A locker, adorned by the usual artifacts, sits near the back of the clubhouse. A dozen shirts and jackets loosely hang, various shoes are strewn about, and a score of bats lean against it. On the face of the locker, a single photo curiously gleams. It is a picture of a rabbit, and the rabbit's name is Buster Posey.
The photo arrived courtesy of a fan letter, and it had all of us laughing.
"Hi, your name is Buster Posey," the young fan stated. "My name is Ryan Posey, and I have a pet rabbit. I named him Buster, so now my rabbit's name is Buster Posey, just like you."
The kid enclosed two photos and asked the player/namesake to sign the larger of the two; the second was for Buster to keep. Buster, despite receiving many autograph requests, signed it almost immediately before posting the smaller photo on his locker. There the photogenic mammal quietly decorates his locker, a small smile on his face.
After an offer like this, nobody could refuse signing an autograph, but other offers are less appealing. With this in mind, let's talk about the best and the worst ways to gain an autograph:
Rule 1: Show up early, stay late
Like a comedian, it's all about timing. Plan on arriving or staying at least thirty minutes before or after the game. If waiting outside the clubhouse, patiently avoid the urge to stampede. Remember, we're normal human beings. We retreat when people storm us.
Wrong way: Asking during the game, or five minutes before the game
With hecklers cleverly degrading our mothers, we try to tune out the crowd once the game begins. Our focus is on our performance, not on signing autographs.
Rule 2: Play the name game
We do have names, and if you really want an autograph, learning a name is paramount. After all, why would we want to sign a ball for someone who simply shouts, "Hey, you!" as we often hear? Buy a program and try to match faces with names and numbers.
Wrong way: Indiscriminately yelling, asking for bats and gloves
This tells a player that you don't even care what name you get, you're just after a signature. You'd be just as happy with the batboy's signature. And we sure aren't giving our gloves or bats away. We have to use them!
Rule 3: Mind your manners
A lot of people rush us and yell at us. Be patient, and be polite. Use "please" and the player's first or last name, and ask only a time or two. And we always appreciate a "thank you" after the signature.
Wrong way: Yelling over and over
Most players aren't deaf. We usually hear you after the first time or two. If a player doesn't respond, it's most likely because you've failed to remember Rule 1 or 2.
Rule 4: Snail mail fails?
If soliciting a signature via mail, add a personal note. A short, handwritten message explaining the personal reason for the request works well. Also include a self-addressed stamped envelope, as the young Ryan Posey did in the above story.
Wrong way: Form letters
Sometimes an entire team receives a form letter from the same person, at the same time, requesting every player's autograph. Needless to say, this isn't very effective.
Young Ryan did a lot of things correctly in his request. He added a personal message, he was polite, and he obviously knew Buster's name. These are things to keep in mind when requesting an autograph at any level, be it at the major league level or the minor league level.
Most guys don't mind signing, especially for kids. So next time you're at the park, keep these things in mind, and your son or daughter will have a lot greater chance of gaining an autograph and going home with a smile. Maybe then you won't have to buy them a pet rabbit.