The ultimate guide to being a fan
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the June 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Advice courtesy of
Marcus Banks, Raja Bell, Casey Blake, Gretchen Bleiler, Anquan Boldin, Jeremy Bonderman, Paul Byrd, Orlando Cabrera, Chad Campbell, Luis Castillo, Sasha Cohen, Jimmy Conrad, Natalie Coughlin, Carl Crawford, Paula Creamer, Tara Dakides, Stacey Dales, Landon Donovan, Shay Doron, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Ray Emery, Andrew Ference, Steve Fisher, Aaron Fultz, Sergio Garcia, Devean George, Jason Giambi, Jamie Gold, Tatiana Golovin, Scott Gomez, Retief Goosen, Curtis Granderson, Kelly Gregg, Padraig Harrington, Devin Harris, William Henderson, Shea Hillenbrand, Evander Holyfield, Ryan Howard, Steven Jackson, Derek Jeter, Jimmie Johnson, Reed Johnson, Dhani Jones, Todd Jones, Kasey Kahne, Karch Kiraly, Ilya Kovalchuk, Ivory Latta, Kara Lawson, Matt Leinart, Kristi Leskinen, Tom Mastny, Dave Mirra, Heather Mitts, Craig Monroe, Blair Morgan, Alonzo Mourning, Pat Neshek, Lorena Ochoa, Geoff Ogilvy, Jose Maria Olazabal, Shaquille O'Neal, Danica Patrick, Jake Peavy, Jeret Peterson, Shaun Phillips, Josh Powell, Morgan Pressel, Daron Rahlves, Chad Reed, Claudio Reyna, Jason Richardson, Nate Robertson, Ben Roethlisberger, Myron Rolle, Jimmy Rollins, Quinton Ross, Brandon Roy, Angela Ruggiero, C.C. Sabathia, John Salmons, Adam Scott, Ryan Sheckler, Grady Sizemore, Craig Smith, John Smoltz, Annika Sorenstam, Jerry Stackhouse, Donte' Stallworth, Twitch Stenberg, James Stewart, Amaré Stoudemire, Jermain Taylor, Jason Terry, Ronny Turiaf, Chase Utley, Justin Verlander, Brian Vickers, Hakim Warrick, Danny Way, Vernon Wells, Seth Wescott, Ty Wigginton, Marcellus Wiley, Kevin Youkilis, Alexei Zhitnik.
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GETTING SOME (AT THE GAME)
Yes, athletes are all business at work. (Aren't you?) But, from what they say, that doesn't mean they won't take some time to sign. (As we're sure you would.)
"When I'm done taking batting practice, I sign autographs by the dugout. I'll also sign by first base in between taking grounders." --Jason Giambi, Yankees
"I don't encourage sneaking around, but let's just say you should get real close to the court." --Amaré Stoudemire, Suns
"Sunday morning, behind the trailer, in between all the meet-and-greets, I'm right out in the open and no one else is around." --Kasey Kahne
"On pro-am days, I don't have a problem signing between holes." --Paula Creamer
"Guys will drive by and stop, or sign before they get in their cars. I'd say 80 percent of players will stop." --Andrew Ference, Bruins
"Some of us don't like shaking people's hands before the game, because we don't want anything slippery or sticky on our hands." --Shaun Phillips, Chargers
PRO: Relaxed players have free time, fewer worries.
CON: Unless you live in Florida or Arizona, there's that price-of-travel thing.
PEARL OF WISDOM: "I tell people all the time, if you're an avid baseball fan, spring training is where you want to be. It's when guys are most fan-friendly." --Jake Peavy, Padres
PRO: Athletes are available and glad to have your support.
CON: You may have to cough up some cash to get in the door. C'mon, it's for a good cause.
PEARL OF WISDOM: "Guys are a lot more open at their events, because they want publicity for their work. I'll definitely sign anything you want." --Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals
PRO: Well, there is a reason they're called signings.
CONL There's also often a (cash) reason the athletes agree to sit for them.
PEARL OF WISDOM: "It's what I'm there for, to meet fans. I'm not distracted by other stuff." --Danica Patrick, IndyCar driver
PRO: Sparse crowds leave room to operate. Bonus: Groupies!
CON: There's a fine line between "seeker" and "stalker."
PEARL OF WISDOM: "There are people waiting for us at 2 a.m., and we just want to go to bed. But sometimes we sign anyway, because we know how long they've been there." --Devin Harris, Mavericks
NESHEK'S COLLECTION AGENCY
One of Pat Neshek's first baseball cards pictured him signing a ball, but he's always been just as comfortable on the other side of that transaction. The Twins reliever has been a serious collector since college, and he started his own webpage -- On the Road With Pat Neshek -- in 2004, largely as a place to trade cards. Since then, he's netted roughly 10,000 of them in return for signed copies of his cardboard likeness. In other words, memorabilia seekers, when he talks, you should listen.
"As odd as it may seem, many players will sign something you send them through the mail. The key is to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope. A lot of websites will even give you a player's rate of return, like SASE.
