SURPRISE, ARIZ. -- John is a retiree from the Twin Cities. He and his wife have a winter place in Apache Junction. That's a long haul across the Valley of the Sun to Surprise, which was the location for the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game on Saturday night.
John's a fan of baseball and the Twins and he picked up on this autograph-seeking hobby over a decade ago: He goes to many Fall League games trying to get the names of the game's top prospects signed on regulation MLB baseballs.
"If there's a card for the player, I might ask for him to sign that, but mostly I'm trying to get autographs on a baseball,'' he said.
It was by happenstance that I was sitting next to John on Saturday night. There were 5,000 or more fans at the AFL's showcase game. Admission was free and there was an attempt at AFL games throughout October to hustle up some interest, so there would be some people in the seats for the MLB Network telecast of the All-Star Game.
We were sitting 15 rows back behind home plate, and I overheard John talking on a cell phone to his wife, who was back home in Minnesota. He was giving a scouting report on various players, based on their level of cooperation when it came to signing autographs.
His wife was watching the MLB telecast and John was giving a glowing report on Alex Meyer, a Twins' prospect and the starting pitcher for the "West Division'' in this six-team league.
"The big kid on the mound ... that's Alex Meyer from the Twins,'' John said. "He's a great guy. He signed three baseballs for me and a couple of other things.''
There was a response from his wife and John said: "He's in center field right now. He's a ... sort of a pain in the butt.''
This was a reference to Byron Buxton, the not-yet-20-year-old center fielder from the Twins. He wound up No. 1 on most prospect lists after the 2013 minor league seasons. The fact he is this year's No. 1 has made Buxton the top priority for autograph seekers during the six weeks of Arizona Fall League competition.
When John got off the call with his missus, I introduced myself and asked about his review of Buxton. "He's tough,'' John said. "He doesn't stop and sign routinely. When he does sign, he will sign for 100 people. I have one baseball signed by him. That's it.''
John paused, thought for a minute and said: "I suppose you can't blame the kid. If he stopped every time someone asked for a autograph, he'd be signing all day. Buxton's the guy everyone wants.''
John had his list from a Website of the top 25 prospects in the Fall League. He had acquired the autographs on baseballs from nearly all of them. These can become valuable in future exchanges as the Fall League graduates reach the majors.
He was able to get several baseballs signed by Bryce Harper when the phenom was assigned here as a teenager by the Washington Senators. This week, he was able to trade one of his Harper-signed baseballs to another collector for two signed Harmon Killebrew cards from early in Harmon's career, other signed goodies and a couple of thick packets of old-time Twins' cards.
"Can you believe I got all of this for one Harper baseball?'' John said.
At that moment, a hitter from the West hit a ground ball that went straight through the wickets of a large young man playing third base.
"Is that Kris Bryant?'' I asked, referring to the slugging third baseman who went to the Cubs, rather than dropping to the Twins, in last June's draft.
"Yeah, that's him,'' Bryant said. "He's the nicest young man in Arizona. He signs for everybody.''
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