Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Training 2014 Recap

Baseball. Is. Back.

Or at least kind of. While Opening Day is still a long, grueling twenty days away, Spring Training is in full force in both Arizona and Florida. While I've never experienced any Grapefruit League action, 2014 marked the fifth straight year in which I made the trip down to Arizona to get a faint glimpse at the six month graphing season ahead. As usual, I tried to schedule my trip for the first weekend of games, and for the first time I brought along a graphing friend, Kyle, to share the experience with.

Day One (3/1/2014):

Jason Kipnis inscribed "1st ASG"
That was how my day started, and basically ended as well. That's because the entire day was plagued by a grapher's worst nightmare... rain. While the forecast in Phoenix had called for showers, I was hoping that the rain wouldn't be severe enough to halt graphing activities for the entire day. Unfortunately, my hopes were bashed quickly. Luckily, Jason Kipnis made the day a bit better by signing the 2013 All-Star baseball as seen above. Kipnis was cool as usual and even inscribed "1st ASG' as I asked.

About two minutes after getting Kipnis, the rain began. Hoping to find a dry spot to graph, I headed over to Glendale where the skies had cleared up a bit. By the time I got there, however, most of the big names had already left, but I was able to get Jose Quintana, John Danks, and Dayan Viciedo to sign a few cards.

Quintana, Danks, and Viciedo cards
I then decided to head over to Scottsdale, where the Diamondbacks were playing a day-night double header. In hopes of getting some of the bigger names from the first game, I bought a ticket and made my way down to the field. The game was already in the sixth inning when it started pouring, and of course, the game was cancelled after about two minutes of rain. The worst part was that by the time I made my way to the other side of the stadium, the rain had completely stopped, and the game could have resumed had it not been called already. As I was leaving the field, however, I noticed Miguel Montero signing on the D-Backs side, so I made my way over to him and decided to drop a ROMLB just to make the $9 ticket worth it.

Miguel Montero autographed ROMLB
Since the rain had already stopped, I decided to try my luck at the Diamondbacks parking lot. The only guy that stopped was Brandon McCarthy, who signed four cards for me.

Brandon McCarthy signed cards
As I mentioned above, the D-Backs were playing a day-night double header. The skies had cleared up and there was hope that the game could actually be played, so with that thought in mind I decided to bought tickets, but by the time I got down to the field this was my view.

Photo courtesy of Kyle
This was my view from the concourse about five minutes later...

Rain sucks
Not only was it raining, but there was a lightning storm as well, so we were not allowed to leave the covered area for at least fifteen minutes. The field was literally flooded, and to my amazement, it took them more time to call this game than it did the first, where it was barely raining. The biggest waist of $10 in my life (which TicketMaster has yet to refund me for).

Day Two (3/2/2014):

After a rain-filled day one, Kyle and I were in serious need of a big day, and was it ever big...

Cano don't ya know?
The picture doesn't do it any justice
The first, and by far best, autograph of the day came from Robinson Cano. Kyle and I were the only two people to get Cano's autograph all day, and I was able to get Robbie on my authentic New York Yankees jersey. Not only did Cano sign for us, but he was also very friendly and talked with us for a minute. It was nice to have a good experience with him since I've always imagined him as a jerk.

After getting Cano I caught up on some sleep and made my way over to D-Backs camp where I got Trevor Cahill, Eric Chavez, Nick Ahmed, Josh Collmenter, and Daniel Hudson on cards.

Diamondbacks autographed cards
I was also able to get Diamondbacks coach and former World Series MVP Alan Trammell on a ROMLB.

Alan Trammell autographed ROMLB
And Patrick Corbin on a PhotoFile 8x10.

Patrick Corbin autographed 8x10
The D-Backs were scheduled to play the Rockies later in the day, and inside the stadium I was able to get Matt Stites, Matt Tuiasosopo, Henry Blanco, and Bronson Arroyo on cards.

More Diamondbacks cards...
After getting a few D-Backs, Kyle and I decided to test our luck on the Rockies side. Colorado was starting their big three (Cargo, Cuddyer, and Tulowitzki), and judging by the crowd I was almost certain that we'd come away with at least one of the three. While Kyle was able to score a last second auto from Gonzalez, I got shutout by all three players as Cuddyer and Tulo both ignored and Cargo only signed for a select few, one of which being Kyle. I was, however, able to score a couple of autos from two of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, who both signed ROMLB's for me.

Jonathan Gray inscribed "2013 #3 Pick"
Eddie Butler inscribed "2012 First Round Pick"
I also got 2013 Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado on a ROMLB. I had gotten Arenado a few times in the past but never dropped a baseball on him until now. Luckily his signature hasn't changed too much from his minor league days. 

