Twenty-five year ago I was just about the best there was. When it came to acquiring baseball players’ autographs I was the man (or, er, twelve year old boy). I’ve been out of the game a long time, though, so when my sister mentioned that my nephew, Spencer, hoped to score some autographs during our annual trip to watch Spring Training baseball in Arizona, I was a tad nervous. Did I still have the goods? Could I guide the little guy to autograph greatness? Well, our trip was this last weekend, and I have to say, the game has changed. It wasn’t long before I was praying to the baseball gods, “Please! Let me get this kid just one autograph! Just one!”

The first trick I pulled out of my bag was taking Spencer and his brother, Danny, (who wasn’t quite as interested in autographs) to the stadium around nine in the morning to catch the players as they arrived. Back in my day I got dozens of autographs this way because there weren’t many other fans there and the players had to walk right past us into the stadium.

On the drive over I played Crash Davis to Spencer’s Nuke LaLoosh as I taught him the ropes.

“You see, kid, autograph hunting is a lot like like fishing. There’s a lot of waiting, it helps to be in the right spot, and it’s crucial that you have the right bait.”

“What kind of bait?”

“Sad kid eyes,” I replied. “It’s hard to ignore a kid asking for an autograph with big, sad eyes. You’ll want to work on those.”

Spencer nodded, taking mental notes.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the stadium it was nothing like it was a quarter century ago. Not only was the place swarming with fans, but the players now park in a gated-off area and don’t have to walk through fans to get inside.

I told the boys not to worry as I still had some more tricks up my sleeve. Later, before the game began, I instructed Spencer to hang out around the dugout. This technique worked like gangbusters for me back in the day, but was a bust this day. Spencer only came back with one autograph, and that one was from Amy G., the in-game reporter for the Giants’ television broadcasts. Not exactly the signature Spencer was hoping for.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll score some autographs after the game. At Spring Training the players always sign before leaving the field.”

What I didn’t anticipate, though, was the Giants losing pretty badly and their manager making them run sprints. When the players finished they hurried off the hot field and into the locker room.

Luckily, on the way out we passed a table where Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry sat signing autographs for charity.

Two time Cy Young Award Winner Gaylord Perry (not the Monopoly man)

After our unsuccessful day of autograph seeking my brother-in-law was happy to buy the boys each an autograph from the legendary Giants’ pitcher and 300 game winner.

They looked thrilled, don’t they?

Spencer may have been hoping for an autograph from a current player, but he became pretty excited about his autograph during the drive home after we told him about the Hall of Fame, and how only the very best players of all time were inducted. Danny, I think, was just happy to be away from “the old guy.”

Clearly, my autograph “expertise” is pretty obsolete, but I will try to help the boys more in the future. But hey… A Hall of Famer for your first autograph is a pretty good start!