I was (OK, still am) a sports nut. I love the games. I have an appreciation for the players and respect what they do. But when I was a kid, the athletes (and some coaches) were superheroes. I only saw them on TV, or maybe a couple times a year at a ballpark. One way for a younger me to connect was to write letters and ask for autographs.
I came across those old mementos recently, and it was a flashback to a simpler time. An avid baseball card collector as a kid, I learned from publications like Beckett Baseball Card Monthly that if you sent a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to a player at the stadium, you might get it sent back signed.
This idea blew my mind. I don't remember who the first player was that I wrote to, but it did work -- and I was hooked. I've got a random assortment of autographs, from former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart to former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver J.J. Stokes to Washington Redskins (and eventual Packer) Desmond Howard.
I've also got some "good" ones this way: Karl Malone, Jerry Rice, Herschel Walker and Phil Jackson.
Not all came by way of mail, though.
Cal Ripken, Jr.'s autograph came through a trade with a childhood friend whose dad used to play with the Baltimore Orioles. To get it, I gave him a Gregg Jefferies Upper Deck rookie card. I broke the New York Mets team set to do it, but I think it was the right decision.
I first met Sammy Sosa when I was 10 years old, at an autograph signing. I had a card, and my dad had a ball. My dad tried to say something to him, but Sosa's representative said not to talk to him. Sosa, who wore a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, sandals and dark sunglasses never looked up, signed both and we moved on.
It's still the prettiest signature I've ever seen, and my dad never liked him from then on.
Obviously I've never forgotten it, and I could never have imagined I'd be interviewing him a decade later in the Wrigley Field clubhouse.
We saw former Chicago Cubs and Philadelp…Read more...