I’m able to keep the fangirling to a minimum when I am at games. I even try not to show much emotion when my team makes a great play or comes back to win it in the bottom of the ninth, but just below the surface I still have my moments. In 2018-2019 I was fortunate enough to be a part of post game interviews with then San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, and although I’m not a Giants fan I knew that I was speaking to one of the best Major League managers of all time. Growing up, I watched Barry Bonds live his best life on a baseball field, so the day I walked right by him within arm’s reach in the bowels of Oracle Park blocked off to the public, I stiffened up and strained the limits of my peripheral vision staring as he walked by talking on his phone. Now, if this is how I feel at the times when I am lucky enough to be around and have access to professional baseball players on almost a daily basis, I totally understand how fans can get a little too excited around their favorite players. Getting excited is one thing, so when a “fan” is just rude to players, or feels entitled to their time thats when I feel there is a problem
Players understand that they are entertainers, celebrities, or anything else that you want to call them, but at the end of the day they’re just another person doing their job. Fans need to recognize that they are still humans with real lives, families, emotions and concerns like everyone else. Fans also need to realize that the event that you came to see are these players jobs. They worked harder and are better at what they do than either you or I to get where they are, which is why we watch them from our seats. It is this dedication and their work ethic that separates them from the beer league heroes who feel they can do better and don’t mind telling you how much these players suck. Players have boundaries and it is absolutely okay and necessary to maintain them. Players don’t want to be stalked and swarmed by people outside of their hotels because that’s their time to be alone and have some privacy, and as fans I feel that is something that needs to be respected. It can be argued that its a public place, but for these players on the road, its the only homes they have for half the season. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with someone approaching another person walking down the street or something like that, but it irks me to see people post online about how rude players are for simply turning down an autograph request even if they are kindly told that the will gladly sign at the ballpark.
On June 19th the Sacramento River Cats posted a photo of Jaylin Davis and Justin Bour on their Instagram with the caption “MANNERS”. According to a fan who witnessed the incident, there was a kid incessantly shouting to Bour to throw him a ball. Bour stopped and turned to the kid and said, “Hey could you at least say please”? The kid said please, and Bour and Davis continued to warm up a little longer. Once they were done Davis threw the ball to the kid who quickly turned and ran with his prize. As he left Bour called out in vain, “A thank you would be nice”. A similar incident happened to Joey Bart. Bart got frustrated at a bunch of fans being rude while trying to get autographs. While Bart was singing he said, “How about a thank you or hey how are you doing”? He signed a few more items in silence as no one said a word, and then he left. Eric Sagara, a lifelong autograph hunter told me, “I’m glad Bour said something. The amount of people asking for autographs and not saying thank you was horrible or maybe I’m just old fashioned”. Is he old fashioned or are we as a society that have forgotten what manners are? Is it oppressive to be polite now? “Don’t tell me what to do”, “You can’t talk to my child that way”; Judith Martin would have an aneurysm out here. It isn’t just how rude someone is that is turning off players, but also the intentions of many of those “fans” who are asking for the autograph.
Players get turned off by autograph seekers who continue to come back for more, so if you think you’re not being noticed, fear no more because you are. Having collected baseball cards for over 30 years, and having done my own share of autograph hunting, I’ve sadly watched the hobby I love turn into a cutthroat business. I’m not naive to the fact that there has always been a market for sports memorabilia and I don’t know if its just the openness on social media that we see the ugliness of it all now but its like we just forgot how to act as we come out of 18 months of lock down because of the pandemic. I was told by one collector that Joey Bart asked if the fan was from Sacramento because he won’t sign for those who are from out of town. After signing the card he told them, “Don’t sell it”. The same fan told me that not too long after that incident Bart told him “no”, that same day he was also snubbed by Tyler Beede, and Mauricio Dubon asked him how much he was selling his autographs for online. For those fans who cannot attend the games many collect their autographs through the mail (TTM).
Fans who don’t have access to live baseball games will send cards, baseballs, jerseys, or whatever they want to autographed to players homes, or to ballparks in hopes that their favorite players will sign them. Some players return your items in a couple of weeks, while others may take a couple of years depending on the amount of mail they get, and sadly sometimes you never see your item again. Sutter Health Park in Sacramento is notorious among collectors for not having TTM requests returned. Although this practice is risky for various reasons, fans who I’ve spoken with at the ballpark have said that they never have gotten an item returned by a player. A quick look at http://www.sportscardforum.com, a website that tracks TTM autograph requests, also failed to confirm any players returning items sent to this ballpark. I reached out to the Sacramento River Cats and asked the protocol for fan mail. I was informed that all mail is delivered to their On Deck Shop (team store), separated, and then a team representative comes and picks it up and must sign for it daily. What happens after that is still a mystery but according to a former River Cats player the items sent to him were never distributed and that he had to ask if he got any mail before he got it.
In my own personal experience, I limited how many times I asked a player for his autograph. I probably never asked anyone for more than 2-3 in a season. My main focus was getting a team ball signed, but if there was a card I really liked then I’d also try to get that signed. I made it a habit to only ask for one autograph from any player on any given day. I’ve had pretty good luck with my approach and was able to get team balls from the 2001-2007 Sacramento River Cats. Having the ability to speak Spanish once got me Felix Hernandez while he was standing in the outfield, and learning a bit of Japanese helped me get the attention of former Japanese star So Taguchi. Maybe that was a little extreme on my part but it worked. I will say that most players, regardless of how famous they are, are willing and grateful to sign for fans. I know that some will mainly sign for kids, but at the end of the day they’re still signing. So next time you don’t get an autograph just remember that this is their job, and they’re taking a moment of their time to give back to their fans. Maybe you get passed over when someone next to you got an autograph, but it was probably because the player was trying to give as many people as they could along a long line of people shoving things in their face without so much as a please or thank you. Appreciate the experience, be polite, respect their time, and always remember that they owe you nada, nada, nada, not a damn thing.