Nolan Arenado autograph ROMLB
Finally, I was able to get the before-mentioned Butler and DJ LeMahieu to sign a card each.

Butler and DJ LeMahieu autographed cards
Since it was Sunday and there were no night games scheduled, Kyle and I decided to check out the Atlanta Hawks vs. Phoenix Suns game in downtown Phoenix. While we didn't graph, I was able to get a few pictures of the US Airways Center.

Entrance to the US Airways Center
The Suns beat the Hawks 129-120
Day Three (3/3/2014):

This was our final full day in Arizona, as we were only seeing one game on Tuesday before heading back to California, and to say we made it count would be an understatement.

My original plan was to check out the Reds camp on Saturday, but as I mentioned above, the day was plagued by rain and as a result, the Reds did not practice that day. So after getting Cano out of our way on Sunday, we figured Monday would be our best shot at graphing Votto, Phillips, and the other Reds.

For whatever reason the Goodyear Baseball Complex has always been my favorite in Arizona. Whether it be getting Votto and Phillips last season to getting Kipnis a couple of days prior, I;ve always seemed to do well at the facility. My luck continued this day, as I started off getting cards signed by Chris Heisey, Ryan Ludwick, Jack Hannahan. and Todd Frazier.

Reds autographed cards
After the Reds finished up practice, Brandon Phillips came over and signed for the fans. "Dat Dude" signed for everyone at practice as usual and autographed a ROMLB for me.

Brandon Phillips autographed ROMLB
Later that day Phillips posted a photo on Twitter of him signing for the guy next to me. The photo was taken by one of MLB.com's photographers and of course, Dat Dude was standing right in front of me, completely blocking me and my one second of fame...

Finally, I was able to get Joey Votto coming off of the practice fields. Kyle and I got real lucky on this one, as we picked the perfect spot for both Phillips and Votto. Votto only signed for about ten of the thirty fans waiting but thankfully Kyle and I were the first two people to get him. I got Votto on a ROMLB, which marked my fifth item signed by the former MVP.

Joey Votto autographed ROMLB
After practice ended we hurried over to Glendale to catch the tail end of warm ups. Kyle and I bought a cheap ticket and then went inside and got cards signed by Josh Phegley, Erik Johnson, Matt Davidson, Andre Reinzo, Connor Gillaspie, and Robin Ventura.

White Sox autographed cards
Kyle was also able to get Paul Konerko pre-game which was a nice addition to his set. If anyone has any unsigned 2013 Heritage cards make sure to contact him on Instagram or Facebook.

Our final stop for the day was once again Salt River Fields, home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks were playing another day-night double header, and since Paul Goldschmidt was playing in the day game, our only hopes at getting him was on the way out. Luckily, Goldy stopped and signed for the six or seven people who were waiting and I was able to get him on a 2013 All-Star baseball.

Paul Goldschmidt autographed 2013 A.S. ball
While waiting for Goldschmidt, I was also able to get Aaron Hill on a PhotoFile 8x10 before heading over to the Rockies side.

Aaron Hill autographed 8x10
Once on the Rockies side I was in autograph heaven. The practice fields had been changed from years past and were much more accesible for autographs than before. Within the first few minutes of arriving I was able to get Carlos Gonzalez on a PhotoFile 11x14. Gonzalez was also nice enough to add "Cargo" as he did for almost every person.

CarGo autographed 11x14
While waiting for Tulo and Cuddyer to finish up their fielding drills, Drew Stubbs and Wilin Rosario came over and signed. It was nice adding Rosario to my collection since I see him as a very good catcher one day.

Stubbs and Rosario autographed cards
The next guy that signed has been one of my white whales for over two seasons, Troy Tulowitzki. For whatever reason I've never had any luck getting Tulo's autograph in the past and have never found the time to try for him in San Diego when the Rockies come in. Tulo told a young fan earlier that he'd sign after hitting and in the end he held up to his word. While he wasn't the friendliest (or friendly at all for that matter), Tulo stuck around and signed my ROMLB on the sweetspot.

Troy Tulowitzki autographed ROMLB
Before even putting my Tulowitzki ball away, Michael Cuddyer had begun signing in the same area. Cuddyer was in a much better mood than Tulo and signed an ROMLB with "2013 NL Batting Champ" as requested.

