"Spring is here again, tender age in bloom, bruises on the fruit, but knows not what it means." —Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain has always been an artistic inspiration to me. Also a fashion inspiration, embarrassingly enough. The quote above always struck me as perfect for baseball: Spring is here again and nobody knows what the season is going to bring. I’ve been trying to fit this into a column forever, so why not now?

I got my start in baseball very young. When I was 8 years old, my father and I visited my grandmother and found a cardboard box filled with 1950s and 1960s baseball cards held together by rubber bands. They hadn’t been touched in 30 years. Mantle, Mays, Koufax, Snider, Yaz, Drysdale, literally every ’60s generational great. We called my dad’s best friend at the time, Ron Greenstein, a man who was like an uncle to me, to tell him about our score. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It’s one of the fondest memories I’ll always have.

After my parents divorced, I clinged to sports as the linchpin of my life. Before computers, before Google, before social media, I read every baseball book I could and memorized every stat I could. I freaking followed the 1991 draft—at 9 years old! I watched Brien Taylor and Domingo Jean play in Ft. Lauderdale stadium in 1992 (or 1991) and tried to get their autographs. I was fortunate enough to be born in a very special time and place: South Florida, when the region expanded from a one-team town (the Dolphins) to a multi-sport region. I was at the first Marlins game at age 12, watching Charlie Hough throw the first pitch and Scott Pose take the first at-bat. I was at the first Heat game at age 6 watching the first tip-off between Rony Seikaly and Benoit Benjamin. And at 12 I was at the first home Panthers game, watching Brian Skrudland take the first face-off. I sat at the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1997 World Series and 2003 World Series. It was an exciting time and place to be a sports fan.

Throughout all this I collected trading cards and autographs. It was a wonderful distraction from my health problems. It started with my family: That box of baseball cards my dad and I found, for one thing, but my grandparents’ relationship with baseball players was sturdier than mere cardboard. My grandmother on my mother’s side (Lee Silton, famous artist, Google her) grew up in Southie in Boston and always told me stories of Ted Williams, Walt Dropo and Bobby Doerr. My grandfather on my dad’s side hated baseball but did love him some Lefty Gomez. I have all those athletes’ autographs not so much as "investments" but because they were mementos of my family’s history.

This spring, many of you will go to a game and ask for an autograph from a major- or minor-league player, a manager, a broadcaster, even a sportswriter. (I’ve even been asked! I’m embarrassed to say so, but it was also honestly the coolest feeling ever.) Be nice about it. eBay has ruined collecting in many ways but it’s not a dead art yet. Here are a few pointers on how to get autographs of your favorite players without sticking out or being grouped with my second most-loathed group in the baseball world: the "autograph monkeys.”

1. Do not ever call a player by his number. If you don’t know who the player is do not ask for his autograph. I shouldn’t have to say this.

2. Be prepared. Have a pen, have your item, and ask politely for a player to sign one or two different things at most.

3. Wait until the player is done with work. Baseball is a job and everyone you see on the field in spring training is trying to make a ballclub. Stars are stars but they are all there to work, too. Everyone has time to sign sometime, but be patient and understand your moment might not be today. As a kid I was able to meet guys like Maddux, Pedro, Unit, Smoltz, Piazza, Ripken, Bonds, Clemens, Young Jeter, etc., and each one was right place right time. Don’t push things and realize a lot of this comes down to luck, which brings me to the next point.

4. Study the minor leagues. There is nothing more exciting as a collector than meeting the next big thing before he is the next big thing. I met Mike Piazza when I was 10 and he was a 62nd-round pick. He signed a ball for me. I met Vlad Guerrero when he was 17 and Miguel Cabrera when he was 16. I mean, how cool is that? Had I not had those moments, who knows if I’d even be working in baseball.

5. Respect the “no.” Harassing a player will never end well, and if you happen to get a player to crack at best you’ll get a scribble. What’s more important, the memory or the scribble? I remember each story behind almost every autograph I’ve ever gotten. None involved me hectoring a player until he hated me.

6. Never bother a player away from the field. If a player is with his family, at dinner, at a mall, getting gas, literally anything that isn’t his place of work, he deserves a private life. Do not stalk them. I tell all my clients to never sign at hotels, as it only encourages more stalking. Thankfully, most hotels nowadays have great security staffs to prevent this.

7. If you have a moment and you really want one particular player’s autograph, research him and try to talk to him. Baseball players are human beings and they’re flattered when their fans know about them. Ask them about college, ask them about the draft, ask them about their offseason. Most are quite engaging.

8. Do not get into the hobby for the money. Yes, it’s a hobby and a business but the business side of it sucks. (Writers note: I’m well aware of the irony of me complaining about the business of autographs when I myself negotiate lucrative autograph contracts). I tell all of my clients to sign autographs every single day at least once. This is an indisputable fact. Do I give them advice on things to do or not do when signing? Absolutely. For instance, most of my collection is personalized to me. That’s what I was taught an autograph was supposed to be, more than a scribble. A moment captured with someone looked up to. I have caught a lot of flack over the years for telling my players to personalize items, but here is my rationale for that as an agent and a collector: Personalizing does two things.

