The simple pleasure of a single ball

Terry Kennedy, Brett Butler, Kevin Mitchell
Terry Kennedy, Brett Butler, Kevin Mitchell

My family took a trip to Philadelphia in 1989 and we stayed in the Giants hotel. 10-year-old me was extremely excited about going autograph hunting for a few days. I had no idea what I was doing. What pen to use. What kind of balls to acquire. Whose cards to bring. I had no strategy. I just brought a bunch of cards—mostly 1987 Topps and 1989 Score—the cheap Giants-branded baseball we’d purchased at the Dugout Store when Rick Reuschel was there for a signing, and a bunch of optimism.

While my primary focus was on getting my cards signed, I often had the ball with me as well. It was handy for players whose cards I didn’t have or former players who were now associated with the Giants. Sometimes I’d have the ball and all the cards together. Other times, after having gotten a card or two signed, I’d get back in line and get the ball signed too.

And there was the time that Orlando Cepeda walked through the lobby without anyone recognizing him until my mom grabbed the ball and chased him down.

It was fun to see it fill up with signatures over the weekend and it’s a great memento from my trip. Yet for the longest time I was disappointed by it. I could only see all my newbie “mistakes.” Things I “should” have done differently. I used a cheap ball instead of an official National League ball. I used a Sharpie instead of a ballpoint pen (by the end of the weekend I’d switched to ballpoint).* I didn’t get a player-specific ball for bigger-name players. The mixing of old players and current players made no sense. etc. etc.

*You’re supposed to use ballpoint pens on official leather balls both for value reasons and preservation reasons. Fake plastic leather doesn’t work well with ballpoint. Sharpies can bleed into real leather. As it turns out though Sharpies and fake leather are a good pair.

Looking at it now? It reminds me of a simpler time and a simpler approach and fills me with joy. That instead of doing a lot of prep work and pulling cards then having to recognize the player, find the right card, and get it ready to be signed, all I needed was a single ball. And then afterwards, the ball exists as a perfect memento of the experience.

It’s not a “collectible.” So many of the “rules” I followed were with the idea that autographs were an investment. Yet that was never why I collected them. I enjoyed the interaction and the stories. Now, as an adult, I’m more likely to buy them since they remind me of stories from when I was a kid. But as a kid? That’s when you’re supposed to create what you’ll be nostalgic about later.

Seeing this ball reminds me of my trip. And that team. And being 11 again. I can recognize all the signatures and remember all the names and reminisce about the experience in a way that my single-player balls or signed cards usually can’t come close to.

Rick Reuschel, Ken Oberkfell
Rick Reuschel, Ken Oberkfell

Rick Reuschel was the first autograph on this ball and the only one which I didn’t get in Philadelphia. He was a notorious non-signer who the professional autograph hunters in the lobby told my mom and me to not even bother trying to chase. They were shocked when we showed them the ball.

Ken Oberkfell was one of the later signers on this ball. He was new to the Giants and, as a utility guy who entered late in games as a left-handed pinch hitter, was not a player who I had any real attachment to. Looking at his signature now I feel a bit apologetic at asking him to fit “Oberkfell” into such a small space. I’m glad he tried though.

And getting to the names at the top of this post, Terry Kennedy was our main catcher that year. He was also new as the Giants had just parted ways with Bob Brenly. He did well for us that year and held on to the position for a while until Kirt Manwaring could take over. I never really warmed to him as a fan though.

Brett Butler was our center fielder and leadoff hitter. There’s something about the everyday leadoff hitter which provides a certain amount of identity to the team. I know lineups don’t really matter all that much but as a fan, knowing that the game hasn’t really started for you until your leadoff hitter has come to the plate is just part of the ritual. Which is why I think we were all extra frustrated when he moved to the Dodgers in a few years.

And Kevin Mitchell. He was a stud in 1989 and getting his autograph was an experience which deserves its own post.

Orlando Cepeda
Orlando Cepeda

Cepeda had just started as a community ambassador for the Giants so his presence in the hotel I think caught everyone by surprise. His leg isn’t great but he still managed to get almost all the way through the lobby before my mom reacted. I love that he signed the sweet spot. All the current players had left it empty but Cepeda knew he had the statistics to take it. So he did.

Kirt Manwaring, Scott Garrelts, Roger Craig
Kirt Manwaring, Scott Garrelts, Roger Craig

Kirt Manwaring wasn’t ready to be the starting catcher yet but he was already turning into a bit of a fan favorite. The way he played was just enjoyable to watch. It’s no surprise that photographers loved him too.

Scott Garrelts was one of our many #2 or #3 starters. That the Giants had no proper ace is one of the reasons why, with the 10-day earthquake break—the A’s swept us in the World Series. I have no memory about who their #3 and #4 guys were. But between Dave Stewart and Bob Welch there was no contest. With Garrelts I do remember making the newbie mistake of handing him too many items. He was cool about it but I learned there that part of the reason not to have a ton of stuff is because it’s just a lot of work to deal with.

Because Cepeda had taken the sweet spot Roger Craig had to fit his signature into the tiny space next to it. I liked Roger. I think we all did. No idea if he was a good manager in general but he seems to have been exactly the kind of manager the Giants needed at the time. I’ll always be nostalgic for the original Humm Baby and the split finger fastball.

Jeff Brantley, Al Rosen, Dusty Baker, Tito Fuentes
Jeff Brantley, Al Rosen, Dusty Baker, Tito Fuentes

This is my favorite panel on the ball though. Well, aside from Jeff Brantley. Don’t get me wrong, he was perfectly fine as a closer the next two years, just, I’m glad the Giants picked up Steve Bedrosian in 1989. And compared to the other autographs on this panel he’s the least interesting.

Al Rosen was the Giants GM. An older me would’ve gotten him to sign an American League ball but I’m happy that I didn’t know better. While he had a couple great seasons in Cleveland I’ll always think of him primarily as the Giant GM and as such, he fits in perfectly here.

Dusty Baker was only the First Base Coach at this point. I know he played for the Giants for one season but in 1989 I had not really thought of him as a Giant yet. He was just part of the 1989 experience at that point. That he eventually became our manager—and was pretty popular for a while until the fans turned on him—makes me enjoy his presence on this ball even more.

And Tito Fuentes. Former Giant turned broadcaster. Our Spanish-language broadcaster. I was aware of KLOK but was a few years away from trying to listen to it as part of Spanish class. But I’m glad he’s on here as, like Cepeda, both a former Giant and a member of the larger 1989 organization.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

17 thoughts on “The simple pleasure of a single ball”

  1. I have a similar fake leather ball for the Brewers that has its own story with it too. Unfortunately, I went with mostly ballpoint pen for the autographs that has faded badly over time.

    1. That’s a bummer. Would be interested to hear the stories still. I was worried about this one but am pleased that both the Sharpies and ballpoints survived the past three decades.

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