Picnic in the Park 2015
While the website is several years old, I have never really kept track of how I obtain the autographs or the work that goes into my collection or that goes into tracking down and interviewing former players.
Today was a very fruitful day. I added seven new autographs (well, eight depending on how flexible you are willing to be) and several that I can use for trade. For my birthday, my wife bought us tickets to the Houston Astros' Picnic in the Park. I had never attended an event of this nature before and really had no idea how it would work.
To prepare, I gathered as many cards of current Astros as I could find. For the players that I did not have cards of, I printed out 8X10s. I thought I was well prepared. I was wrong. It becomes increasingly clear that they are not going to have everyone form one long line and go through for autographs. Instead, they have seven tables set up with four players at each table. It was the proverbial pat on the butt and "Good luck, fella."
So my wife and I quickly came up with a gameplan. I will explain her end of it later in the post. I hopped in the first line and immediately knocked out one of my cooler pictures and half of another. While waiting for the first four players to sign, I overheard an employee asking questions and saw that in her hand she held a seating chart! Life just got a little less complicated, but this was still going to be a logistical nightmare.
My rushed picture did not get the first table, but I was standing at it so not really needed. I texted this picture to my wife and then started grabbing the two pictures I was getting signed at the first table. Sitting at the first table were Chad Qualls, Jason Castro, Pat Neshek, and Luke Gregerson. I was able to knock off my coolest image of the night immediately.
All three of them were really funny. Chad Qualls cracked jokes about the grey hairs in his beard. Neshek and Gregerson acted like two brothers, pushing each other and just being goofy. Gregerson accidentally butchered his autograph, but was able to fix it without any problem. I really appreciated that he cared enough to get it right. I also love the baseball in Neshek's signature.
I also got Jason Castro at this table on a cool image of him and Will Harris.
Notice a distinct lack of Will Harris' signature? I'll explain that soon. Once I was done with the first table, I checked the list and headed to the table with Will Harris so that I could finish off the above image. The line at the fourth table was not very long, as most people were after Correa, Altuve, or Springer.
The fourth table started out with the only member of the Astros that was in a bad mood, Hank Conger. He was not rude or anything, but you could tell that he was not happy to be at the event. He signed my picture very nicely though.
Marisnick and Keuchel both signed baseball cards for me, which have both been added to my tradelist. As Keuchel finished signing my card, Will Harris stood up and left. Keuchel cracked a joke, "Will! You're still on the clock!" He laughed and turned back to me. I asked if he was coming back. "Sorry, man. He is gone for the night." Apparently there was one Astro that wanted to be there less than Conger. It sucks that I couldn't finish the Castro picture off, but hopefully he will do a signing in the upcoming summer autograph sessions. If not, I'll add it to the pile of unfinished multi-player images.
Table 6 was sandwiched between the tables with Springer and Altuve, so the lines around it were huge but I noticed that the acutal line for Table 6 was short. It had three players I needed for my all-time project, so I jumped into line and quickly found myself in front of Evan Gattis. This man is mountainous and could probably crush me with his pinky! I put down my picture and he held it up to Joe Thatcher and said, "Coolest thing I've signed all night!" Thatcher just rolled his eyes and Gattis signed the picture. I'll share it below when I talk about Chris Carter. Next down the line was Joe Thatcher and he had scratched out "pitcher" on his name card and written in "horrible golfer". I handed him what I wanted autographed and told him that he could not be worse than me. He seemed to find that doubtful.
It was not the best image ever, but I could not find much. It was in trying to find this picture that I made a decision that I will unveil on another day. Feldman and McHugh both signed cards for me, with the McHugh going directly to the tradelist. Feldman actually mocked how terrible he looked on the card he signed and asked me to never let anyone put that card in front of him again.
I made a bee-line for Table 2, so that I could finish off the Gattis picture before time ran out. The clock on the scoreboard said I had 30 minutes left. I was shocked to find that there were only about ten people in line ahead of me. Chris Carter finished off the photo and, in my opinion, is the nicest man in all of baseball. I say this because of what happened with my wife's project, but regardless he is a extremely fan friendly player.
