Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hounding Report: Texas Rangers vs. Seattle Mariners, April 20/21

Man. Now that was a whirlwind weekend.  I'm sunburned all to hell, but I had the best single day of baseball hounding ever.

When I last left off, I was hoping that this weekend would be "better" than the Rangers-Rays game I did a few weeks back.  Little did I know how much of an understatement the word "better" would be.  I had planned on only going to the game on Saturday then hitting the tunnel on Sunday.  Instead, I went to the game Sunday too just to see how much more I could add.

But first, let's talk about Saturday.

Based on what Arron has told me of the good ol' days-- or the bad ol' days based on the Rangers' placements in the standings-- the tunnel just ain't what it used to be.  Sure, you can get a few players here and there, but in the best days of it, almost everyone was accessible.  Sure, you wouldn't get Michael Young or Ian Kinsler but maybe one or two times a year, but almost everyone else would stop.

Not anymore.  As you've seen from my previous writings, players signing are more the exception than the rule.  You can usually count on Mitch Moreland and David Murphy, but anyone else is a giant crapshoot, sometimes bordering on an impossibility.  But Saturday should renew people's faith at least a little.

I got to the tunnel a little before noon with a few people already there.  I hadn't missed anyone-- no surprise since it was so early.  Just a little after noon, manager Ron Washington arrived.  Wash will stop about half the time, and this was one of the lucky days where he did.  He'll almost always sign everything you have, but I limit myself to four items each time since I know he signs plenty.  All I have left on him now is a 1984 Topps and a few 1987 Topps.  I should pick up a few more to vary my selection a bit for the future.  I have a few weeks to jump on SportLots and do so.  I really need the 1988 Topps Traded card of him.  He looks really sad on it, like right then he suddenly realized he was with the 1987 Indians.

Ian Kinsler didn't stop, nor did Dave Magadan.  No surprise on Kinsler-- I still have never gotten the guy.  Mags I have high hopes for-- I need him for one of the Topps All-Time Fan Favorites sets.  I still have him and a Nolan Ryan I need to get done, then I'll be set on anyone currently associated with the Rangers or their regular Alumni signings.  It's only April; I'm sure I'll get him eventually.

Anyways, eventually Arron and his mom arrived with our friend Chris and set up camp with the group of us-- me, Randy, Seth, Tammy, and a few others-- and got me some stuff he got signed for me.  An Andy Moog card TTM, plus Adron Chambers and J.R. Towles IP in Oklahoma City.  Not long after, Mitch Moreland came through and signed.  I only had one card of him left (which I had pulled from a pack a week prior), so I'm back to being complete on him.  But that'll change soon I'm sure.  With how often he signs, I might as well pick up some more.

Once in a while, opposing players will come through the tunnel, mostly those who live in the area or have family there.  On this day, Kelly Shoppach drove up in his truck.  The Fort Worth native signed one-per.  Soon after came Robby Thompson, a coach on the Mariners' staff.  Not sure how Thompson came-- I don't think he lives in the area since it says on his card that he's from Florida, but nevertheless he came through and signed.  In Cleveland he was always one-per so I only grabbed one card of him.  But he was signing multiples for everyone.  Oh well, a lost opportunity, but I did get him on the one.

Paul Shaff... err, Robby Thompson signs at the tunnel.
Next came Jason Frasor.  I've been doing this a long time and haven't met many players more personable than this guy.  The only one who comes close off the top of my head in the baseball workd is Tom Foley who asked a group of us for movie recommendations while signing, and constantly chatted with us when I got him a few times in Boston.  Frasor was signing everything, chatting with us, even thanking us after we thanked him for signing.  You cannot ask for a nicer ballplayer.  I had four cards with me, which he signed all of.  Chalk up another one I'll need to pick up more cards for.

The last one I got was Mr. Automatic, David Murphy.  While Murph has been slow at the plate to start the season, he's been hot with the Sharpie.  He did his usual one-per, but you can almost guarantee that like Moreland, he'll stop and sign every day.

The Murph-man signeth.
So my totals at the tunnel alone were 12 cards, plus the 3 from Arron.  That's a pretty good start right there and already dominated my experience with the Rays.  And those are just the guys I had cards of.  I have nothing for Tanner Scheppers, Michael Kirkman, Robbie Ross, Joe Ortiz, Leonys Martin, Leury Garcia, and others.  So they may have stopped too, I just don't remember off the top of my head.

So after that, we made our way inside.  The Rangers weren't signing much inside, so we bolted for the Mariners.  I got the M's last year up in Cleveland and had a pretty nice haul from them.  Once again they did not disappoint.

