Friday, November 3, 2017

Ballpark Tour #1: PNC Park

Earlier this year, I wrote about my trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to attend a Jaromir Jagr autograph signing. Subsequently, I have not written a blog post since. But in that post I also included several photos from the outside of PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Being that it was March, the Pirates were over one thousand miles away at their Spring Training facility in Bradenton, Florida, so my best look inside came through a wrought iron fence beyond the center field wall. Take a look:


After seeing how beautiful the ballpark was from the exterior, I became increasingly anxious to visit again and attend a game. In August of this year, I got my opportunity to see the San Diego Padres take on the Pirates at PNC Park.


Before I even entered the stadium, I was already impressed by the Pirates' ticket prices. Granted, by August the Pirates were several games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, and the Padres were being their typical Padre-like selves, but for a Saturday night game, my twelfth row ticket behind the San Diego dugout was under $50.00 (fees included). Maybe I'm just used to the Southern California tradition of price gouging everyone literally everywhere, but $50.00 seemed like a great deal. 

In the photo above you can see some dark gray clouds in the background. Right as the game was scheduled to begin, there was a downpour of rain that lasted roughly five minutes. I hadn't seen that much rain since my trip to Spring Training in 2014, when the first ten rows of the stadium were completely under water before they finally cancelled the game. But the rain stopped shortly after and, thankfully, it never returned. After a twenty minute delay the first pitch was thrown, and I went to explore the stadium a bit.


My first order of business was to head up to the nosebleeds to get a behind-the-plate shot of the stadium. On my way up one of the famous PNC Park roundabouts, I took a photo of Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the distance. 


There isn't much to say about PNC's backdrop. It's the best in all of sports.

After snapping a few more photos, I made my way out to right field. Can you see the space between the digital scoreboard in right field and the elevated bleachers above it? There's a chain-link fence between the scoreboard and the stands, with a row of seats behind it. Most baseball fans will know what I'm talking about, but what I didn't know is that the Pirates let anyone sit there during regular games.


One thing I'm definitely not accustomed to is that kind of hospitality. Earlier this season at Angel Stadium, I was yelled at by an usher for trying to sit in left field during the ninth inning of an 8-1 game. There were three people in the entire section...

On to a less bitter note, here are more pictures of PNC's beauty:


One of my favorite quirks about PNC is the boat parking. Yep, boat parking. There are numerous spots along the river-walk for patrons to tie down their boats and leave them for the game. You can see a couple of boats tied down in the second photo.

Another impressive part of PNC Park was their "Pirates Authentics" stand. This is where the Pirates sell all sorts of game used and autographed items. Not only were the Pirates items reasonably priced, but they also had a cool selection of memorabilia from non-Pirate players.



One of my biggest regrets (autograph-wise, at least) is not getting Tony Gwynn to sign a jersey while I had the opportunity to. Still, the two Gwynn baseballs that remain in my collection, both signed in person, will always be cherished. As for the other items in the case, I can spot bats signed by Hank Aaron and Bo Jackson, jerseys signed by Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr, Robin Yount, and Steve Carlton, and, for some reason, a Josh Bell 8x10.

The Padres led throughout and scored two insurance runs in the eighth inning, winning 5-2. The Padres starter, Dinelson Lamet, threw five no-hit innings, but gave up a base hit to Bell in the sixth. 

Since this is an autograph blog, here is a picture of Roger Staubach signing my jersey the next morning outside of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.


The reason why I decided to write about PNC Park is because there are very few sites that give people an actual, in depth look at different ballparks and arenas. PNC was the seventeenth MLB park that I have visited, and none of them have looked anything like the pictures I've seen online. I've always enjoyed reading excerpts from a fan's perspective rather than someone who gets paid to travel from ballpark to ballpark (Although I must admit, that sounds like an incredible job). With that said, my pictures do not give PNC its proper justice. It is truly the most beautiful ballpark in the country, if not the world, and I highly encourage every baseball fan to put PNC Park on top of their bucket list.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh: 3/18/17

I mentioned in my last post that I would still try to write about the occasional signing or two. While it's difficult to write about every event that I attend, I still enjoy sharing my photos and experiences with the friends that I've made. So here I am, with a recap of one of my favorite trips in recent memory.

I made the 2,500 mile journey to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a signing with hockey icon, Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is second all-time in points, trailing only "the Great One" Wayne Gretzky. There's also a good chance that Jagr will surpass the late Gordie Howe for second most goals by the time he retires. If he retires.

Most people will think I'm crazy for traveling so far to meet just one hockey player. They're probably right, but the airfare was cheap and it was a chance to check out a new city. The city itself did not disappoint. I didn't have low expectations, but I had never thought of Pittsburgh as being an exceptionally nice city.  Of course my first stop was downtown and PNC Park.




My only complaint about the entire trip is that the signing didn't happen three weeks later, when the Pirates would be in town. PNC Park should be on every baseball fan's "bucket list" and it looked awfully beautiful even from the outside. I'll add it to the list of ballpark's that I have visited (which is up to seventeen) for now, but I'd really like to attend a game there in the near future.

