Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ouch, yay, and autographs

- Surely there was more to the conversation that produced this quote from Royals manager Buddy Bell:
"He just can't throw."

Bell was speaking about Luke Hudson, who was activated from the DL and pitched only one game -- a disasterous two-inning outing against Oakland a few days ago. Regardless of the context, that's a pretty painful statement. I hope Huddy didn't read it.

- Mark Teahen now leads the majors in outfield assists, with seven. Six of them have come in the last week, and on the evening of Cinco de Mayo, he recorded three in one game. Not bad for a third baseman.

- Since writing about the nice players I've met at work, I've been pursuing more stories about the "good guys" in pro baseball. I know they're out there, so if you have any stories about pro baseball players being...well, not jerks...please share. Eventually it will turn into some sort of piece of writing, but for the moment it's an idea onto which I've latched, but I do need help. I'm asking players whenever I can, but it's hard to get time with some of them. But I'm definitely nominating Angel Berroa, Joey Gathright, and pitcher Matt Wright of the O-Royals. They give a LOT of their time at the ballpark to some of their younger fans, and I truly appreciate it.

When I was younger (I won't tell how much younger, but certainly younger than I am now), I waited and waited for over an hour outside of Kauffman Stadium, waiting for autographs. I'm not a hound; when I pursue an autograph, it's because I'm a fan of that particular player. I'm not going to sell it on eBay or any crap like that. So anyway, back to waiting outside of The K. There was this one pitcher in particular I wanted to have sign my hat. He was a young guy with a world of pitching potential (I won't name names). When he finally did come out into the autograph area, not only did he not sign for any fans, he was quite rude to me about it. Since that time, I've taken a special liking to any players to give their time to kids and make sure they can sign as much as possible. Even though it can be a mundane day-to-day thing for players, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of kids, and something they'll always remember, for better or worse. I still have a bad taste in my mouth (metaphorically speaking) for that one talented pitcher who refused to care about his fans, but I love all players -- even the not-so-acclaimed ones -- who take the time to interact with fans, especially kids.

Why are autographs such a big deal? The signatures themselves might not be. But to a little kid, whose possible paths in life are as numerous as the blades of Bermuda grass in the outfied at The K, the influence of these big famous ballplayers taking the time for him, the little wide-eyed kid, could have momentous impact. That one warm smile as the player signs a ball or a hat could be enough to upgrade baseball from something the kid likes to something the kid lives. On the other hand, the big famous ballplayer with the inflated ego who squeals away in his overpriced truck could sour a kid on The Game for a tragically long period of time. Players shouldn't drive away their fans; without us, those guys might be playing stick-ball in an abandoned lot instead of living in mansions in an upscale neighborhood.

That is why I love players like the three O-Royals I mentioned above. The way some people see it, Berroa and Gathright have every reason to be all sulky. After all, they've had their time in the majors, and now they have to go back to the simpler life and smaller crowds of triple A ball. But instead, they are the ones who have the best attitudes of all; the ones who remember that they need their fans about as much as we need them to play for us every day. (And yes, baseball is a need. I try to go without it every winter, but it never works. I die a little every offseason, so I actually think baseball might be like vegetables and vitamins.)

Anyway, I'm not sure why the issue of autographs has been weighing so heavily on my mind lately, but there it is. But now, 'tis bedtime!

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