clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

For young autograph hunters, the MLB All-Star Game is both adventure and business opportunity

Young fans are already used to the whims of players thanks to the environment around autograph hunting.

89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by MasterCard - Red Carpet Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Outside the MLB player hotel in Washington D.C. on Tuesday night, as the All-Star Game went into extra innings a few miles away and the collective baseball community was sent into a frenzy thanks to Josh Hader’s unearthed tweets, a group of hopeful autograph seeks sat outside on a curb waiting for players to return to their lodgings for the night. It’s a common site at airports and team hotels in any sport, a group of (usually white, almost always male) people hovering around the premises hoping for a shot at collecting the signature of one of the top players in the game.

Whether that’s to re-sell for profit or treasure as a keepsake from their favorite athlete, the autograph cluster is a well-known phenomenon. Whether that’s from reports of dozens of avid college football fans at SEC media days or NHL players being swarmed at the airport, any sports fan can call up the image of such a hoard in their mind’s eye at a moment’s notice.

Yet outside this hotel on this night, one of baseball’s biggest nights filled to the brim with its biggest (sometimes literally) stars, the group is small. It consists of only four teenagers and a few other stragglers waiting for Manny Machado or Freddie Freeman to get back from Nationals Park, climb out of an SUV with heavily tinted windows, and maybe put ink to baseball for those dedicated enough to wait.

The teenagers, a group of kids between 17 and 20 years old, flew to D.C. from outside of Miami not to go to the All-Star Game to watch J.T. Realmuto represent the National League squad but to sit here, on a hard granite curb, and wait for players to come within shouting distance of their outpost.

The only real All-Star Week event they went to was the Futures Game (everything else being too tough on their wallets) and even that was partially to get baseballs signed by young players like Fernando Tatis, Jr. or Hunter Greene who are more willing to stop and sign memorabilia for fans. A set of players who, as these teenagers note, are more humble at this stage of their career and are more willing to sign for fans. Those baseballs will be stored away for a few years while they wait to see which prospects blow up in the majors.

They’re amateur autograph seekers, not yet at the level of the more hardcore hunters who make a living off of the practice and oftentimes give scrums a bad reputation, but that doesn’t mean they’re not committed. Specifically, they’re aiming for American League players who don’t come through Miami very often and they’re an enthusiastic set. One of them, 19-year old Cameron Husing, is more fervent than the other three.

They all admit this isn’t the longterm career path they’re aiming for, it’s more of a mix of an adventure and a way to make some pocket change for college, yet for Husing it’s certainly a way to make money right now. He says he spent more than $3,000 to get to D.C. and he brought 120 baseballs with him to hopefully get signed. As it’s the only job he works, he’s clearly on the cusp of being a professional broker. Right now he insists the stress of the game isn’t worth the payouts.

The group got hooked on the autograph game when they went to spring training games and saw others making money off of the same baseballs or playing cards they were getting signed out of excitement for the game. So a side gig began. A decent amount of the baseballs they will keep, because they are fans after all, and the rest are to be traded or sold. But Husing, at only 19, is already fed up with players collectively judging a group that may genuinely want their autographs. Husing says,

“This job is stressful and the players are not as nice as they should be. They’re extremely rude, pretty much 90% of the time. There’s one time a player will be nice and that kind of changes you for a little to think players are nicer than they really are but then it changes back.”

This is especially true of the All-Stars, they say, having far more luck and better interactions with the baseball and basketball teams that come through Miami on a regular basis.

This is where the optimism and problem-solving desires of teenagers run into the realities of life, and these kids already seem to know their ideas for a better system are futile. In an ideal world, they suggest, players could at least say hello. Take pictures instead of sign autographs, because you can’t sell pictures. At least be honest with the crowd instead of promising they’ll sign on the way back into the hotel and then not doing it after all, when those promised have waited three or four hours in the hopes that the promise would be kept.

But they’ve already been exposed to the rougher side of player-fan relationships and know these seemingly fair solutions aren’t as easy as simply proposing them. In their few days in Washington, the group says they’ve been sworn at by some players’ family members, and some players’ friends or family have been signing baseballs instead of the pro — which then ruins the baseball and is more insulting than simply being ignored.

Their idolatry of Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, or Mike Trout (who they call the GOAT multiple times in our relatively short conversation) is butting up against the reality of a business they are dipping a toe and not liking what they see. Finding a middle ground where players feel less overrun by overzealous fans and fans get a few seconds of their time isn’t going to happen.

Even though “not every one of us is a bad guy” Husing admits that it can seem that way, and looking at faces for a few seconds and trying to parse who is sincere and who is a scammer is an unrealistic ask. He acknowledges “They’re people too ... [but] a second of their time is worth however long we’re out here.”

They still have hope though, and unlike other more popular sports the baseball crowd is small enough to not be hassled by security. Besides keeping a perimeter, the police and hotel security are happily enjoying a low key night when I talk to them about the waiting autograph hopefuls. While it stays small they’ll remain unbothered, but D.C. police worry that if they leave them alone for too long it tacitly encourages the practice which could lead to more and more people thinking it’s worth the trouble.

Nothing has gotten out of hand this time — especially compared to this year’s Capitals team they say — but the night before I witnessed a few people being firmly kept behind the hedge barrier so the balance is fickle even with a group of a dozen or less. Security sees these kids as harmless for now and understands the perspective of young fans hoping for their idols to give them the time of day.

When I come back out of the hotel, the boys have repositioned themselves behind a line of hedges near the drop-off area. Manny Machado did make an appearance, they say, as well as a few other All-Stars heading back to their rooms. But they had no luck getting an autograph this time and were rebuffed without even a hint of engagement, another disappointment effort.

It’s past midnight and their luck doesn’t seem to be turning tonight. With it being their last night it’s worth waiting and hoping though. They’ll continue to wait. Maybe during the next few hours they’ll get to meet their number one target Mike Trout. Even if he doesn’t sign anything for the crowd they just hope he’ll be nice. After all, they’re still a group of teenagers just hoping that some of the greatest players in the game will take a few seconds to acknowledge some of their biggest fans.

The autographs are just a bonus, after all. Their college job can take a backseat when it comes to getting to meet their heroes.