A simple autograph, a moment to remember

For a few minutes in early March of 2006, my life’s mission was to get Ron Villone’s autograph.

Not because I had an odd affinity for middling left-handed middle relievers, but because at a typical spring training road game — the Yankees sent the bare minimum of regulars to Clearwater to play the Phillies — he was signing autographs along the foul line in right field.

And I had decided I was going to get someone’s autograph.

But about 15 to 20 people away from where I was standing, he peeled off to get ready for the game, and in that moment, a guy whose autograph I wanted just because he was the guy signing them became a jerk.

During the game, Ryan Howard hit a homer off him that may still be going, and I was happy.

Served him right.

Is this illogical and stupid? Of course.

Watch as he brings the baseball up close to his eyes. See the rounded M and the R with the jaunty little downswept tail. Then watch every single tiny letter, shaped and sharpened, as though the letters were being sewn into the cover of the baseball like stitches. It’s like watching a monk illuminate a manuscript, and it happens with every baseball, every time.” — Charlie Pierce, “Mariano Rivera Is So Good, It Hurts” Esquire

Because Charlie Pierce is a master, he built a 2001 story about Mariano Rivera around an autograph session he did for Little Leaguers, but there was one sentence that was sad to read.

Oh, we have had earnest disquisitions concerning the science of the autograph, an unfortunately integral element of which has become a twelve-year-old boy standing forlornly in the lobby of a hotel at two in the morning while his greasy pimp daddy lurks nearby behind a potted plant.

A few years ago, I went to an autograph-signing Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski held at a local bookstore. I wasn’t going for myself, but for work.

Gronkowski was very nice to everyone, but between the rules — one signature, one photo, keep it moving, etc. — and the number of people waiting in line, autograph-signings tend to have slightly more charm than an automobile assembly line.

Maybe there were people planning to go home afterward and hawk their newly autographed copy of Gronk’s book on eBay, but the people I talked to were just happy to be there, happy to have a chance to meet him. It didn’t look like there were any greasy pimp daddies in the crowd.

Whether or not the Instagram photo has moved alongside or pushed aside the autograph — I’ve taken multiple photos of my wife with actors, and I’m wondering if Phoebe Waller-Bridge will do stage door after we see her do “Fleabag” in a couple months — the romantic in me (go ahead and laugh) still likes to think of it as a happy experience, a way to symbolize meeting someone famous.

If only for a moment.

I’ve never been a big collector, so I don’t have autographs of my own.

My first recollection of autographs is from 1983, collecting them at Heritage Park in Colonie, 11-year-old me still amazed that a professional baseball team was so close to where I lived.

I’m sure the program is long gone, and most of the players forgotten, but I know one of the autographs I got was Charlie O’Brien, who’s going to be 59 in May but could probably still be a catch-and-throw backup catcher for somebody.

Years later, NASCAR driver Geoffrey Bodine did an autograph session at a local Ford dealer. I was no fan of his, but drivers don’t come to the Albany area every day, so I stood in line to get two stock photos of him next to his QVC Ford signed.

I have no idea what happened to them.

The autograph that means the most to me is my Jim Bouton signed baseball. I got it in 1996, when I was a grad-school intern for Northeast Public Radio in Albany. He was a friend of the station owner, so came by every so often to be a guest on the “Vox Pop” afternoon talk show.

The first time he came, I didn’t know he was going to be there, but I got a heads-up the second time, so I went to the local Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought a baseball and display case.

He couldn’t have been nicer about signing, as he’s a really nice guy, and the ball is in my sports room now. I also have a signed book of his that my father-in-law bought me as a gift.

Also in my sports room is a signed Kevin Harvick die-cast car, but even though he’s one of my favorite drivers, I was less excited to get an autographed car than being able to buy two of his cars for a discount at the Richard Childress Racing Museum store.

Yes, it was an autographed car, but I didn’t get the autograph myself, so I can’t say I met Kevin Harvick.

If only for a moment.


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