In the spirit of my San José Muni post it’s time to write about my youth collecting autographs at the Stanford Alumni game. The game used to occur in January and marked the beginning of the new baseball season. Sitting at Sunken Diamond watching college ball on February and March weekends was one of the best things about growing up in California. Not only was there really no Winter, I got to watch Baseball outside almost all year.
In 1991 I just brought a ball and got it signed by everyone. This is very much in the manner of my Giants ball. Yet another fake-leather baseball though this time I exclusively used a ballpoint.* It’s held up ok but shows why ball point and fake leather are not a good pair. Signatures are mostly alumni but prospects like Hammonds made it on to the ball too. And yes there’s one name I can’t figure out.**
*Signatures: 1—Mark Marquess. 2—Mike Aldrete, Jack McDowell, Frank Carey, Lee Plemel. 3—Stan Spencer, Paul Carey. 4—Steve Buechele, unknown, Troy Paulsen, Jeffrey Hammonds, Tim Griffin. 5—Jeff Ballard, Doug Robbins.
**I have a key someplace at my parents so I’ll eventually figure this out.
It’s a fun ball which really captures the state of the Stanford Alumni in the pros at that moment. Four Major Leaguers (Aldrete, Ballard, Buechele, and McDowell), a bunch of new professionals who had yet to make it in the bigs (a cup of coffee for a few like Paul Carey and Stan Spencer but no long careers), and a prospect (Hammonds) who went on to have a long career. I can look at it and know exactly what moment in time it captures.
When I was a kid I was as unsatisfied with this ball as I was with my Giants ball. Which is a shame. I really love them now as a way of capturing the event and experience. Carrying just a ball and a pen around to different players was also a much much simpler way of doing things.
I wish I hadn’t been as snobby about who signed too. In addition to the Alumni game between current professionals and the Stanford team, there was also an Old Timers game between two teams of retired former players. Some of those guys also played professionally but I just didn’t know who they were. I did eventually remember to bring blank cards with me but Steve Dunning is the only one I can find.*
*I could’ve sworn I also got Sandy Vance’s autograph but I can’t find it.
Anyway I just didn’t know about the older guys and as a result ignored them. I wanted current professionals or prospects only. Learning about the guys I ignored has been one of the best thing about my current Stanford Project.
The following year I decided I was done with signed baseballs and instead brought cards to the game. This was to be my MO from 1992 through 1994.*
*The 1994, while knocking me out of the hobby in general, also occurred right when I was starting to think about applying to colleges. As a result, I found myself withdrawing a bit from being as attached to Stanford in general and feeling weird about getting autographs from guys who were increasingly close to my age.
I learned a lot about autograph hunting with a stack of cards at these games including the value of restraint and only dealing with a couple of cards at a time. Giving the guy a stack of cards is an invitation for smudging as he signs one and slips it onto the bottom of the pack. I wish I’d known about the current method of using photo corners and a notebook although I’m not sure how I’d like the bulk of carrying the book.
But I also learned about identifying players and trusting my gut and dealing with the scrum at a ball park. Sunken Diamond wasn’t crowded but there was always a decent crowd. Learning how to navigate my way around it was a good lesson that prepared me for dealing with the bigger crowds I’d encounter at Spring Training.
I’m not going to write about individual players here. The experiences all kind of blend together across the years into one event where I can still remember keeping my head on a swivel in the patch of grass by the clubhouse and bullpen—even walking around on the field in the bullpen area and trying to recognize players based on their playing card photos.
The stories that stand out most I’ve already told. My first autograph from Mike Aldrete. Steve Chitren getting razzed for his card featuring someone else. I’ve ordered everything below by card year since it provides a wonderful slice of the generation of players whose signatures I got. I was a big baseball fan from 1987 to 1994 so logically I got cards from 1987 to 1993 signed.
Much to my dismay Steve Buechele never showed up again after 1991. I also never saw players like Pete Stanicek or Kenny Williams. But guys like Aldrete, Amaro, McDowell, and Sprague showed up year after year and I always had cards ready for them.