Autograph Hunters

*Hutch Daniels threw his heavy blue backpack to the floor as he plopped himself on his parents sofa in hopes to get a few minutes of shut eye. Daniels is a full time college sophomore in southeastern Wisconsin working towards his major in business while maintaining both a B average, a part time job, and the relief pitcher on this college’s baseball team. One thing that not many people know about Daniels is that he also is a hunter. Even with all of the other things going on in his life, he’s still able to juggle one more hobby. But Daniels isn’t your average hunter. Daniels is an autograph hunter.

Hutch Daniels pitching for his college baseball team in a tournament in Tucson, Arizona

Hutch Daniels pitching for his college baseball team in a tournament in Tucson, Arizona

Daniels has been autograph hunting for two years with his “mentor” and fellow college baseball player *Nick Nook who started autograph hunting with his grandpa at age 11. “I started off going to games with my grandpa when I was really little and just started doing it for fun there,” said Nook in an interview. “I just heard from word of mouth that if you went to places like hotels that you would have a lot better chance of getting players that you wanted so I started going to hotels with my grandpa and it just kind of went from there. […] I love sports. I’ve been playing sports my entire life. Doing autographs just helps me stay closely related to sports.” This love of sports and baseball is a common interest that both Nook and Daniels share. “I love baseball and I like to get as close to the game as possible,” Daniels added in an interview. “I was really impressed with [Nook’s autograph] collection as well as how close he was getting to the game by meeting all these stars. I thought it would be kind of a cool step to have some memorabilia to remember my college days as well as my childhood growing up.” Daniels was inspired to start autograph hunting with Nook and all Nook needed was a ride.

Nick Nook batting for his college's baseball team in a tournament in Tucson, Arizona

Nick Nook batting for his college’s baseball team in a tournament in Tucson, Arizona

After a quick half hour of shut eye, Daniels rolled off the couch at 7:00PM, repositioned his favorite baseball cap with his college’s logo. He rubbed eyes and grabbed the portfolio of photographs that he printed off at Walgreens for signatures. Grabbing his keys, Daniels hopped into his off-white Prius pressing the power button and rolled out of the garage. Daniels is on his way to another hunt. “Usually, I’ll pick up Nook and we’ll go to the hotel. We’ll drive past the airport on our way to the hotel if there is a team flying in to see if the buses are there to make sure that we got the times right,” said Daniels. In order to have a larger opportunity to get an autograph, all of the stops that the team could possibly make should be visited. This hunt in particular, Daniels is going to pick up Nook and head to downtown Milwaukee in hopes to get the autographs of some Milwaukee Brewers baseball players. Daniels quietly pulls the Prius into the parking lot of Nook’s dorm and texts Nook that he’s here. After waiting for a few minutes, Nook strides out of the dorm entrance, black backpack in hand in the same hat as Daniels but wearing a Brewers hoodie and sweatpants. Nook also has all of the essentials needed for a successful hunt in his backpack and sits shotgun, adjusting the seat ever so slightly back, with only a grin a fellow hunter could have. After pulling into the airport at 8:30PM, paying for parking and getting into the teams’ terminal, it’s a waiting game for Daniels and Nook. The question now is what will the players and coaches think when they see them waiting for them at the gate? They have every right to walk past Daniels and Nook, autograph items ready, ignoring them on their way to the bus. According to Bleacher Report, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams says, “It really makes me mad. You can spot them. On the road, people wait for our bus to pull into the hotel. Some of them have four or five things. Almost every time I say, ‘Are you selling this?’ If I think they’re selling it, I’m not signing.” Players and coaches alike are hesitant to sign. Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean adds, “It’s a shame a few people have to ruin it for everyone else. Players don’t know who to trust.” Coaches do notice and take note when they see the same hunters over and over again especially if they see more than one item with the hunter to have them sign. If they see these hunters, it’s a red flag. There’s a larger chance that the hunter will be selling those items after it gets signed, hindering the chance for other honest hunters to get a signature that they really wanted. According Yahoo Sports, Jaromir Jagr the current right wing for the New Jersey Devils hockey team, said, “I don’t mind to sign for the real fans, but I hate those people who are making money on it,” Jagr told NJ.com. “They get autographs, then sell them for big money. They just make it bad for real fans. […] I see those people, the same people who are signing for business and sometimes it’s ridiculous what they’ll do,” he said. “They’ll hire little kids. It’s a cheap way to use players to make money.” Not only can coaches recognize the repeat offending hunters, but also the athletes and they are not happy about it.

Jarom Jigar during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver courtesy of Wikipedia

Jarom Jigar during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver courtesy of Wikipedia

