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When an autograph means more than just a scribble: Four-year wait ends with meet-and-greet with one fan’s favorite ballplayer

In early July 2010, I petulantly convinced my wife to dust off our solitary Visa and purchase an official Minnesota Twins jersey bearing the All Star Game logo and No. 33.

No. 33 signs
Photo courtesy of Fan HQ Former Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau signs a bat for a fan during a fan fest Nov. 28 at Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka. The event was attended by Tribune staffer Dan Burdett, below left, who waited four years to have a jersey signed by Morneau, his favorite ballplayer.
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In early July 2010, I petulantly convinced my wife to dust off our solitary Visa and purchase an official Minnesota Twins jersey bearing the All Star Game logo and No. 33.
As Twins fans know, 33 was the number worn for a decade by first baseman Justin Morneau, who was selected that year to his fourth straight All Star game, his first as a starter. It was my hope to get the jersey autographed and to eventually frame it and hang it in my distending man cave.
After Morneau began his Major League career in June 2003 with six hits in eight at bats against the Colorado Rockies, he ascended to the top of my list of favorite players.
I followed his career with a deranged fervor, sucked in by that cartoonish swing and the barrage of muffled curses that would aviate from his lips as he trotted back to the dugout after lining a pitch to second that he should have driven to deep center.

Even in the midst of their impressive run in the early and mid-2000s, I felt the Twins lacked the killer punch of baseball’s elite teams. They played scrappy, dogged ball, sure, but much of what I viewed felt inhibited and manufactured. They never seemed to play mad. Morneau was different, at least through my eyes.
The prime example of this occurred on Aug. 9, 2006, when he hit a two-run bomb off Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya in the eighth inning. The blast lifted the Twins to an eventual 4-3 win. The pitch, clocked at 100 mph, landed somewhere in Nova Scotia, I believe. The home run also marked the first time since 1987 a Twin hit at least 30 homers in a season.
When Morneau suffered a concussion July 7, 2010, against Toronto, one week prior to the All Star Game, I thought little of it.
I was glum he wouldn’t play in the game, but convinced myself he’d be back in early August.
It was painful watching him struggle to find his timing when he eventually returned to the field during Spring Training the following February. He never found the rhythm that produced 136 home runs and a .298 batting average during his peak seasons, from 2006-10, stroking just four home runs and batting .227 in an injury-plagued campaign that included a two-month stint on the disabled list following neck surgery.
The injury bug continued, and he struggled for extended periods of 2012 and 2013.
When the Twins shipped Morneau to Pittsburgh in August of last year, I was livid.
I viewed the move a salary dump that would lead to signing an ageing or overpriced free agent who would do little to help the ball club.
It also dawned on me the chances of Morneau signing the jersey hanging unworn in my closet for the best part of four years were practically irrecoverable.

The beginnings of a collection

I became intrigued by the memorabilia scene in 1995 when Campbell’s Soup sponsored the Legends of Baseball military tour, bringing Harmon Killebrew to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England, for a meet-and-greet and autograph signing. My stepfather was stationed at a nearby installation and was in the latter stages of a two-decade Air Force career.
He is an avid Twins fan, Killebrew long his idol.
We were last in line for autographs, nervous the event would conclude before Killebrew had an opportunity to sign for us.
In reality, our positioning at the stern of that weaving row of groupies was a blessing. When we arrived at the table, Killebrew was abuzz.
I listened intently as my stepfather shared anecdotes with the amiable hero of his youth.
They nattered for what felt an eternity about the Twins’ loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series, who was tougher to hit: Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale and what was the most memorable home run of the 573 Killebrew hit during his 22-year Major League career. It was a beautiful and fleeting vignette, in which both men seemed boys again.
We posed for photos and left with a bevy of autographs, my first signed ball included.

