Thursday, May 30, 2013

Autograph Adventures: Albany Devils

As a student at SUNY Albany, I have a card that gets me on the Capital District Transit Authority bus for absolutely free. The bus goes downtown, right to the Times Union Center, home arena of the American Hockey League's Albany Devils. They are the minor-league affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. As a college student, I could get tickets for only $10 on most game nights.

During the NHL lockout, I went to a game in early November just to scope out the arena and watch some hockey for the first time in months. Overall, the Times Union Center is a beautiful, state of the art, and overall gorgeous arena.  When the arena is hosting the Devils, average attendance is between 3,500 to 4,000 people, largely because most of the upper level is covered off, giving everyone on the lower level a feeling that they are right on top of the action.  When the upper level is open for seating, there can be a maximum capacity of over 14,000 people.

The first autograph I got was at that game in early November, when the Devils were hosting the Adirondack Panthoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. I was sitting near the tunnel where the Devils would enter and exit the ice. Well before the game, assistant coach and former NHL player  Tommy Albelin was walking to the bench to watch warmups. I asked him if he could sign, and he politely stopped and signed my roster sheet for me, as I wasn't prepared with anything else. That was the only autograph I got that night.

I did attend a few other Albany Devils games, but there wasn't too much happening until I attended a game on February 17 between the Devils and the Binghamton Senators, AHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators. The Devils were advertising a free post-game team autograph session, so I couldn't refuse a $10 ticket and free bus rides.

I arrived at the arena well before the 3pm puck drop, and had a seat near the tunnel of the visiting Senators. Well before the game, Steve Stirling went to the bench to time his clock with the clock on the arena's scoreboard. I have fond memories of Steve Stirling, as he was head coach of the New York Islanders, my favorite team, when I was growing up on Long Island. Now a Binghamton assistant coach, Stirling had no problem signing a page in my autograph book as he was leaving the bench to go back into the locker room. I also told him that I had met him almost a decade earlier when he was the Islanders coach, and I was in the Islanders Booster Club, to which he said, "That's a long time ago."

That was the only autograph I would get before the game. During the game, I went down to the team store and bought a program for only $2. The program had small pictures of just about everyone on the roster, so that would be a good item to get signed. For the autograph signing, I had only printed out a few basic 4x6 photos. I made two Albany Devils logo cards and one New Jersey Devils logo card. I also printed out a photo of new Devil Andrei Loktionov, as he was on the Kings roster last year when they won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for me, but good for Loktionov, he got called up to the New Jersey Devils about two hours before the game was scheduled to begin, so meeting him will have to wait for another time.

After the game, I went over to the table that would have the players with the most NHL experience. Cam Janssen and team captain Jay Leach would be there, with a couple other players that hadn't played in the NHL up to that point. Leach got pulled from the signing at the last second, but I still felt good to be at the front of the line for one of the most popular tables. I got Janssen (#25) to sign the New Jersey photo as well as one of the Albany Devils photos. He was also kind enough to take a picture with me.

I also got a picture with Matt Anderson, who had made his NHL debut at age 30 just a few weeks before this game. He signed a puck for me, as well as the program and the New Jersey Devils logo picture. He got his first NHL point in his 2nd career game, a loss to the Islanders. We won't be seeing too much more of Matt, as he is signed to play in the KHL in Russia for the 2013-14 season.

Tim Sestito signed the other puck I had brought with me. Here is a video I took of him signing. He also
played in the NHL this season. I got him to sign my program and New Jersey Devils photo also. Alexander Urbom was the last one to sign my NJ Devils photo. His signature is #6 on the photo, as you can see on the right.

 I kept wandering around the concourse, and eventually made it through and got everyone that was there signing in about 20 minutes. The session was 45 minutes long, so I made sure I got everyone before leaving the building.  Of the autographs I got, a few players ended up making their NHL debuts later on in the season. These players are goalies Keith Kinkaid (#35), and Jeff Frazee (#31). Other players on that list are Eric Gelinas (#24), and Harri Pesonen (#18), who has a great signature. More former NHL players that were on the Devils roster at the time were Steve Zalewski (#15) and Scott Parse (#20).