(L to R) Chris, Arron, Me, and Seth waiting for Rangers without luck.
Oliver Perez was first up.  The former Padres, Pirates, and Mets pitcher was a two-per signer and did both of the ones I had with me.  I'll probably send one off to Corey since he's a big Mets collector.  Ollie doesn't exactly have the world's prettiest autograph, but at least you can kind of squint and turn your head and partially cross your eyes and see an O, a P, and a Z.  At least he does it.

Next up was the big one.  One guy next to us had a Felix Hernandez no-hitter photo.  I had never seen Felix sign in my years of hounding, and had heard of a lot of bad experiences in trying to get him to sign.  But this time, damned if he didn't come over and sign his photo... and for a whole bunch of us.  I was able to get him on a 2011 Topps Heritage and he put a pretty awesome sig on it.  So now I was getting quantity and quality all in one session.  You can't ask for much more.  Chris got him too, but Arron got shut out in pretty much the same way I got stiffed by Andrus during the Rays game.

But we weren't done yet.  Joe Saunders signed the only card I had of him, as did former catcher and current bullpen catcher Jason Phillips.  Speaking of Phillips, the Mariners may have the best signing coaching staff in all of MLB.  All of them are former major leaguers, and all of them are willing signers.  In addition to Phillips, Jaime Navarro and Carl Willis both signed, dropping four each on me.  I have a ton of Willis from our Cleveland days, but as far as I'm concerned, if I have cards, I'll always try to get them signed.

The well dried up after that, but the ballgame was a good one to watch and the Rangers took home a win.  Afterward, we decided we'd try the tunnel again and see what we could get, if anything.  At the very least, it's good chatting and intel gathering time with other collectors.  No Rangers stopped, but we did get Mariners coach and UT alum Mike Brumley on his way out with his family.  He was part of their 1983 National Championship squad and signed the four cards I had of him.  We saw Navarro and Thompson walk out as well and go over to a car.  As we were getting ready to head out, Chris looks over and says "Wait, isn't that Eric Wedge?"

Sure enough, there's Wedgie and Navarro talking, so we went over and Wedge signed for us.  I got to talk to him a bit as well-- another nice guy.  I mentioned I was a former Clevelander and he thought that was great, wishing me luck on my recent move to the DFW area.  I may have had issues with his time as the Tribe's skipper (admittedly partially due to the fact he signed a whole one time for me the final summer I was home and hounding), but once again, nice guy.  As I'm walking back, pleased with my score Chris says "There's Datz too."

Not too many people would know-- or care for that matter-- who Jeff Datz is.  He appeared in 7 MLB games as a catcher and DH for Detroit, going 2/10.  But he does have cards out there (1989 Topps Debut and a few minor league issues).  I had four minor league cards and was calling out before the game trying to get him to come over and sign, but he either didn't hear me or was ignoring me.  It could be either-- my voice resonates very well, but carries about as far as a towering pop-up to short.  But finally after the game, there was Datz and he did finally sign for me.  Mad props to Chris for spotting him because I was too pleased with getting Wedge to notice.

Overall, 37 new autographs got added and I decided right then that I would go to the game the next day as well.  After all, if I didn't, I might miss out on another huge day.

Unfortunately, I didn't.  The tunnel was largely a bust, with only guys for whom I didn't have anything stopping to sign (Frasor again, and a few of the younger guys like Scheppers-- no Moreland, Murphy, or Washington).  Inside wasn't much better. They opened all the gates at the same time-- no extra 30 minutes for season ticket holders, and thus no seeing Rangers' BP and getting them early.  The Mariners' side was a bust with only Blake Beavan and a few others of whom I was cardless stopping to sign.  I dashed back over to the Rangers' side with Arron, hoping to get a few pitchers who started signing.  I was going to get Derek Holland, but all of a sudden, Yu Darvish started picking up pens.  Unfortunately, I got skipped by him about 7 times-- even when I broke out my only Japanese-- "Kudasai, Yu?" or "Please, Yu?"  No luck.  But at least I know he signs and maybe I can expand on the phrasing a bit.  Arron did get him too, so I'd say that pretty well makes up for him missing out on Felix the night before.

Joe Nathan was the last one and I kept getting skipped by him too.  Fortunately, one of the great people from the tunnel looked up and saw me trying to get him, grabbed my card and got it down to him-- the last one he signed. So thanks Alyssa, you da man. Figuratively of course.

And the Rangers won again with Nelson Cruz blasting his fifth career grand slam-- all of which have been hit in Arlington.  Overall, it was awesome-- got to hang out with my friends, see a couple ballgames, and hound out 38 autographs.  41 if you include the ones from Arron.

Also, major thanks as well to Becky for sending the photos over to me to use in this.

By the way, a little tip for anyone graphing the Rangers courtesy of Chris: former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Cesar Hernandez is the team's batting practice pitcher.

Suck it, Josh Hamilton.

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