Michael Cuddyer inscribed "2013 NL Batting Champ"
Getting Cuddyer, Gonzalez, and Tulowitzki in under an hour was a huge relief, and meant that I could focus on getting Kirk Gibson pre-game instead of trying for more Rockies. While waiting for Gibson to onto the field, I was able to get Randall Delgado, Cliff Pennington, Alex Sanabia, Chris Owings, Alfredo Marte, Eric Chavez, and A.J. Pollock on cards.

Even more Diamondbacks cards...
Finally, Krik Gibson emerged from the left field clubhouse and signed for fans by the bullpen. This is when I knew that I was having a lucky day, as I had never seen Gibson sign before a Spring Training game before. Even though I have graphed the Diamondbacks multiple times, this was my first time ever getting Gibby and I am very happy to add his autograph to my collection.

Kirk Gibson autographed ROMLB
After I got out of the crowd I heard Gibby questioning some other graphers where they got these new baseballs from. I've seen people get questioned for a lot of different things before, but never have I seen people get questioned for buying new baseballs. 

Day Four (3/4/2014):

Tuesday marked my fourth and final day in Arizona, and after getting most of my main targets the day before, I had a tough time choosing who to graph. Kyle and I eventually decided to try the White Sox in hopes of Jose Abreu, who we both had expected to get already. Unfortunately, Abreu has already stopped signing as much as he did during the first few weeks of camp. 

While we weren't able to get Abreu, we were able to get solidified star and possible Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who was at camp as a guest instructor. Thome hadn't been at Sox camp in the past few weeks so I was not expecting to see him. However, Thome pulled up in a gold cart and signed for about twenty fans, one of which being me, and I was able to get the 600 home run club member on a ROMLB.

Jim Thome autographed ROMLB
Getting Thome was one of the highlights of the trip, and while I would've been happy going home right then and there, I decided to stick around and enjoy my last few hours in Arizona. Once practice ended Chris Sale came over and signed. Sale is known for his atrocious signature, however he is a great signer and an even better pitcher, so I decided to get him on my final 2013 All-Star baseball. Unfortunately Sale didn't even put his number and the signature basically looks like two loops.

Chris Sale autographed 2013 A.S. ball
Former Angels relief pitcher Scott Downs came over to sign as well. Downs was one of my biggest targets this Spring, and while that may sound really bad, it was because I picked up a Downs game used jersey at the Angel Yard Sale the weekend before. Downs made time to come over and sign the jersey and was kind enough to put "2013" on it as well. It's a great piece signed by one of the nicest guys in baseball.

Scott Downs 2013 G.U. jersey
Signature and inscription up close
MLB Authentic hologram
Before leaving, Paul Konerko came over and signed for a few fans after practice. Konerko was skipping a lot of people but luckily I was in a good position and got my 2005 World Series ball signed. 

Paul Konerko autographed 2005 W.S. ball
After getting Konerko, Kyle and I made our way back to Goodyear. Since it was on our way back to California, we decided to drop in on the White Sox and Indians game in hopes of scoring a couple more autos. Inside I was able to get Jeff Keppinger, Dylan Axelrod, Jordan Danks, Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez, and Gordon Beckham on cards.

White Sox autographed cards
I was also able to get White Sox skipper Robin Ventura on a Gold Glove baseball. I actually forgot that I had brought along a Gold Glove baseball with me and figured that Ventura would be a good candidate as a 6x Gold Glove winner himself.

Robin Ventura autographed G.G. ball
Finally, I was able to get David Murphy and Terry Francona on cards before the game...

Murphy and Francona autographed cards
And Aaron Harrang, Corey Kluber, and Michael Bourn post game.

Harrang, Kluber, and Bourn autographed cards
That concluded my 2014 Spring Training trip. In total I was able to come away with 81 signed cards, 17 signed baseballs (5 of which were commemorative baseballs), 2 authentic jerseys, 2 signed 8x10's and 1 signed 11x14 for a grand total of 103 autographs. I'd like to thank Kyle from coming along and I'll remind you guys once more to hit him up if you have any 2013 Heritage cards. You can contact him on his Instagram page by clicking on his name above. I'd also like to give a shout out to everyone who recognized me from this blog and/or Autographs 101 from Facebook. Finally, a thanks to all of the players that signed and made 2014 another successful year in Arizona. Now the countdown begins to the regular season, as the regular season inches closer and closer. Thank you all for reading!

2 comments:

  1. The Jim Thome's autograph is awesome. I noticed that you did not attend any minor league practices. There are less graphers and usually every player and coach is willing to sign. Is your time in AZ to short for minor league practice, or do you collect just major league players. Thanks for the post and looking forward to the rest of the season.

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  2. I have been drooling over all the stuff you got signed over on Facebook. Love that Cano signed jersey. Congrats on the sucesses this spring.

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