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Sign of the Times

The most difficult thing to do in ballhawking is snag a game home run.Seasoned ballhawks can go months without even getting close to a homer. Thestars need to be aligned just right, and you need to take advantage when therare opportunities present themselves.

Once that ball settles into your glove and you complete your celebration ofchoice, another quest begins. How the heck do I get this thing signed?

In many cases, getting a home run autographed by the player who hit it isfar more work than coming up with the ball in the first place. For visitingplayers in particular, it might be a year or more before you are even within100 miles of your intended target.

Of my 42 career homers, I managed to get each of the first 37 signed. Thejury is out on the last five, although I've basically given up on a coupleof them. Of those first 37, many were easy to get signed and many more hadme pulling my hair out by the time the ink finally dried on the signature.

With home players, it certainly helps to be a regular. I snagged two homerseach from Mark McGwire and Dave Henderson, and they each knew who I was anddidn't question me when I told them I was in possession of their home runsballs. Each of them took their time to sign, date and number each home run.

It could be a little bit tougher with a new player. Kevin Seitzer onlyplayed half a season with the A's, and I got the third of his four homers inan Oakland uniform. I had never met him before I asked him to sign next tothe player's parking lot. When I told him it was a home run ball, he quizzedme.

"Oh yeah?" Seitzer said. "Who did I hit it off of?"

I completely drew a blank. I stuttered for a few seconds before my brainbegan to properly function. I declared," You hit it off of Ted Power of theCleveland Indians!"

Seitzer nodded his head and said, "Alright, alright. I'll sign it."

Mike Bordick was in his second full season in the Majors when I snagged hisfourth career homer. He clearly wasn't accustomed to having people ask himto sign home run balls. It led to a bizarre sequence that I still don'tquite understand to this day.

I waited by my usual spot next to the player's parking lot, and when hearrived, I shouted out, "Mike, I have your home run ball from earlier thisweek. Could you sign it please?"

He looked straight at me and kept walking without saying a word. I didn'tknow if he didn't hear me or what. I tried again the next day, but alteredmy strategy slightly. When he arrived, I simply asked if he could sign. Heimmediately started walking over.

I held the ball up and said, "It's your home run from the other day."

Bordick said, "I know. You told me yesterday." He signed, dated and numberedit. I was too flummoxed to ask why the heck he didn't just sign it the daybefore.

With visiting players, I was happy to get the ball signed at all. Dependingon their mood or the circumstances, I often didn't even bother asking themto date or number the ball.

The only visiting players who ever numbered and/or dated a home run ball forme were Alan Trammell, Chris Hoiles and Marty Cordova. When I asked JimLeyritz to number a 1994 home run, he actually accused me of wanting him tonumber it so I could sell it. Yeah, because Leyritz was such a householdname.

The most frustrating experience was trying to get the first two of my threeRickey Henderson home runs signed. He was and is just a strange character.And it was befuddling because I sat in the first row of the left-fieldbleachers right behind him every day. Rickey spent half the game lookinginto the stands, and every day we would communicate with waves, shrugs andfacial expressions.

But when I saw him outside the stadium, I could never get him to stop tosign. And he very rarely signed inside the stadium, so I didn't bothertrying once I was inside the gates.

I wanted to get those two Rickey homers signed myself, but after dozens ofattempts over the course of nearly a year, I surrendered. I knew a securityguard who grew up with Rickey in Oakland. I gave him the balls to get themsigned.

A couple days later, the guard presented the baseballs, each signed, datedand numbered. He said that Rickey asked where the baseballs came from, andhe described me to him. With his answer, Rickey probably summed up thethoughts of every player ever asked for an autograph.

"Oh yeah, I know that guy," Rickey said. "I've been meaning to sign those."

Rick Gold is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.

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