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Spring Training Guides
A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience

Joe Connor's annually updated electronic guide has complete details on every ballpark and city that hosts Spring Training.

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Fans vie for an autograph in Bradenton

Ever since I started offering the helpful, easy-to-use and annually-updated A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience, one of the most frequently asked questions I get from fans are ‘how do I get autographs?’

And I’m still amazed when I’m in Arizona and Florida every year watching so many fans keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again in this endeavor. Apparently, none of these well-intended folks bought my guide, which Autograph Collector Magazine has said is “a must-have for any (autograph) collector planning a trip or family vacation to watch their favorite Grapefruit or Cactus League team” because it “contains everything you’d ever want to know about getting player autographs.”

Now, I’m not going to spill all the beans here because in addition to being a fan, I’m also a capitalist, and I want folks to buy my guide. Yet my years of experience has shown me the single biggest mistake most fans make, without question, is they don’t have an effective plan for securing autographs. Too many times I see a fan running to follow a mini-mob, only to see hopes quickly dashed, as the All-Star caliber player has just finished signing. Almost instantly, a young boy or girl is crushed and their father, mother or family friend is saying to them, “maybe next time.” At the same moment, I’m saying under my breath, “not bloody likely, if you don’t have an effective plan next time!”

There are three important factors to effectively secure your favorite player's autograph during Spring Training – and I’m not talking for Joe, non-roster invitee wearing No. 87 whose name you don’t even know and who will gladly sign for you (yet wonder if you even know his name). I’m talking for the game’s every day players. No. 1 is location, number 2 is timing and No. 3 is behavior. And these three factors also take into consideration that you’re competing in a short window of time for signatures with other fans, some more skilled at the trade than others.

  1. Location
    Just like in real estate, securing player autographs is all about “location, location, location.” Among the biggest mistakes fans seeking player autographs make is they either stake out the wrong location and/or they follow the masses. Depending on the location, a typical player may sign for five minutes, less than a minute or not at all. And following a big crowd isn’t going to help your cause.

    Even if a player has completed his work for the day and is heading back to the clubhouse, he’s not going to sign for more than a few minutes. If you’re way back of the bus, it’s not happening for you, Gus. So one way to secure player autographs is to be in the right location.

    Many fans during Spring Training think the best place to get a John Hancock is right near the dugouts just before the start of a Spring Training game. After all, that’s where all the players are at the same time, right? And, hey, the game hasn’t started yet, right? However, most players don’t sign in this location. In A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience, I detail the best location(s) at each Spring Training ballpark to secure player autographs.

  2. Timing
    Want to know why most players don’t sign autographs near the dugout right before a Spring Training game? Answer: bad timing. These players are athletes, not Stephen King (no offense, Stephen). The point is their mindset, at this particular time, is not on displaying their fancy autograph on a baseball because in a matter of minutes they’ll be facing a 95-mile-per-hour fastball or potentially a load of lumber coming at their face.

    Furthermore, unless your seats are located on the side of a dugout, level with the dugout, this area is not fan-friendly for securing autographs. For starters, most players and fans in this location have to throw things at each other just to be signed – e.g., balls, miniature bats, hats, gloves – because of the significant distance between the top of the dugout and fan seating. Now, you tell me, when a player knows he’s going to have to stand with his teammates for the national anthem any second now, do you really think he’s interested in creating a signing frenzy moments before first pitch? Because after the national anthem is complete, boom, players take the field and game preparation time is officially over.

    Better timing to get autographs? Well before the game and just after a player is removed from a game. In A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience, I detail how to prepare for the right timing in securing player autographs at each Spring Training ballpark.

  3. Behavior
    This is the biggest aspect of securing autographs that most fans fail to properly exploit. You might not realize it, but I’m here to explain to you that many players see a lot more of fans than their body language indicates. What that means is they’re casually observing fans from the moment they exit the locker room early in the morning and heading to the practice diamonds. Almost like Santa, they’re scanning who’s naughty and who’s nice.

    Proper location and timing are of the essence, yet the third most important aspect of securing autographs, behavior, is equally as important. If a player says “I can’t sign right now, but I will when we’re done (working out),” please reply, “thank you (his name), we’ll be right here.” And chances are he’ll reply, “Ok,” and keep his end of the bargain.

    On the other end of the spectrum, players are likely to avoid heavy set adult males with a plethora of items they want signed, or fans that yell, scream, push or shove. This may sound well, duh, but it never seeks to amaze me how some fans misbehave. And the players are watching. In A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience, I detail additional, specific behavioral tips to help secure autographs over other fans.

The group Boston has a verse in one of their famous songs that goes “people living in competition, all I want is to have my peace of mind.” You’ll be in competition for autographs with fellow fans, but with the right plan, you’ll also have peace of mind knowing at each ballpark where the best place is to get autographs; what’s the best time to do so; and how to ask for a signature – from any player.

Joe Connor, aka Mr. Sports Travel, is a freelance writer who has been to every MLB Spring Training facility, and has annually-updated A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience since 2002. It’s available for purchase at Baseball Pilgrimages.

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