Lance McCullers, Jr and Preston Tucker were both awesome as well, signing baseball cards. Tucker was already in my collection, so his card went onto the tradelist. I did not have McCullers yet, but thankfully I had a card for him to sign.
At the end of the table was Vincent Velasquez and I realized I had made my first mistake. I had nothing for him to sign. No cards. No photos. Nothing. So, despite the fact that I need him for the project, I had to pass by without an Autograph. I searched for anything reasonable, but I did not even have my tickets on me.
I looked up at the scoreboard and had about 25 minutes left and had to make a decision. Altuve, Springer, or Correa? I have all three of them already, so I went with Altuve because Valbuena was at his table and while I am a huge fan of his defense, I'm not sure how long he is going to be with the team. This line was incredibly long! I was worried that I wouldn't make it to the table, but stuck it out anyways. With about 10 minutes left, my wife showed up and said she didn't have time to get into another line. I asked the family behind us if they cared if she joined me and they had no problem with it. So I was able to sneak her into getting one more table done for her project. She had already gone to Correa's table, so she ended up with everyone except Springer's table.
Jose Altuve was his usual pleasant, but detached self and signed a card which is on the tradelist. Luis Valbuena was in a fantastic mood, which was no surprise since he had an amazing game, and was still smiling as he signed what must have been his 500th item for me.
Oberholtzer and Sipp both signed cards for me which are now on the tradelist. Sipp was really cool as usual and Oberholtzer just seemed ready for the line to end.
They announced that all of the tables were closed for autographs, but I noticed that I had an opportunity to get one more signature. Standing ten feet away was the greatest mascot of all time and I happened to have two baseball cards for him to sign. Try not to be too jealous of my Orbit autographs.
One of them is going to my wife's little sister and I am hoping I can get J.P. Arencebia to sign the other one. Regardless, it is being added to the Oddball section of my Astros collection.
My wife and I went to sit down and eat the food for the "picnic" aspect of Picnic in the Park and looked over her project. We are expecting to have our first child in about three weeks. You read that correctly. My wife loves me so much that she endured this whole thing for me while very pregnant. I had originally come up with other photos and cards for her to get signed, but right before the game I asked her if she would rather do something cool for the baby. She loved the idea and spent her time getting autographs in my Houston Astros book.
She actually got more autographs than I did, since she got to come into line with me for Table 7 and she went through Correa's line. As a result, she got two autographs for our baby that I still need for my project, Samuel Deduno and Vincent Velasquez. I am already jealous of my child's collection! I mentioned earlier that Chris Carter was particularly cool about this. He was the first person she had sign it and she told him what she was trying to do. Carter thought it was a really cool project and he personalized it "To: Sawyer". I realize that this is not a huge thing, but the fact that he was willing to have the conversation and contribute was a really big deal to me. Being nice to my wife and my unborn child will always make you awesome in my book.
My wife was packing everything up and taking pictures of the project for our family. We assumed it was time to relax and eat, but I was not done. I have a pretty extensive knowledge of the Houston Astros and there are conversations that occur regularly at a game that are normal. There are other words that you hear that should catch your attention. If you ever hear a group speaking Spanish and the word "Cheo" pops out, pay attention. I heard it from about fifteen feet away and grabbed the book from my wife. I politely waited for the conversation to end and, in my horribly broken Spanish asked, "Autographia para mi nino, por favor?" Jose Cruz seemed amused enough by my attempt at Spanish that he obliged. "Escribilo 'Cheo' por favor?" He smiled and asked, "Donde?" I pointed to the spot and thanked him. I had almost made it back to my wife when I noticed a very tall man that looked familiar and turned right around. I added two Astros legends to Sawyer's book: Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell. I believe there was a third former Astros player standing nearby, but I did not want to be embarassed by asking someone for their autograph and not having a clue who they were.
It was a great day. I will end this with what we bought baby Sawyer to wear at games with me.