Here are the rest of my autographs on the day. I scanned the two Albany Devils photos and the two pages in the yearbook that have all the signatures. Click on them if you want to get a better look.

It was a great experience to meet the team, and as well as being very cheap, it was plenty of fun too. You never know, one of these guys that I didn't mention could end up being a big star in the NHL in no time. I'll post more of these stories up from time to time.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mail Legends: Pat Neshek

If you have never heard of Pat Neshek, than this is a good place to start your autograph collection. Pat currently is a reliever for the Oakland A's. First off, check out his BLOG. He is a very avid autograph collector himself, and his blog is very entertaining for anyone wanting to read inside the life of a big leaguer. He started off as a member of the Twins, then was traded to the Padres and then Orioles before ending up on the A's roster last season.

Gehrig John Neshek Patch
Then, in the middle of Pat's first trip to the postseason, tragedy struck the Neshek family. What should have been a happy moment turned into every parent's nightmare. Pat and his wife Stephanee had a son last October, right when the A's were fighting for the AL West title with the Texas Rangers. Less than one hour after he was born, newborn Gehrig John Neshek passed away. Even when Pat's life seemed to be at its lowest point, he made a miraculous return to the A's postseason lineup. Against the Detroit Tigers in the first round, and with the initials of his son patched on his sleeve, Pat got two big outs to get the A's out of a jam, tapping the patch as he ran off the field.

With all of Pat's personal successes and triumphs, he is also one of the most fan-friendly athletes I have ever seen. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to get many responses and autographs from Pat in the mail. He posts his address on his blog, which you can see by clicking the link at the top of this entry.

On his blog, I read that if you send Pat a signed card of anybody that ever played in the history of any major American sport, he would send you a signed card of his own. Back in 2009, when he was a Twin and I was still new to collecting autographs, I sent him one of a person that I had many signed cards of, and also included an index card to be signed. About two weeks later, I opened my mail and was pleasantly surprised by what I received. As you can see, he returned a card signed of his from when he was in the minor leagues and personalized the index card with unique inscriptions. I told him that I too am a blogger and blog about the Islanders. That was a great success from a great person, and he would only get better.

Pat's signature is unique in itself. Firstly, he writes out every letter in his name, as well as his number. It is very legible and easy to recognize, unlike many other athletes today. Secondly, inside the first letter of his name, he adds the stitches of a baseball. This is something I have never seen anywhere else, and all of this shows Pat truly cares for his fans.

A few years later, after he was on the Padres, I found a cool photo I wanted to send to him to get signed. I couldn't find any cards of Pat in my collection, so I figured I would do another trade. I sent him a signed card of Frank Tanana, of whom I have at least a dozen signed cards, as well as the photo, and again Pat signed the photo and sent another signed card of his own, this time in the majors.

I had one more success with Pat in the mail, this one just a few weeks ago. I mailed Pat a few 4x6 photos of him on the A's to be signed. I've grown to like the A's over the past few years, especially after watching the movie Moneyball, then reading the book. As usual, Pat signed all of my stuff just like I asked, even personalizing one of the photos. He also sent something unexpected in the envelope. With all of my stuff, he also sent a stack of 2001 Topps cards. That was totally unexpected, yet I wasn't too surprised when I got it. As you can see, one of the cards was a Barry Bonds.

If you have never gotten a through the mail autograph, Pat Neshek is a good place to start. You are almost guaranteed to get a response. Pat's story and career are just great and bound to make you feel good. That is why Pat Neshek is a mail legend. There are a few more people that are great, but very few like him.

Thanks for reading! Good luck graphing!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reds @ Mets 5/20/13 at Citi Field

After getting back from college this past weekend, I finally got out to Citi Field this past Monday, May 20. I had gotten tickets on StubHub to see the Reds play the Mets. I went with one of my friends, and we had great seats behind the Reds dugout.

After taking the train to the game, we arrived at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda with 15 minutes to spare before the gates opened. After talking to Zack Hample and Mateo Fischer for a little while, it was time to enter. Immediately after entering, I ran down to a spot in the front row right behind the Reds dugout.