I guess I’m looking for some meaning

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While robust, my autograph collection is by no means epic.
I long ago committed to seeking autographs from players whose stories captivate me over legendary or big-name players who use autograph tours to excessively pad their ample bank accounts and often have little regard for the fans or even their own penmanship. It’s no secret Willie Mays is considered universally wretched on the autograph scene, a baseball icon seemingly more content with being old and crotchety than sharing a sincere moment with a fan likely paying in excess of $100 for a chicken scratch more closely resembling that of some working stiff named Steve Street, than the first guy in the history of the game to hit 600 home runs and steal 300 bases.
I just don’t have time for that.
I recently purchased a mini Oklahoma University football helmet signed by Brian Bosworth. Considered by many to be an NFL bust, Bosworth was, by all accounts, one of the greatest linebackers in the history of college football. He was also at the forefront of the celebrity athlete marketing machine that consumed the sports scene of the late 1980s, making him an oft-maligned, even despised character, whose antics stole from his athletic prowess.
A recent 30 for 30 documentary by ESPN, however, shows Bosworth, now 49, confronting the demons of his past, often failed attempts to make his old man proud. A husband, father and the antithesis of the braggart who alienated fans during his brief playing days, the story of his post-football career is utterly engrossing, and his autograph one I simply had to have.
In Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, Toronto’s Joe Carter hit a three-run, walk-off home run off Phillies’ closer Mitch Williams. It was just the second time a Series has ended with a home run, the other being in 1960, when Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski homered off the Yankees’ Ralph Terry.
Carter’s home run remains my favorite postseason memory, not for the dramatics of the ball gliding over the left field wall 328 feet away, but for the unbridled joy in the slugger’s face as he danced around the bases.
I secured his autograph recently on a 1993 Topps baseball card after I learned through a friend and fellow collector that Carter signs by mail for a paltry $5 donation to his Kansas-based charity. It seemed fitting to send $10.

Got ya

When Morneau was a Twin, he started numerous Minneapolis-area charities, one of which I learned organizes a coat drive through Fan HQ, a memorabilia store located at Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka.
The coat drive allows fans to donate lightly used winter jackets to The Salvation Army in exchange for autographs. Those who donate a single jacket receive a photo signed by Morneau. Those who donate three jackets are eligible to meet Morneau and have an item of memorabilia signed during a fan fest at the mall.
I donated three coats Nov. 1 for the event scheduled Nov. 28.
I knew the fan response was going to be substantial, as Morneau had two months prior claimed the National League batting title as a member of the Rockies, who signed him last December to a two-year deal. I erred in my estimation.
As I entered the shopping center, I soon caught glimpse of the influx of fanatics and gadabouts weaving around a swath of galleria space ample enough to parallel park a jumbo jet.
By the time Morneau was introduced to the throng, his wife, Krista, at his side, the crowd had doubled in size.
I looked on intently as he greeted the fans before me, posing for photos with some, laughing with others, applying his signature to a range of collectibles, including a life-size cutout used for a McDonald’s campaign circa-2009.
As I met the man, I handed him my jersey. It was my intent to make this brief encounter one I wouldn’t soon forget, so I committed to a humorous approach.
I told him I’d never heard of the Twins new first basemen and asked if he thought he’d cut it.
That generated a hearty guffaw.
Music to my ears.
Post laugh, he retorted: “They’ll (the Twins) be OK. They scored a lot of runs last year.”
“Indeed,” I responded.
I then admitted to missing a bulk of those runs because I was streaming so many Rockies games over the course of the season, my wife thought I’d ventured to the dark side. Even she, a casual baseball fan, is aware the National League is the archfiend.
A chuckle and perhaps a fragmented snort caught at the end-most second soon followed.
Yes, I thought: putty in my hand.
I decided then to offer a truth, exclaiming I was thankful he was healthy and back on the field, to which he genuinely seemed appreciative.
“Thanks,” he said. “It’s awesome to be back.”
As he extended his hand, I also made it clear this autograph was well worth the wait.

 
 

 

 

 

 

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Related Topics: BASEBALL
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