When it comes to acquiring athletes’ signatures, there are plenty of ways to go about the pursuit. After several decades of collecting autographs, I’ve discovered that honesty and politeness can go a long way. By honesty, I mean ask for an autograph because you actually admire the athlete. Your quest for his or her signature – in the most sentimental of terms – is to land a piece of their legacy that will (hopefully) reside in your personal collection for years to come. Too many athletes today suspect many autograph seekers are just out to turn their signatures into profit.
For me, after years of meeting athletes through my profession and this great hobby, that includes learning how to ask for their autographs politely and at the appropriate time. My advice is to wait for a moment when your subject is not preoccupied, be respectful of his of her time, and introduce yourself. Quickly. The use of such key phrases as “excuse me,” “may I,” “I’d really appreciate it” will no doubt assist you in your quest. Athletes usually don’t have a lot of time to chit-chat. If you’re ready with the object to be signed (baseball, trading card, mini helmet, 8×10 photo, etc.) and have a pen or marker that’s shaken and ready to go, it makes the whole encounter that much smoother for both parties.
THE RIGHT VENUE
Know your surroundings as well. If you happen to see, say, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in a mall, for instance, don’t yell out: “Hey, Jerry Rice, will you sign this for me?” That would cause a commotion and most likely a ripple effect that Rice doesn’t want to deal with. It would also give him pause the next time he thinks about venturing out into public. Be subtle and it just might work out.
As far as best venues for landing signatures, I would recommend MLB Spring Training, either the Cactus League in Arizona or the Grapefruit League in Florida, batting practice at any MLB park and even NFL training camps. The players are usually less stressed during these times, so they are definitely more approachable. And if you really want to be ambitious, you can always stake out the visiting team’s hotel in your city and camp out in the lobby.
THE RIGHT APPROACH
When you walk up to the player, let them know you’re a big fan and you would really appreciate it if they could sign an autograph for you. Feel free to share a memory of some on-field accomplishment of theirs. And always remember to say thank you after they honor your request. They may be a public figure, but their personal time and space is important. Don’t ever take that for granted. Besides, if the exchange is pleasant enough, it may very well open the door for a fellow autograph seeker to get their signature down the road. Consider it your way of paying it forward.
THE RIGHT SIGNING TOOL
What’s more, know which application works best on what surface. A ballpoint pen, for instance, is the preferred tool for getting a ballplayer’s signature on a baseball. Preferably on the sweet spot, the desired spot for autograph seekers. That’s the area located on the opposite side from where the Baseball Commissioner or A.L. or N.L. presidents’ stamped signature resides, depending on the age of your baseball. Some folks encourage the use of fine-point Sharpie markers on baseballs but I disagree. Go with a blue ball point pen and you won’t be disappointed. The signature will pop and not bleed into the baseball. And I think that blue pops better than black. For baseball bats and gloves (mitts), always use a Sharpie. The thickness is up to you, but either a blue or black fine-point marker seems to work well.
On a basketball, a Sharpie is always the preferred applicator. But make sure it’s a slightly thicker Sharpie or even a paint pen. The signature should grace one panel; think about how you would want to display it in your house and pick the best one. Black probably works best as blue tends to get lost on the orange background. Truth be told, a silver or even gold paint pen looks great on a basketball. However, you need to make sure the paint pen is properly moist at the tip, but not too saturated. The last thing you want is for your prized signature to get messy because there was too much paint coming out of the tip. Dab it a few times on another surface to make sure it’s ready to roll.
The same holds true for footballs. Hockey pucks are an easy call: silver. And for photographs (5×7’s, 8×10’s, 11×14’s or 16×20’s), it’s always best to use a Sharpie. Again, I think blue works well, but just look at the photo and make an executive decision. Sometimes another color works better depending on the picture. And if you do use a paint pen, make sure the paint is dried on your photo before slipping it underneath another surface. Smudges can occur easily so be careful. For trading cards, a fine-point Sharpie works well, but the signing instrument most of the card manufacturers use when getting players to hard sign their individual cards is a Staedtler fiber-tip pen.
AUTHENTICATION IS KEY
Last, but certainly not least, it’s always a good idea to get your autographs authenticated by a third-party authentication and grading company such as PSA/DNA. The biggest reason why it’s important is because if you ever do want to sell the autographs, Letters of Authenticity (LOAs) from PSA/DNA are accepted by all the major auction houses and serve as the best proof of signature verification. Potential buyers simply feel more comfortable and confident with purchasing items that have been certified as authentic by PSA/DNA. Consider it peace of mind for both the buyer and seller. Now, good luck in your quest!