How Not To Protect Your Autographed Baseball

Dirk Nowitzki

I love Dirk Nowitzki. Having grown up in East Texas, all my favorite pro sports teams are Dallas-based, so my childhood sports idols include Pudge Rodriguez, Michael Young, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Jason Terry. But Dirk stands head-and-shoulders above them all, literally and figuratively.

For one, he brought this city a championship, something only the Stars have done in my memory (the Cowboys’ ’90s Super Bowls were when I was too young). And, two, his outsized personality, his humility, and his goofy sense of humor have endeared him to fans in Dallas and across the country.

Simply put, he’s the best. Even NBA fans who hate the Mavs have to love Dirk. So, when I heard about his Heroes Celebrity Baseball game a few years ago I made it my goal to go.

It’s an event that is quintessentially Dirk. He gathers all the famous current and former Dallas athletes, like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Dez Bryant, Michael Young, David Murphy, and basically every Mavs player, splits them up into teams and plays a six-inning baseball game.

Imagine a 7-foot tall German basketball player attempting to play one of the hardest sports. It’s a sight to behold. Couple that with Salah Mejri, a 7-foot tall Tunisian with no apparent grasp of the rules, Zaza Pachulia, a 7-foot tall Georgian fresh off his NBA Championship with Golden State, and the rowdy crew of Dez, Zeke, and Dak, and you get one of the most fun events of the year.

With all that star power in one place, it seemed like the perfect place to get some autographs. I grew up going to Rangers Spring Training and have lots of autographs from my childhood of former Rangers players.

But it’s been years since I have gotten autographs at baseball games. I can’t get to Rangers games early enough these days and there’s no guarantee that anyone major will be signing. So, needless to say, my auto game was a little rusty.

Let my mistakes be a lesson to some and a chance to laugh for the autograph experts.

Don’t Make These In-Person Autograph Mistakes

Mistake #1: Buying a Crappy Ball

The first thing I needed to do was get something for the athletes to sign. It’s a baseball game and baseballs are easy to carry so that was the obvious choice. But, as any baseball fan knows, not all balls are created equal. At this particular establishment I had two choices: an authentic MLB baseball in a plastic case for $20, or two practice balls for $3.27.

If I had known without a doubt that I would get an autograph, I would have gotten the $20 ball. But, I hadn’t been to this event before so I waffled back-and-forth between the expensive ball or the cheap ones. Eventually, I decided to go with the cheap ones. Baseball options

I figured the cheap ones would still work. If I didn’t get any autos, they wouldn’t be a waste of money. So, I bought the two balls and gave one to my friend who was going with me.

Hindsight: Buy a nice one and a crappy one.

Knowing what I know now, I would have bought a couple of baseballs. My main goal was to get Dirk’s autograph on a baseball. He’s my favorite professional athlete and getting his auto on a baseball would be a unique thing that would tie it to this particular game. I’d be able to tell my kids about it and the case would protect it.

Then I’d bring along another baseball for the other autographs of lesser-known guys who I could have together on one baseball. Or, if a big name like Dak or Zeke came over, I could just have them on one baseball alone.

Mistake #2: Standing Behind Jerks

Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who thought this would be a good game for autographs. This brought out all of the memorabilia hawks. I have no problem with people who like having memorabilia signed. I think it’s a fun hobby, but there are certain behaviors that are just inexcusable that I saw exhibited at this game.

Many of these guys bullied their way in front of kids, shoved their memorabilia in the athletes’ faces, demanded specific signatures of them, and then didn’t move aside so kids or regular autograph seekers could get their things signed.

I’m tall so I was able to reach out and get a few things signed. But I missed out on players like Ezekiel Elliot because the guy in front of me got three pictures signed and Zeke thought he was signing for different people. I know that if my long arms weren’t able to reach out far enough for a signature, then the kids around me didn’t get their stuff signed either.

I also witnessed so much berating of athletes from these guys as they demanded the players come over and sign. If a player told them they were coming later, or if the player didn’t want to sign, these guys would take digs at them and complain. But when the athlete acquiesced and signed, did these guys say thanks? Not at all. It was as if the athlete owed them something.

Hindsight: Scout a better area.

Next time I go I’ll be on the lookout for shady characters and try to stand with the average fan. I moved down a little bit just to be around regular fans like me and it was a much more pleasant experience. I got to witness kids actually get autographs, which is what it’s all about anyway.

Mistake #3: Not protecting the ball.

Despite all the issues with the people in front of me, when Dirk came by signing for the entire stadium, I was able to get his autograph. I was pumped. Despite my crappy ball and my poor standing area, I got what I was hoping to get.

Finally, after a lifetime of Dirk and Mavs fandom, I had a Dirk Nowitzki autograph.

Dirk Nowitzki

I carefully protected the signature from smudging, which took a lot more effort on the poor quality baseball than on a good one, and I carried it around with me the rest of the night.

When I got home, I was tired. It was a long day out in the sun. The game was a lot of fun, and absolutely hilarious to watch. The best moment had to have been 6’8” Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal rumbling around the bases, sliding into home just before a tag, and then being called out by the umpire.

Dirk and his entire team rushed the plate to protest the call. The replay on the board seemed to show Cardinal was safe. But the umpire, knowing how to build drama, stayed with his call. All in all, it was one of the most fun events of the year.

So I took my new treasure and put it on the back of a desk against the wall. This seemed like a safe enough place. Then I sat down on the couch and relaxed after a long day.

As I sat there thinking about how cool it would be to tell my future kids about the ball and about what a great guy Dirk is and how funny it is to watch him play baseball, I heard my dog chewing on loudly on her bone in the other room.

About ten minutes later, in walked my wife holding something under her shirt. She said, “Do you know what June’s been doing?”

“Uh, chewing on her bone?” I said.

Not exactly. She’d been chewing on MY BRAND NEW SIGNED BASEBALL.

Dog chewed ball.

That’s only the signed part of the ball. The rest of the ball, while mangled, would still have still had a visible signature. Instead, she went right for the signed part.

I was devastated.

But, as a long-suffering Rangers fan I know that there’s always next year.

Hindsight: Put it in a case.

This one goes back to my original mistake. If I had bought the nice ball, I would have had a case for it. So, the moment it was signed I would have put it in the case and it would have been safe.

When I got home I could have put it on the back of the desk and it would never have rolled off. Or, if my dog somehow got it, she wouldn’t have been able to get it out of the case (actually, she’s really smart and determined, maybe she would have). But I would have heard the sound of plastic crunching and been alerted. Instead, all I heard was a dog chewing on a ball, which is a pretty normal sound when you have a dog.

Hindsight is 20/20 and when I go to next year’s event I’ll have a much clearer vision of how to get and keep that signature.

I know I can’t be the only one who’s lost a prized piece of memorabilia to a furry friend. Tell us your crazy story on Facebook or Twitter!

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