  1. It protects the rarity of a player’s signature. A personalized signature can’t be resold, despite the diehard’s best efforts to remove personalizations with nail polish remover.
  2. If you personalize an autograph to a child and the player talks to the child and asks the name of the child, that child will remember the moment forever. The player has a fan for life simply by being nice. My favorite autograph I own is still my puck signed by John Buccigross, which read: "What Kurt Cobain was to Nrivana, Joshua is to John Buccigross." Bar none the best autograph I own.

9. Do not be an Autograph Monkey. (Just trying to recapture some magic here.)

10. Have fun! Baseball is a game, and—as Tom Selleck said in Mr. Baseball—games are supposed to be fun. As a fan of the game, take in as many memories as you can. For every tough memory I have in my life I have 1,000 more amazing memories baseball has given me. I thank the game, the players, and my family for giving this amazing gift to me and I sincerely hope everyone heading to spring training can collect great memories of their own. And if you see me at a game and happen to know who I am by some fluke, come talk to me. You could even ask for my autograph, but I wouldn't recommend wasting the ink.

Thank you for reading

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Great read, can still remember talking to, and getting Joe Carter's autograph at Jay's spring training as a 6 year old. Have that ball on my desk right now
I was his batboy once, Joe Carter is an awesome guy.
Wait... baseball players are people?

But seriously, neat article.
Baseball players are genetically modified cyborgs. But seriously, People.

thank you
thanks dude! I'm venturing down to catch some Grapefruit League action tomorrow. this is great. Beers/pops on me if you're at any Jays games in Dunedin over the week.
Thanks man, I love Dunedin. Ill be in Ft. Myers today at some point
I love going to the back fields to watch the Minor Leaguers at Spring Training. Multiple games going on, it's free, you can mingle with players, scouts, player dev types and pick their brains. I'm not an autograph guy. I think the only baseball one I've gotten in person was Jose Lima at a Toledo Mud Hens game in the mid 90's.

But one of my favorite things is watching those autograph hounds. The guys with a case full of binders that hound the team bus when the road team comes, hang out in the shade and don't watch any baseball for four hours before hitting the players up as they are leaving. I'd say Rule Number 11, don't be one of those guys, but they are so fascinating.
Rule number 11 is same as rule 9. Excellent call.

And Jose Lima was a bad ass guy. I loved hanging out with him when I was a teenager during spring.

They are part of the entertainment.
i happened to be at disney's wide world of sports 2 weekends ago and while wondering around i stumbled upon maybe a dozen braves pitchers warming up. it irked me to no end the amount of times i heard "can you sign this ball? ... who are you?"
This seems like a good opportunity to troll and just make up names.

I know it's not a good thing to do from the PR side of things, but the urge to write names like "Wank Stormdrainer" and "Drippy McShingle" would win out were I in this situation.
Nice piece of advise. I'll be attending to Blue Jays games in June and was hoping to get some autographs from a number of players. This helps a lot. Hope I'm lucky!
Go get em!
I really like your article. It reminds me of the nostalgia I feel for baseball. I think I need to share this with some friends. Thanks for a such heart-warming article!
Thanks a lot. I loved writing this and am grateful bp let me run it.
I love your articles, Josh, and not that I needed another reason to love Bucci, but wow, what a cool gesture.
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm an autograph hound. I loved this article, but I think one thing needs to be accented about getting autographs: Research and positioning are key. Your points #3 and #4 are dead on. The two things that help the most are: knowing where to be and when. You simply will not rack up many autographs if you don't plan ahead and don't research where to be. There is an autograph "community" and you can find it at every MLB and Spring Training park. Talk to them (kindly) and figure out when and where to be. Every other year I go to AZ for ST. Through time, you learn where players go, the right tunnels, the right parts of the fields, the right times, etc.. and you can absolutely rack up on signatures. I'm talking multiple dozens per day, stars included. But, it involves really studying when and where to be. Finally, memorize faces. I'm a Padre fan and each year I go to ST, I try and memorize every minor league face before I arrive. It's tough, but the payoff for autographs is unbelievable 'cause so few people can ID them quickly. Great article!
Well said and thank you for reading and adding such a nice response.
When I was a kid my friend and I hung around Comiskey Park before games, hoping to get autographs. My favorite experience was in Mrytle Beach though, at the time they were the Jays affiliate. My parents took us to a game while on vacation. At that time they had a pretty good 1B named Carlos Delgado. Anyway, after the game the players stayed and signed until there was no one left. The Jays catcher, Hector Mercedes, had me hold his bat, glove and mask while he signed. When he was done he grabbed his glove and mask and told me to keep the bat. I still have the bat 25 years later.
That's a really awesome story. That's what the games all about.