Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Baseball Season Means Autograph Season

AND WE'RE OFF...for autograph season, at least. For me, autographs have always been a central part of the experience of being a fan. Specifically, getting autographs personally. It's one thing to walk into a sports memorabilia store and buy an autographed photo, jersey or ball of your favorite player to hang on your wall, but it does not approach the feeling of actually meeting your favorite players and getting their signature yourself.

For as long as I can remember, I have been an autograph addict. Although I'm not 100% sure, I think that I got my first autograph at McCoy Stadium, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. For those of you who are not from the area, the design of McCoy Stadium creates an interesting autograph experience.

As you can see from the picture, because the field is significantly lower than the stands, autograph seekers must design a way for their baseballs, hats, cards and bats to get to the players to sign. When I was younger, my autograph device of choice was a plastic milk carton with one side panel cut off and a rope tied around the handle.

Since then, my autograph techniques and successes have improved, but my passion for the hobby of collecting autographs remains as strong as it ever has been. Now, in addition to fishing for autographs before games on the field, I have expanded my approach to include waiting for players after the game and sending cards through the mail.

Of course, like many other hobbyists, adults autograph collectors are looked at suspiciously. Because so many people put things up on eBay faster than they can say "Thank You," many players look at autograph collectors as opportunists who are taking advantage of their generosity. This toxic atmosphere of distrust has the potential to destroy the best part of autograph collecting, the small personal relationship that is created between the athlete and the fan.

In addition, the popular perception that most adults who go autograph hunting only do so to make money begs the question: if they aren't selling the autographs, why are adults getting signatures? This creates a second sterotype and a hurtful stigma: the autograph collector as the loser living in his parents' basement. Of course, if you're reading this blog, it goes without saying that most adult autograph collectors are perfectly normal, happy, successful and well-adjusted. Unfortunately, the perception that they are doing something wrong by continuing to collect autographs can create a sense of guilt. For awhile I can remember hiding my autograph collecting as a hobby that dared not speak its name that I hid from my friends and family.

In a different but not wholly unrelated issue, the proliferation of fake autographs, especially online, creates an environment of suspicion about all autographs. Because it is relatively easy and inexpensive to forge signatures, and the rewards so high and punishment, if caught, unlikely, many unscrupulous individuals have made loads of cash cheating sports fans with fake autographs.

What makes the peddling of fake autographs and sports memorobelia even worse is that it involves (presumably) sports fans taking advantage of other sports fans. Because so many people (naively) trust others, they take a quick look at an autographed item and just assume that it is real. Plus, because most serious collectors can smell a fake from a mile away, those fake autos usually sell for far less than the real deal, tempting less knowledgable collectors to purchase them as a trophy piece or as an "investment."

However, despite those two problems, there is still no hobby that is as much fun and as addicting as collecting autographs. For hobby purists, who collect autographs themselves to keep in their own collections, it isn't about how much signatures are worth, but the memories that you make acquiring them.

As the season approaches, I will share some of my autograph successes from the past and keep you updated on new autographs throughout the season. I hope that I can provide some interesting insights into the hobby of autograph collecting and I look forward to hearing about your autograph experiences.

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