Screaming At Players Is Probably Not The Best Way To Get An Autograph

Throughout the 2007 season, San Diego Padres minor leaguer Dirk Hayhurst contributed a “Non-Prospect Diary” to Baseball America, dealing with such topics as autograph requests, the first day of spring training, and bus trips.  The stated goal was to “delve into the side of the minor leagues fans seldom see,” and he accomplished that through a series of well thought out, enjoyable articles.

My personal favorite was the most recent, an entry dated September 25.  Because it was written long after the end of the minor league season and Hayhurst is not on San Diego’s major league roster, I don’t know if it’s an actual true story or a piece of fiction he pulled out of the ether just because he felt like writing.  Either way, there are certain elements included – the behavior of baseball-seeking children, first and foremost – that anyone who has worked around minor league baseball and its fans have to acknowledge are more or less accurate. 

I’ve seen such behavior firsthand, directed at one of the greatest players in baseball history.  Back in 2003, Rickey Henderson spent some time with the Atlantic League’s Newark Bears in the hopes of keeping his skills sharp while waiting for the call from a major league team.  As luck would have it, his first trip to Nashua, New Hampshire coincided with my first day as an intern with the Pride; it’s hard to explain how awesome it was to find myself, about three hours into a brand new job that I knew was going to basically be the hardest work I’d ever done, standing five feet away from Rickey Henderson as a coworker welcomed him to town.  Completely surreal.

That year, the Atlantic League All-Star Game was held in Nashua, and of course Rickey was there.  Prior to the game, as I was running around the field trying to get the media stuff in order (and failing miserably – there are reasons I don’t work in minor league baseball anymore), I saw Rickey standing in left field, about thirty feet away from the railing separating the bleachers from the field – and he was being flat-out hassled by about twenty kids, all looking for a piece of him.

I’ll say it now: I’m all about autographs.  I think they’re great.  My son has signed pictures of Roger Clemens and Carl Yastrzemski hanging in his room, and there will always be a special place for the 1991 Score card that Tony Fossas signed for me at a baseball dinner when I was 12 (he was worried that the pen he was using might damage the card – imagine the shock to my system, at 12 years old, to hear a major league ballplayer expressing concern over my possessions).  I don’t actively pursue such things anymore, but it’s mainly because I’m still fairly shy and am never quite sure how to ask someone to sign something for me.   It’s difficult.

The problem with these kids in the bleachers was their disrespectful tone – the same one mentioned by Hayhurst in his Diary.  They weren’t asking politely for Rickey Henderson (or Mr. Henderson, as you might expect a 12-year-old kid to address a 44-year-old man) to toss them a ball or sign their hat – they were DEMANDING that he do those things, that he comply with their wishes.  If he did, he was alright; if he didn’t, he was a no-good jerk who didn’t care about the people who paid his salary.  How ridiculous is that?

Needless to say, none of those kids got a ball from Rickey.  And every one of them, to this day, probably tells people about the time they saw Rickey Henderson play in Nashua and he wouldn’t even take a second to sign his name for them.  They probably DON’T mention that their request failed to include the word “please.”

Anyway, this turned out to be longer than I expected, so I’ll leave you with a piece of advice: when you ask for an autograph at a game, just be nice.  Yeah, the players are there for your entertainment, and your purchased ticket helps pay their salary, but those aren’t valid excuses for treating them with blatant disrespect.  If you handle yourself well, the majority of players will respond in kind.

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