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A View From the Bleachers

TTM Autographs

About three years ago I came across the acronym, "TTM." I had no idea what it meant. Some sort of new-fangled techno-gadget that I go to for money dispensing? No, no, it stands for Through The Mail. And it, along with catching baseballs at games, has become a cool, rewarding, and time-consuming hobby for me.

My time to shine is during Spring Training, when players have a ton of downtime and are (hopefully) more likely to sign autographs. This technique of autograph hunting also can work quite well during the regular season-but don't try it in the playoffs. Those sluggers ain't got no time for your shenanigans come October, crazy! But here's how TTM autograph requests work:

First, you need something for the player to autograph. My preference is a baseball card (or two). A card is light, easily portable and shippable, and you probably have a few lying around anyway. Second, you need postage. TTM stuff isn't going to break the bank-but it's not free, either. You'll need two stamps per request. An MLB player might be a millionaire, but he's not gonna go out and buy a stamp to send your dinky autograph back to you, crazy! Next up, get your office supplies together. You'll need envelopes, a pen and paper, and an eraser (white is preferred). Finally, you'll need to know where to send your request. Current players and coaches will be reachable at the ballpark-or, during Spring Training, at their AZ or FL place o' business.

Ready for the procedure? I know you're on the edge of your seat, right?!? Here we go:

Write out a letter to the person. Write it out by hand, crazy! MLB players get a ton of fan mail. They likely won't spend any time looking at a form letter. Write it out with that pen I mentioned earlier. "Dear So and So, You're great and here's why. Will you please sign my card?" Something like that-make it personal, make it kind, say please and thank you, and sign it, "Your Fan, [insert signature here]."

Prep your item. For baseball cards, use that eraser to rub the gloss down. Most baseball cards nowadays have a glossy finished and a marker will bubble and smear all over it if you don't rub it well with an eraser. Try it out on some throwaway card; you'll see what I mean. If your item's not glossy, you don't have to do much prep work! Or, if you're sending a baseball or some other sort of item, you may want to send along the sort of pen or marker you'd like the player to use in the package you're mailing. For cards, Allen & Ginter is a popular (but expensive) non-glossy card to send. Gloss = Rubdown. No way around it. Eraser-or baby powder-or, if nothing else use your thumb... get some of that shine off of there!

Pack it up. Send the item, your letter, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the player or coach in question. SASEs are crucial-this is what holds your item on its way back to you. Make sure you have enough postage on each! For a card, one first class stamp each way is fine. In total, a submission to a player of a baseball card will cost you about a buck. Two stamps plus your office supplies. Write clearly-by hand! And send it off to the stadium or Spring Training home of your favorite player. If you're looking for a retired player, there are some online databases and print versions for your reference-but they cost money. Online, my preference is sportscollectors.net. In print, check out the Harvey Meiselman list.

Wait. Big league players have stuff to do, crazy! Don't anticipate they're just waiting to get an autograph from you. Once, I got two autographed cards back from Mr. Terry Pendleton-and it took just less than one year! Other times, I've gotten autographs back in seven or eight days. It depends on the player and the time of the year.

Did you prep your card, write a nice, handwritten letter, make sure there was enough postage, and print all addresses clearly? You just sit back and wait for the souvenirs to roll in. Try it all over baseball and other sports. Team websites list their addresses-just mark the package to The Player at Whatever Stadium and include the stadium's address.

Over the years I've been doing this I've had dozens of successes and dozens of failures. My cards and my postage are gone-no note, no anything! But I also have autographs from Vladimir Guerrero, Mike Mussina, Mark Grace, Lee Smith, Drew Stubbs, Chone Figgins, Mark Buerhle, Ron Gardenhire, Don Zimmer, Tony LaRussa, and a bunch of other MLB folks! Sometimes it's great-sometimes you lose out-sometimes you get a pre-printed signature or a letter saying you should donate to some charity. Sometimes there is no response at all and your cards are just gone. Poof! Don't send anything in the mail you can't bear to lose forever.

Are you intrigued? Are you ready to get started? Go for it, dudes and dudettes. Get to requestin' those autographs. Feel free to look this process up online. There are plenty of people who have written on this subject. And for a switch to this hobby... look into sending requests for Fan Packs to teams (http://bloggingboutbaseball.mlblogs.com/2008/12/06/fan-packs/). You're sure to get a response from any team. Maybe they'll send you a pocket schedule, some player cards, or even an autograph, hat, or some genuine Fenway Park dirt (thanks, Red Sox!).

As of March of 2012, I've received dozens of TTM autographs. It's been a fun way to stay connected to baseball in the off-season, during Spring Training, or even during the regular season. Remember, however, that players are really busy-don't get discouraged... just be patient and you'll end up with some pretty cool new additions to your collection.

Matt Jackson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.

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