New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics

“I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

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Scott Cacciola writes a fantastic and somewhat disturbing article in the New York Times about the people who camp out for Derek Jeter’s autograph at the Yankees training facility down in Tampa.

Cacciola outlines the whole, elaborate setup outside the facility. About the Yankees employee who shouts at the autograph seekers regarding the exact way they are to lineup and behave if they expect to get a chance at a Jeter autograph.  And that chance, Cacciola reports: about 10% that he’ll even sign. And if he signs, only a fraction of the people waiting outside will get an autograph.

He also writes about some of the specific people who take a whole heck of a lot of effort to try to get that signature:

“I guess I’ll have to come back again tomorrow if he doesn’t sign today,” said Melissa Davis, a patient-support technician at a hospital in nearby Clearwater, whose prize for showing up at 4 a.m. was the sixth spot in line, a prime piece of real estate. She had not slept in two days, she said. Or was it three? She was, by her own admission, bordering on delirium.

“I’m basically on a mission at this point,” said Davis, who kept herself occupied by reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” on her Kindle. “I want his autograph. You can’t really talk to him because he’s not going to sit and talk to you. So I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

I’ve written at length about my hangups with autographs. I don’t really understand the appeal. On a simple level, an autograph is proof that you were in the presence of someone famous. That you saw, in this instance, Derek Jeter, and he took a second to sign his name for you.  I’m not sure what that brief, exceedingly superficial interaction does for a person. You’ve seen Jeter on TV. If you’ve gone to Yankee Stadium you’ve seen him in person. If you’ve managed over the past 19 years to hit some Yankees event or another you may have very well seen him up close and in person. Maybe you even snapped his photograph.

But what does the autograph give you? Proof? What, no one will believe you when you say you saw him? A memory? Don’t you remember seeing him and don’t your memories of his thousands of games in pinstripes constitute much more meaningful and lasting memories?

I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never understood what autographs do for a person. I have a lot of autographs from when I was a kid. Hank Aaron is probably the biggest name. My favorite player from childhood, Alan Trammell, is the one I held most dear when I was younger.  But they don’t do much for me now.

They’re not even great reminders of when I got the actual autograph.  Both were at baseball card shows. Aaron’s was actually kind of depressing: he had all kinds of security around him and was at a high table so you couldn’t even get too close. You had to reach up high and place the card there, someone handed it to him, he signed, and they handed it back. You were instructed not to talk to him.  Trammell’s was not that crazy, but it was still kind of a cattle call.  I certainly get way more jazzed remembering Trammell play and reading about Aaron or watching whatever old footage of him I can find than I do remember “meeting” them.  The autographs are curios. Not much more.

I know those people who wait for Derek Jeter to sign his name feel very strongly about what they’re doing. And I presume they’ll value that autograph, if they’re lucky enough to get it, way more than I value the autographs I have.  I just don’t know why. It’s something I’ve never really been able to understand.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.