Spring Training Jackpots

Most sports fans aren’t thinking about peanuts and crackerjacks when they are buried up to their knees in winter snow, but Feb. 14 is more than just a Hallmark holiday for your sweetie; it’s the official day for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training. Bust out your Sharpies, boys – baseball is about to kick off across Arizona and Florida, and for many collectors, the next few weeks might be your only shot at hard-to-get veterans and prospects.

There’s such an air of excitement surrounding spring training – the fresh-cut grass, snow white baseballs and that old familiar glove. The pros are ready to take another trip around the bases and are generally in a much better mood at the start of spring training than they will be throughout the year, after they have been hounded for autographs day in and day out. It’s a good idea to get your letters written and mailed out to the spring training addresses sometime in February. For the list of the most up-to-date addresses, check out my website: www.autographchaser.com. Note that several teams have changed their venues this year.

There are many collectors who mail out 50, 100, even 200 spring training requests hoping to cash in on that elusive pro that decides to sign this year. I don’t go crazy during spring training, but I usually mail out cards to many players that I normally wouldn’t. If you are going to take a shot at a known tough signer, or a possible legend that is helping out with coaching duties, this is the time to do it. In past years, some of the most surprising successes have come from guys who normally don’t sign through the mail, or if they do, very sparingly. Barry Larkin was one of the great successes from past years. Others include Vladimir Guerrero, Grady Sizemore, Robinson Cano and Curt Schilling. As a rule, I usually keep my mailings to cards and maybe a few balls. Though spring training can be very productive, it can also be very frustrating, with many of your requests disappearing forever or even occasionally returning during the following spring.

The Rookies
As the game continually pays more and more money for unproven talent, it seems the rookies sign less and less each year. For many of the premier prospects, this might be your only chance at a free, through-the-mail signature. It’s sad, but unfortunately true. Joba Chamberlain requests were sent out last year by every hopeful Yankees fan. He signed like a champ during spring training and returned the beautifully inked 8-by-10 seen here.

Which hot rookies will come through this year with a stellar performance, both on the field and with the pen? Many collectors are hoping for David Price, lefty pitcher for the Rays and the first pick of the 2007 Amateur Draft. Baltimore’s catcher Matt Wieters, Baseball America’s 2008 Minor League Player of the Year, is also high on many collector lists. Playing for the starless O’s can only help his cause. Other rookies being hyped are Cameron Maybin, Trevor Cahill and Travis Snider.

The Veterans
Last year, I did well with the Allen & Ginter’s cards I sent out. I only mailed a handful of requests and was happy to receive signed cards back from Joe Nathan (Twins), Mike Mussina (Yankees), Kei Igawa (Yankees) and Brad Ausmus (Astros). Andruw Jones is also a very good signer during spring training.

Coaches and Legends
Spring training brings out the legends, and there are honorary coaches popping up all over the ballparks. Last year, “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson signed quite a bit in person at the Yankees camp. I have also heard of several successes from Bob Feller at the Indians camp. Check out your favorite team’s website for spring training information. You can usually discover which coaches/legends will be lending a hand.

The Long Shot
Every collector has their long shot they are willing to practically throw stamps away for. I have sent several requests to Brooklyn Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, hoping to catch him on a rare day at the ballpark where he just happens to pick up my letter out of the heap. I know better than that, but a few select collectors have won the “Koufax lottery” through the mail, although I have heard of several through his home address and zero through spring training. I usually take a chance at several legends that just might be at camp. Has it worked yet? Not for me, but I know it has for others.

Taking a Road Trip
Many collectors aren’t satisfied with merely leaving it up to the mail and fate. They prefer to experience spring training in person. The bonus of attending your favorite team’s camp is that there are probably several other teams right down the road. Many collectors split their day between two or three teams and maximize their autograph chances by hunting down the players team by team. If you are going to spring training, be prepared. Make sure you bring enough baseballs, cards and other items so you are not caught off guard. Baseballs are a great item because you never know who you may run into at the ballpark. The exhibition baseball games are held in small stadiums and the players are much more accessible than in the regular season.

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