The signing itself went very smoothly with zero issues. I was about three hundredth in line and yet it took less than two hours to get through. Everybody in line got to talk to Jagr and get a photograph with him. Props to Total Sports Enterprise, who hosted the event. I really wish more signings were this well-run.




All four items came out great and Jagr was very friendly. I was a bit concerned that he might have a problem doing so many inscriptions on the jersey, but there were zero issues. Also, for a man born and raised in Czechoslovakia, Jagr has surprisingly nice hand writing.

There was only one things left to do: watch Jagr in action. I attended the Florida Panthers - Pittsburgh Penguins game the next morning at the newly-named PPG Paints Arena (what a horrible name for an arena, by the way). The arena is one of the newest in the NHL and lived up to expectations. The Panthers got outplayed by the defending Stanley Cup Champs, and Sidney Crosby scored a natural hat-trick. It was cool seeing the best player in the game accomplish a rare feat in a season in which he should win MVP. 



I left the game a few minutes early to stop at Primanti Bros. on the way to the airport. They invented quite possibly the greatest sandwich on the face of the planet: meat, french fries, coleslaw, and onions on Italian bread. I went with no coleslaw and it was easily a 10 out of 10.


A proper way to end a very enjoyable and memorable trip. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

March - August 2016

Here's what I have been up to the past few months. Make sure to read the final paragraph for an important update on the future of this blog. 

March:

I never got around to writing a full Spring Training recap, so I wanted to briefly cover some of my favorite items from my annual Arizona trip. One of the first autographs that I got came from 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, Barry Larkin. This still stands as one of my favorite "free" successes of the year.


If you haven't read my Willie Mays post, I encourage you to do so. Those were two of my favorite memories from AZ. Ironically, my other two favorite memories weren't baseball related. Brian Urlacher posted a last-minute autograph signing on his Twitter. After rushing to the nearest Sports Authority (RIP), my friend and I made our way over to the signing. It was so last-minute, in fact, that we were the only two people in line when Urlacher arrived.


Another great memory that I made in Arizona was getting hockey legend Jaromir Jagr. This was arguably my favorite experience in my five years of collecting, and if you're curious about the story, feel free to ask the next time you see me around.


April:

April was a slow month as I was still transitioning from hockey to baseball. For the majority of the month I was much more concerned with the Anaheim Ducks' short-lived playoff run than I was with the Angels getting off to another slow start. However, one of my favorite "break downs" of the year did come in the first week of April. 


I have a long history with Kris Bryant, going back to his days at USD and even in the weeks after he was drafted. He's always been a great guy with his fans so I'm glad to see him doing well at the major league level. 

Another guy who is great with the fans is Jake Arrieta. It's really nice to see that some guys haven't let one good year go completely to their heads.


May:

May was, undoubtedly, one of my favorite months of the year. It started off with one of my favorite teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, coming to Anaheim for an interleague series. Despite hearing some bad stories, I was able to get Yadier Molina to sign a baseball. Even though it's side-paneled, it was a pretty neat experience to get Yadi's autograph for the first time. 


Several days later, I was able to meet and shake the hand of one of my sports hero's just weeks after he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.


To cap off May, I was able to go on-field for batting practice prior to an Angels vs. Astros game. After five years and nearly 200 games attended at Angel Stadium, and this was my first opportunity to watch BP from the field.


To make things even better, I was able to get autographs from Mike Trout and Carlos Correa.


June:

June was my first month of summer vacation, and my brother-in-law and I celebrated with a road trip to Arizona to meet hockey phenom Max Domi. I got several things signed by Domi, but the pucks were two of my favorites.


We also attended a Diamondbacks game later that night, which was a lot of fun. I went to the 2011 Home Run Derby at Chase Field, but had never watched a D-Backs game until that night.

One of the nicest teams to visit Anaheim this season was the Minnesota Twins. The entire team from the coaching staff to the players were all very friendly. Looking back, I'm awfully glad that I got Max Kepler despite everyone asking me "Who is that?".


I also got Joe Mauer's autograph on a baseball. Even though his career has taken a turn for the worse, he was still one of the most dominant players in baseball for a solid half-decade.


July:

July was another fun month highlighted by the 2016 MLB All-Star Game in San Diego. However, the month started off with a different trip to San Diego for the New York Yankees. After a full day's worth of denials, I finally accomplished my one-and-only goal for the series.


I guess that there's some relevance to it now, but at the time I was just relieved to have gotten it signed. Despite all of the controversy, I'm sad to see Alex Rodriguez go. I'm also happy to have gotten three A-Rod autographs in the final three times that I saw him.