"The Staedtler is the pen of choice. It has a fine point, is easy to write with and its ink sticks to most surfaces. But the Sharpie is still a favorite, too. Collectors prefer blue.
"Many cards, like the new Topps, have a superglossy surface. Half the time they bubble up so badly, you can't even read the autograph. So before you get one signed, rub it down with baby powder or an eraser to create a base for the ink.
"Feel free to trade with me -- and to trade me. I'm trying to get all 25 of my refractor cards. I recently traded a Dice-K signed ball for one. Oh, and some of my teammates have auctioned their own gear on my website. Check it out. You never know who you'll get. It's kind of like Christmas every day."
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
(The 10 Commandments of The Hunt)
1. "At the top of the pipe at the U.S. Open, some guy screamed at me to sign his photo," says Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. "I finally gave in and walked over and he was holding a picture of Hannah Teter! I was like, 'I'll sign an autograph, but I'm not Hannah.' So here's my advice: Know who you're talking to."
2. "If you're an adult, don't come up to me with four or five things," says Warriors guard Jason Richardson. "You know they're going to sell it all on eBay. I'm not going to sign any of that."
3. "Biggest thing: have something to write with," says Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, Olympic aerialist. "I'm an athlete, not an office assistant. I don't do jumps with a Sharpie in my pocket."
4. "When people scream things like, 'Get over here, I'm paying your salary!' it makes me not want to come over," says Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia. "Don't scream at me. You'll be ignored if you do."
5. "Don't follow me home from the stadium," advises Yankees SS Derek Jeter. "People follow me all the time. It doesn't scare me, but I'm not going to sign."
6. "Here's a trick: Send the kid over," says Pats WR Donte' Stallworth. "I never turn down a kid for an autograph. In Miami not too long ago, I was late for a lunch meeting, but four or five kids recognized me at the hotel and wanted to talk. I didn't want to be rude, so I talked to them for a couple of minutes, signed some autographs. What was I supposed to do? You gotta hook up the kids."
7. "You know what's inappropriate? When fans get physical with you," says Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson. "One time, I was driving out of the players' parking lot when a rather large woman reached through the window to hug me. Who knows what else she could have done? I pulled back a little and she got the message. Please keep your distance."
8. "You should be sober," warns Thrashers forward Ilya Kovalchuk. "As long as a fan isn't drunk, I'll probably sign. Americans are not so bad about this, but it is a problem in Russia."
9. "Fans don't always understand the routines of the game, that we have a job to do," says Indians third baseman Casey Blake. "Right before a spring training game, a little girl leaned over the fence to ask for an autograph while I was in the middle of stretching. I turned and smiled at her. Then I heard some loudmouth scream, 'Just sign the girl's card!' Meanwhile, I had my leg in the air."
10. "Convince me you're a true fan," says Rams running back Steven Jackson. "I can tell by the sound of a person's voice what he wants. If you're excited about meeting me, maybe know something about me, I will always sign."
Approach us in public
Chill Out: "Someone will ask me to sign something while I'm on the phone, and if I say 'Hold on,' they're like, 'Screw you. I didn't want it, anyway. Go, Bengals.'" --Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Take the Direct Route: "If you want to approach me, go for it. Don't stare, don't circle, don't do the vulture fly. Just come over. It's Ping-Pong. If I want to serve or hit you back, I will." --Marcellus Wiley, NFL defensive end
Know Your Boundaries: "I found a worse place to be approached than a restaurant: my hotel room. At the U.S. Open, three guys knocked on my door at midnight to see if I wanted to go for a drink. I had to be up at 6. They were harmless, but they ended up coming around every night." --Tara Dakides, snowboarder
Kill Us With Kindness: "The friendlier the better. I like it when people introduce themselves and say, 'Nice to meet you.'" --Chase Utley, Phillies
Wait Your Turn: "Just don't interrupt a conversation. That's why the best time to meet me is if I'm standing by myself, not in a group." --Devin Harris, Mavericks
Do Nothing: "I'm a people-watcher. I hate small talk. I can tell if we'll get along without you even saying a word. I can just tell if you'll annoy the s--- out of me, or if I'll annoy the s--- out of you." --Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Meet us in a restaurant
Parental Guidance Suggested: "I'm not a germaphobe or anything, but I'd just washed my hands, preparing to enjoy a meal with my wife, and this little kid flops in the seat in front of me and plops the pen onto the table. I could see his parents nearby going, 'Yeah, do it!'" --William Henderson, NFL fullback
Mind Their Business: "When I'm with my kids, don't try anything. Especially when I'm eating dinner -- except at my restaurant, Stoudemire's Downtown, in Phoenix. [Ed.'s note: happy hour, weekdays 4:30-7 p.m.] I'll hang out there and sign autographs all day." --Amaré Stoudemire, Suns
Flush the Urge: "I have people see me go into the bathroom and hop up to try to catch me in there. It's just weird." --Shaun Phillips, Chargers
Timing Is Everything: "Come up before I order or after I've eaten, not during the meal, especially if I'm with my family. It's their time too." --Jason Giambi, Yankees
