­ple want to do this?” He knows the an­swer, though. He re­mem­bers how re­ceiv­ing a player’s sig­na­ture when he was a boy could change his “per­spec­tive on any­thing.” Katie Bai­ley, from north­east Iowa, brought her son to his first Yan­kees game on Mon­day, and they stopped at the Grand Ho­tel that af­ter­noon. Nine-year-old Mikey pressed against the stan­chion bar­rier in a Gary Sanchez T-shirt. “To get to meet any­one, it would mean so much,” Katie Bai­ley said. That feel­ing never fades for some. “The grat­i­fi­ca­tion is ob­vi­ous,” Cole Brucker said. “Get­ting an au­to­graph of your favourite player that you get to watch on TV on a base­ball is pretty cool, you know?”

RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRI­BUNE

Caitlin Springer, 15, crouches while hop­ing to catch her hero, Aaron Judge, as New York Yan­kees au­to­graph seek­ers wait in front of the Grand Ho­tel in Minneapolis.

RICHARD TSONG-TAATARII, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRI­BUNE

New York Yan­kees au­to­graph seek­ers, in­clud­ing Cay­den Hatano, wait for their he­roes to put pen to pa­per.

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