All-Star weekend was a lot of fun, but also involved a lot of "work". I know that I won't get much sympathy, but I was going on about ten hours of sleep over three days. I was able to snag several nice autographs, including three of my favorites below:


The players, top to bottom, are Max Scherzer, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado, who has a gorgeous autograph **sarcasm**. Some other All-Stars that I got include Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez, and Matt Carpenter.

My final autograph of the month came from Chris Sale. I'm a big believer in Sale and he'll likely finish near the top of Cy Young voting again. Just don't ask him to wear any throwback unis.


August:

August started of with my second consecutive trip to the National Sports Collectors Convention. One of the main reasons why I chose the National was because Martin Brodeur was scheduled to sign. Brodeur is arguably the greatest hockey goalie of all-time, and isn't a very good signer in person. I got a few items done but this authentic CCM jerseys was by far my favorite. 


I also had, arguably, the greatest third baseman of all time, Mike Schmidt, and the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, sign a couple of baseballs.


My favorite experience of the week was meeting Curt Schilling. Take a look at the picture below and notice the hat that I'm wearing:


The first thing that Curt said to me was, "Well which is it? Red Sox or Blue Jays?" I replied, "A bit of both, I just like baseball," and in the middle of my sentence, Curt cuts me off and goes "Ah you damn Canadians". It was really a great moment and you can see that we're still laughing in the photo.


Since this year's show was in New Jersey, I was able to check out three new ballparks on the east coast, bringing my lifetime total up to fourteen.


Camden Yards was my favorite of the three, and it's every bit as advertised. Yankee Stadium is incredible, but it's almost too glamorous and takes away some of the ballpark feel. Nationals Park is nice, but it's almost the opposite of Yankee Stadium; It needs more glamour. I'd still take any three over Angel Stadium of Anaheim of Los Angeles of Orange County.

My final adventure of August was going after the Pittsburgh Pirates in Los Angeles. In under an hour I had gotten everything that I wanted signed, including this David Freese game used jersey.


I was also able to get former NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen, for the first time.


Some other great autographs that I got this season, but didn't include, are Connor McDavid, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Ray Bourque, Adam Jones, Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Mike Piazza, Ozzie Smith, Rod Carew,  Salvador Perez, Paul Molitor, Jose Altuve, and many more.

My main reasoning for this post is to provide a bit of closure. I started this blog back in November of 2012, inspired by David of David's Autograph Signings and Ryan of RBI Collecting. Ironically, they would become two of my best friends and we have shared many great memories, some that we've blogged about, some that we haven't. There are many consequences, both good and bad, when it comes to writing an in-person autograph blog. The good includes meeting some great collectors across the country, sharing fun experiences, and helping people by responding to comments and emails. The bad includes sometimes sharing too much information, making life harder for you and your friends, and, of course, the time it takes to write each post. Some posts take me five minutes, but others can take hours. In an age where social media rules, it seems pointless to download photos onto my laptop, log in to google, write up an entire post, and edit it, when I can simply click the Instagram or Facebook apps on my phone and have the same autographs posted in under a minute. With that said, I simply do not have the time to consistently write up blog posts anymore. It's the reason why my last post came in March, and believe me, I feel guilty about it. In all likelihood, this will be my final large blog post. I may log on, here and there, to post an autograph or two, but gone are the days when I was able to do game-by-game recaps, or individual signing recaps. However, there are still ways to follow my collection. You can follow my autograph account on Instagram ( @mcsautos ) where I actively post new autographs that I get. This is a private account, so if you request to follow, please leave a comment below so I know who to accept. I know that some bloggers have made the transition to social media, but if you have not, I encourage you to check out Instagram. There are thousands of autograph and card collecting accounts. It's an easy way to post new items and keep in touch with other collectors. I doubt anyone will be too devastated by this news, but I do hope that most of my 216,032 readers have enjoyed some of my posts. Thank you to everyone who has consistently read and/or commented over the years, and thank you to those who survived this entire post. It's been fun.

-Matt 

P.S. I've been having a hard time trying to get the font to work properly on this post. I think it's a pretty clear sign that it's time to quit.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Willie Mays: 3/6/16

I'll get around to posting a full Spring Training recap, but this man deserves a post of his own. The "Say Hey Kid" Mr. Willie Mays...


Had someone told me that I'd get the opportunity to meet Willie Mays, I probably wouldn't have believed them. After all, he is 84, not in the greatest of health, and he's just one of those iconic figures that you could never even dream of meeting. But as we (a friend and myself) were on our way back to California, I found out about a special event and high-tailed it back to Phoenix. The event was far from free, but it was worth every penny.


For those that don't know, Mays can't physically sign in pen. He actually hasn't been able to for a few years now. His eye sight and grip is too bad to hold a pen, so he has to sign everything in Sharpie. I knew that going into the event, but I was surprised at how many people did not.

It was an amazing opportunity to meet Mr. Mays and a memory that I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Sure, I could go online and buy an autographed baseball, but that doesn't even compare to meeting him, shaking his hand, and getting a photograph with him. Again, I'll have a full Spring Training recap soon. Thanks for reading.