BOZICH: Autograph chasers get their men at Louisville's Slugger Field
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There are four hot spots where the Autograph Chasers collect at Louisville Slugger Field. On a steamy Wednesday morning the largest knot gathered in the aisle between sections 111 and 112 near the left side of the first-base dugout.
They raced into position when the gates opened around 10:40 a.m. Now it was 11:20. Baseball is not played with a timer, but the clock was ticking. The ushers advised them they had to move to their seats at 11:30.
They had zero autographs. Nothing.
"I've been to a lot of parks, major league and minor league, and this is one of the tougher places to get people to sign," said Barry Master.
Master is 60, a graduate of Waggener High School and Vanderbilt University. He also has a law degree from Yale. Master drove to Louisville from Asheville, N. C. Monday because he is a Yankees' fan, and the Bats were playing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees' Triple-A farm team.
Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter, Rays' pitcher David Price and actor Kevin Costner are the premier autographs in his collection. On Wednesday he was trying to get a ball and 1987 Topps baseball card signed by Butch Wynegar, a former catcher for the Yankees and Twins who is Scranton's hitting coach.
"That's why I came early," Master said. "I've got a room full with memorabilia that my wife wishes I would get rid of, but this is my hobby."
Not every player, even in the minor leagues, considers The Autograph Chasers hobbyists. They smell free enterprise at work. Children can usually convince a player to stop and sign. But the sight of a middle-aged guy holding a ball and a Sharpie is likely to generate a groan and send the player toward the field.
Yankees' first baseman Russell Branyan, a player with 194 big-league home runs, declined to sign before the game Wednesday. Several others balked. They have seen too many autographs go directly to eBay auctions.
"You sign when you can," said Yankees' outfielder Jack Cust, who hit 33 homers for Oakland four seasons ago. "I try to sign for kids. But sometimes you see the same guys at the park every day."
Youth won the sprint to the front of the line Wednesday. Jordan Sellmer of Sellersburg, Ind., stood by the concrete wall overlooking the dugout. He is 14. He said he was given his first autograph when he was 3. Hank Aaron and Ryne Sandberg, Hall of Famers, are his prized possessions. Sellmer collects. He does not sell.
Second in line was Brad Mills, a 30-year-old teacher from Crawford County, Ind., a Reds' fan that I met at the front of the line when Sandberg was here to manage the Phillies' Triple-A farm team last month.
Joe Morgan, George Foster and other Big Red Machine members are his favorite signatures in a collection of more than 10,000 autographs. He's still chasing Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds and Johnny Bench.
But he stopped pursuing former Royals' Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett several years ago after he said Brett tossed a pen at him in an autograph line at spring training.
Ray Taylor is a 38-year-old baseball fan with a collection of more than 7,500 signatures that includes Stan Musial and Bert Blyleven. He also lives in Columbus, Ohio. Taylor got up early Wednesday and drove more than 3 ½ hours to get in line.
"Most of my best childhood memories are baseball-related," Taylor said. "I just like to collect. It gives me something to do that is constructive, not destructive."
It was now 11:30, 15 minutes before the first pitch. The usher had returned to give The Autograph Chasers a five-minute reprieve. Yankees' manager Dave Miley signed several balls. So did infielders Kevin Russo and Corban Joseph.
But those aren't the autographs than inspired the group to bake in the 82-degree sunshine for nearly an hour. They wanted Branyan, Cust, former Yankees' catcher Francisco Cervelli and Wynegar, who played parts of 13 big-league seasons.
At 11:34, one minute before the aisle would be cleared, Wynegar, wearing No. 27, walked into the Yankees dugout. Sellmer and Master called his name, "Mister Wynegar, will you please sign?"
Wynegar obliged. He took a binder from Sellmer and signed a card. Then Wynegar took a baseball and the 1987 Topps card from Master.
"Thank you, sir," Master said. "Thank you very much."
He smiled and began the journey to his seat.
For the Autograph Chasers, this trip was now worthwhile.
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