Roy Williams courtesy of CBS Sports

Roy Williams courtesy of CBS Sports

Tom Crean at an NCCA Basketball Tournament in 2012  courtesy of Zimbio

Tom Crean at an NCCA Basketball Tournament in 2012 courtesy of Zimbio

From the hunter’s perspective, it’s a tough pill to swallow if the athlete or coach decides not to sign. Daniel’s says, “Personally, it’s tough if you’re the only ones there and they decline to sign. I don’t think that much less of them because they’re just tired that they don’t really want to sign right now. But if they’re real jerks about it, I can kind of get a real bad opinion of them. But I understand that it must be personal space for them and a line that we shouldn’t cross. So if they don’t want to sign, just respect their decision and hope that they sign next time.” Respecting their decision can be tough when they decline a signature. But Daniels doesn’t worry about the outcome and keeps trying. “It’s hard sometimes to keep coming back but just the ‘not knowing’ whether or not they’ll sign the next time, there’s so many opportunities, you just have a feeling that it’s going to happen sooner or later. So if it’s not that one time, it could be the next. And if you don’t go and you find out that they signed, you’ll just beat yourself up. Because it’s like, I should’ve and could’ve done that. So, sometimes it gets difficult. It takes patience.” Autograph hunters are fighting a push back from the players and coaches because they are concerned that their signature will be sold even though Daniels does not sell any of his memorabilia that gets signed. After waiting for what seems like eternity, the Brewers walk out of their gate at the airport around 9:00PM in a scattered formation. Despite Nook and Daniels calling out to the players they wanted, the team walk by and heads to their bus. This isn’t the end for Daniels and Nook tonight. After waiting at the airport, “we’ll head to the hotel and usually we’ll get there early to get a good spot,” said Daniels. If the athletes and coaches don’t sign at the airport, the next destination will be the hotel. Nook uses different resources to find out when and where the team will be at all times. “I’ve gotten to know other autograph hunters by the years of hunting and helping them out and in return, they help me out. I usually contact these people through facebook or directly on the phone. I’ve found some of my autograph hunting friends through forums on facebook that are specifically dedicated to autograph hunters. […] They give me a lot of information about when people are going to be at certain places and whether they will be signing or not,” Nook said. In order to know the exact location of athletes and coaches, Nook has to do a lot of research by just using common knowledge and also the inside scoop. “Certain people know more about when basketball teams are going to be here versus baseball teams and musicians are going to be here. So the more people you know, the more information you’re going to have, which ultimately means a greater chance of autographs,” said Nook. Knowing people in the community is a very important first step for future autograph hunters, but in order to get into the autograph hunting community, it’s going to take some investigating. Autograph hunting has a very essential and secretive social aspect. Daniels says, “If you build good relations with other autograph hunters, you have a lot more opportunities for autographs, it seems. And if you’re a jerk to some of these guys, they can really screw you over and give you some false information and stuff like that.” In order to get a better chance at a signature, a hunter must also be respectful to the hunters around them. Daniels and Nook walk back to the Prius, hop in and drive downtown to the hotel. At 10:00PM, they arrive at the hotel and they stand in 30 degree Wisconsin weather in the middle of January outside a high-end hotel. It’s so cold that it hurts but this isn’t Daniels and Nook’s first rodeo. Daniels brought a winter jacket for both Nook and himself and they are ready for the long hall. After a 45 minute wait, the team bus arrives at the hotel and the players slowly start to exit. “If it’s a fly-in we just wait for the bus to arrive and then call for the players that we want off the bus,” said Daniels. In other words, Daniels and Nook are calling the names of the players that they are interested in getting a signature from as they exit their team bus. But in the frigid cold, not one player agrees to sign. So far, Daniels and Nook have been on the hunt for almost 3 hours and haven’t gotten one signature yet. So is all this work really worth it? Nook said, “Personally, I believe that it’s cheaper to hunt for the autograph yourself if you possibly can. My collection is around $50,000 to $75,000 and I’ve only spent maybe $5,000 to $6,000 getting them myself, so the rest of that money is all from me getting them signed and just having that value there.” Nook’s collection of personally hunted autographs could easily get him through four years of college and then some. But Nook decides not to sell any of his memorabilia and instead has it for safe keeping. But the profit made does not include all of the leg work involved. Daniels added, “If I drove out to the airport and the guy that I wanted signed, a nice ball for him to sign would cost about $20, it takes about $10 worth of gas to go downtown and back, and if you get the good guy that you want, it could be worth $100.” Weighing the options first is a good idea but both Daniels and Nook agree that it’s better to hunt then to buy. Though no one decided to sign at the hotel, Daniels and Nook decide to stick it out in hopes that a few players decide to go out to eat. “Sometimes after the bus leaves, depending on what night it is and what they have going on the next day, we’ll wait around the hotel and sometimes the players like to go out for food or to clubs. So we’ll wait and try and catch them on their way to wherever they’re going that night,” said Daniels. There is a possibility that even though the players are inside, they would decide to come out

Milwaukee Brewer Logan Schafer courtesy of MSBL MABL

Milwaukee Brewer Logan Schafer courtesy of MSBL MABL

anyways. According to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Logan Schafer in an email interview, the best time to ask him for a signature besides at the ballpark, would also be when he’s out with the team. “Depends on when and where. If I’m having dinner or spending time with my family, it’s tough to be interrupted but if I’m out with the team or at the ballpark, I don’t mind,” said Schafer. Another good opportunity to get a signature would be after they arrive at the hotel. Once again, this isn’t a sure thing but it’s definitely worth a shot.

Nook and Hutch ran into power forward Larry Sanders who currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks

While in downtown Milwaukee on an autograph hunt, Nook and Hutch ran into power forward Larry Sanders who currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks

Daniels and Nook wait outside the hotel into the early hours of the morning. Daniels says that the key of autograph hunting is a lot of patience, “I didn’t really realize how often or how long you have to wait sometimes outside the hotel to get the guy that you want. Just kind of how patient you have to be. Last year, we went to the hotel for baseball a couple of times and we didn’t stay as long as we did in these last couple of nights. But it’s worth it, I still enjoy it. I just didn’t realize how much work it takes.” In mid thirty degree weather at 12:30 in the morning, analyzing how much the autograph is actually needed is always in the back of the hunter’s mind. At 1:00AM on a school night, Ryan Braun exits the hotel when his taxi arrives. After being on the hunt for 5 hours, Daniels and Nook are first on the scene and call for Ryan’s autograph. At first, Braun ignores Daniels and Nook and replies by saying that he’s not signing tonight. But Daniels speaks up and tells Braun that they’ve been waiting in the cold for an hour and that he’d really appreciate him to sign. Braun hesitates and then agrees to sign quickly before getting into his cab. Daniels and Nook get his signature on fresh major league baseballs at 1:04AM and head home in hopes to get some shut eye before their 9:20AM class.   *Name was changed by request

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