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The Ball: A 45-year-old memory of minor league ball, autographs, and Bobby Grich

Up next in our Opening Day marathon, Zeke McGeek shares with us a story of his youth and why the most fun of autographs is getting them.

John Sekol

To be honest, I've never really understood autographs. I mean, what good are they? The whole process of collecting them, pushing and shoving with everybody else, begging for somebody's attention, just seems so intrusive. You're invading someone's private space. If I were famous, I would hate that. And for what? Some incomprehensible scribble that could be easily faked by any amateur, or duplicated by a machine? What's so special about that? I've never had any interest in autographs, with one notable exception.

It occurred between 1969-1971. While the Baltimore Orioles were going to three consecutive World Series, their AAA farm team, the Rochester Red Wings, had a bunch of players waiting for their shot at the big time, and compiling a pretty good record themselves. In '69 and '70, they were managed by Cal the Elder and had winning records. In '71, they finally broke out, with Joe Altobelli as manager, winning the International League regular season title, the Governor's Cup, and the Junior World Series. These teams included a host of past and future major leaguers, including the 1970 and '71 Minor League Players of the Year, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, respectively. Even though Ron Shelton never got to the majors, he parlayed his time in minor league ball into Bull Durham.

I was finally old enough to go to Red Wings games without adult supervision, whenever I could beg my parents for a ride, or tag along with some friends. I have no memory of why I decided to get players to sign my baseball. Did it look like fun? Was it a way to kill time before the game started? Did I think it would be filled with the signatures of future Hall of Famers? No clue. But, I do have three distinct memories from that process:

  • It was much easier to get an autograph if you were a pretty girl. At the time, I didn't understand that. I mean, they probably weren't even baseball fans. They were girls, for crying out loud!
  • If I yelled Don Baylor's name long and loud enough that he couldn't just ignore me any more, he would give me a death stare that still gives me chills when I think about it. I never did get him to sign.
  • Bobby Grich was the ultimate in Southern California surfer-dude cool. Always smiling, joking with the fans, having a blast. He was just so smooth, in the field, at the plate, or hanging out with us mere earthlings. I became a huge fan for the rest of his career, and looked for him in the box scores every day, long after he left the O's for the Angels.

So, maybe this ball is special. Somehow, it has survived 45 years, through multiple moves, basement floods, the Great Garage Purge of '75 (bye-bye Spider-Man comics), and an ex-wife who thought it belonged in a garage sale. For another thing, almost every signature is legible. Hadn't these guys learned that they could just scrawl something that approximated their name? Have you ever tried to write legibly on a curved surface? It's not that easy. But, here's something else I discovered while writing this piece. Grich signed his name "Bobby". No big deal, that's what he always went by. But, check on e-bay, do a Google image search for his autograph, and you'll see that virtually everything is signed "Bob". I'm sure it was just easier to sign that way. But, I have a "Bobby". Mine is special. OK, maybe I do understand it a little bit now.

John Sekol, aka Zeke McGeek, is a retired engineer and fan of the Rochester Red Wings and Baltimore Orioles since the early 1960's. He recently moved from Rochester, NY to Las Vegas, and keeps busy during retirement by performing standup comedy and working at minor league games for Baseball Info Solutions. You can check out his website (johnsekol.com), or follow him on Facebook or Twitter @SekolMatter.

The stories presented as part of the 2016 Camden Chat Opening Day Marathon are written by members of our community. To add your voice to the site please consider writing a FanPost.