A few minutes later, I saw a Reds player signing autographs at the dugout. I wasn't sure who it was, but  I threw him my baseball and pen anyway. He signed it and tossed it back up to me. After looking at the signature, as you can see to the right, I discovered it was reliever Sam LeCure.

Shortly after that, I wandered over to the other end of the dugout and noticed Dusty Baker having a conversation with a man who wasn't in any uniform. The only thing I could notice was that he was wearing a hat that had the number 42 on it. I'm guessing it was after the Jackie Robinson movie that was recently released, but I will never be completely sure. When I asked someone else who that was, I was surprised to find that it was former Mets manager and Yankee Captain Willie Randolph. After he wrapped up his conversation with Dusty Baker, I asked Willie if he could sign, and he motioned for me to throw a ball and a pen to him. I threw him the one official MLB ball I had brought with me, and he signed it very nicely on the side panel and threw it back to me. He actually wrote out most of the letters in his name, which you don't see to often today.

Later on during batting practice, I just missed Dusty Baker and nearly got Shin-Soo Choo to sign my baseball, but he just didn't take it. Even though I missed those two great players, I still got another great player to sign. Brandon Phillips, aka @DatDudeBP, was coming to the dugout after taking his round of BP, and he started talking with some of the fans behind the dugout. Eventually he started signing, and I was fortunate enough to get him to sign the same ball LeCure had signed earlier. There was a funny moment when two people had tossed him gloves to sign, yet he didn't have a pen, as you can see on the left. HERE is a video that I took of Phillips signing. I'm pretty sure Phillips signs before every game, and if you are ever at a Reds game, try your best to get him and you won't be disappointed.

The last autograph I would get during the day would be Mat Latos. He started signing balls at the dugout steps, and he signed mine right in the middle of a large pack of people. He has a very unique signature to say the least. After he tossed my ball back to me, I fumbled around in my pockets trying to get a card out. To my surprise, Latos kept signing, probably for about 15 minutes. Eventually I got my Reds team card out, clipped it to a blue sharpie, and Mat pointed to me and asked me to throw it to him. After he signed it, he tossed it back to me and went down into the clubhouse to prepare for the game. Turns out Latos wasn't even on the Reds when that card was made, but it looks good either way.

That would be all the autographs I got for the day. I sat down in my seats and tried to get a third out ball from Joey Votto, but was unsuccessful each time. I just missed out on a foul ball that Votto hit in the third inning, as it landed in the section to my left, and I had no chance to grab it as it rolled even farther away from me.

When the Reds finished off a 4-3 win, I went to the tunnel where the umpires enter and exit the field. Home plate umpire Tom Hallion was getting heckled from many of the unhappy Mets fans as he exited the field for some questionable decisions and calls he made during the game. After flipping a ball to Mateo and giving a ball to each of the two young kids that were also near the tunnel, I saw him take one other ball out of his pouch. I yelled out, "Tom, good game." He definitely heard me as after that he placed a rubbed up but unused ball in my glove then walked down the tunnel. That was the first baseball I had snagged for the season.

After the game, I met up with Zack, Mateo, and a third ballhawk named Mark, who had caught Marlon Byrd's home run earlier, and we all posed with the Byrd home run ball. From left to right, it is Zack, Mark, Mateo, and I am on the right in the yellow shirt.

That's it for my first game of the season. Thanks for reading and have an amazing day! 

Welcome to My New Blog

Thanks you for coming to my blog! I currently have two blogs, one about the New York Islanders which you can see HERE. The other one, which I can't update anymore, can be seen HERE. This blog is going to be more like the second one, however it won't just be about baseball.  Some facts about me:
My name is Aaron, I'm currently in between my freshman and sophomore year at the University at Albany, SUNY. I am a big fan of the New York Mets, New York Islanders, and New York Jets. I don't really have a preference for basketball, but I watch and go to games every once in a while. I have been collecting autographs both in-person and through the mail for many years now. I have gotten autographs from some of the greatest athletes in the world. Some examples are Derek Jeter, John Madden, Hank Aaron, Mike Bossy and many, many more. If you have any questions, I would love to hear them and answer them in the comments. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the blog!