Don't Fool Yourself: "Somebody will break in by saying, 'I didn't want to come over here ' Well, then, why did you?" --Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers
Find Kelly Gregg: "Just come up to me! I don't care if I'm eating. But it's always nice if you buy me a beer while you're at it!" --Kelly Gregg, Ravens
Hit on us
Don't Front: "Don't pretend you don't know who I am, especially in Arizona. One girl came up to me, acting all clueless. I knew she was a groupie. Also, don't approach me when I'm with my friends or when you're with yours. If I shoot you down, that'll be embarrassing for both of us." --Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals
Open Up: "I want to know about you. Let's talk about stuff that matters, not silly stuff." --Carl Crawford, Devil Rays
No Shop Talk: "Don't talk about tennis! I don't want somebody to want me just because of the game I play. Talk about something else." --Tatiana Golovin, WTA
Be George Clooney : "Smart, athletic, good-looking, in good shape, confident, polite and funny. That will pretty much do it. --Paula Creamer, LPGA
Or Jessica Alba: "If you're smoking hot, you're not going to get shot down." --Grady Sizemore, Indians
Drop the Shtick: "Don't pull one-liners. The worst thing to say is something stupid like 'I bet you could beat me up.'" --Angela Ruggiero, U.S. women's hockey team
Bone Up: "If I'm trying to get to know Angelina Jolie, I'm not going to talk to her about acting. I'll talk to her about her travels. I'm into poetry, so use that angle. Do your research." --Dhani Jones, NFL linebacker
SETTING YOUR SIGHTS
We tend to focus on the primary action. But athletes say when we do, we miss out on half the fun.
"Check the trash- talk," says Chargers LB Shaun Phillips. "If a head is bouncing, the guy is talking. That's usually me. As a rookie, I kept telling a Jet how ugly he was. He finally said, 'Shut up, I'm rich.' I didn't have that kind of money yet. He won that one."
"After the game, check out the players in need of media attention," says Florida State rover Myron Rolle. "They walk off the field very slowly, right past the reporters, hoping to be asked for an interview. It's a pretty funny sight."
"Not everyone realizes how physical our game is," says Heather Mitts of the U.S. women's soccer team. "Even when the ball isn't around you, all sorts of cheap things are going on. People step on your toes and won't get off. You name it, it happens."
"After the game, look for me to toss my headband into the crowd," warns Mavericks guard Jason Terry. "Some lucky fan is going home smiling."
"Watch the elbowing that goes on among the photographers on the apron," says boxer Jermain Taylor. "Sometimes their fights to get the best shot are better than what is going on in the ring."
"Most people in the stands don't realize how gnarly and rough the track gets," says snocross champ Blair Morgan. "Walk the course at the end of the day, and you can see how deep the holes are."
"The race to the helipad" rivals any final-lap sprint, according to Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson. "Everyone has a souped-up golf cart, and it's all about having the mobility to squeeze through the crowd. Four or five helicopters shuttle us from the track to our planes, and if you don't get to your plane first, you'll wait to take off for hours."
Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis says "watch guys act out superstitions, little things like jumping over lines, on-deck routines, the way they take the mound or go to the rosin. David Eckstein and Nomar are the most fun."
And finally, Nextel Cup driver Brian Vickers offers this practical advice: "Pay attention to our cars as we come in and out of the garage. Some fans are too busy looking for drivers. You can get hit. I haven't hit a fan yet, but I've come close."
WHERE TO SIT
Nobody knows the best seat in the house like the jocks who play there.
Baseball: Behind the plate. "People think anything down the first or third baseline is a nice seat -- until they get there. I always say that's the worst place because you can get hit -- and hurt really seriously -- by a foul ball." --Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
Basketball: Center court, 15 rows back. "When I'm a spectator, I like to be up a bit so I can look down on the action and see the plays develop." --Kara Lawson, Monarchs
Boxing: Midlevel. "Most people think the best place to watch from is the first five rows. But sitting ringside, you have to look up through the ropes. Sit a little higher, and it's like the way you see a fight on TV." --Jermain Taylor, WBC and WBO middleweight champ
Football: Behind the end zone. "You can see the linemen pull, see how the holes open, see every cut I make. It's the best place to see a play unfold." --Steven Jackson, Rams
Golf: Between adjacent holes. "Check the course map to see which holes run parallel. That way you can catch two holes without walking too much." --Morgan Pressel
Hockey: Behind the bench, 15-20 rows up. "When you are right against the glass, you miss every important part of the game. I don't know why people think those are the best seats." --Scott Gomez, Devils
Motocross: Near the triples. "That's where all the cool stuff happens." --James Stewart
NASCAR: End of front straightaway, going into Turn 1. "Down by the fence is the best place -- other than my seat." --Carl Edwards
Soccer: Midfield, midlevel. "A suite is nice, but if you want the real atmosphere, midfield is as good as it gets. You don't want to be too low, though. Halfway up, you get a view of the whole field." --Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
Tennis: Along the baseline. "On the side, you have to move your head back and forth too much." --Tatiana Golovin