Thursday, May 2, 2019

April 2019 Graphing Road Trip with Chris


Chris had Spring Break last week, and very quickly, I put together an 8-city road trip that started on April 18 with the first ever home game of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.
We enjoyed the pre-game festivities and also hanging out with my good friend, Jackson.  We were able to figure out the graphing layout at the park pretty easily, and were able to come away with some autographs.
I was able to get my first 2019 Bowman signed at this game.  I had picked up a hobby box recently, and was eager to go ahead and add some of the cards to my autograph album.
These Contenders cards came from a LCS in the area, and turned out really well.
The Jason Kantzler was in my Bowman box for a long time.  I haven't had many opportunities lately to dip that far back in the Bowman years for cards to sign, but I was able to get some of those taken care of during this trip.  The Stars and Stripes Seth Beer is one I pulled last year, but lost in my sea of cards.  Luckily, I found it when I wasn't looking for it, and was able to get it signed.
I was really excited to finally get some more 2013 Perfect Game cards signed and out of my box.  I had grabbed a couple boxes of these cards at a National a couple years ago.
I did pretty well graphing the Woodpeckers, and got the only Mudcat signed, but his cards will show up later in this entry.  We had to leave the game early, so we could be in our next city at a reasonable time.

Our next stop was Columbia, SC, to see the Hickory Crawdads take on the Columbia Fireflies.  We pulled into my Brother's house late Thursday night, and slept.  The next day, I prepped cards for some of upcoming legs of our trip and kept an eye on the weather.  We got tickets to the game, and were able to get into the stadium, but the game never started, and the Fireflies players never really came out of the tunnel.  I wasn't able to get any graphs, but since the game rained out, we went back to my brother's place, played cards and had a good time.  The next day, Chris and I embarked on the "hotels" portion of the trip that I had planned, when we traveled about an hour and 15 minutes erst of Columbia to North Augusta, SC.

It was a lot cooler and drearier when we arrived in Augusta, but I was determined to keep the trip from washing out.  We got there about 2 hours before the gates opened, so Chris and I walked around the ballpark.  We watched some of the Augusta Greenjackets take BP in the cages, and then stood and waited for the gates to open.
The Greenjackets have a really nice ballpark, and according to Greg Colbrunn, a much better one that what they used to have.  The graphing scene there was pretty light; we met one other, older grapher, who was nice enough to point out some players for us.
We started pregame by graphing down the right field line where the Greenjackets came out.  We were able to get Jacob Gonzalez really quickly.  He is the son of former big leaguer, Luis Gonzalez.
I've had these Gonzalez cards for a while, so I was glad to get some of them signed and into my album.
Sean Hjelle was the starting pitcher, so we had to wait for him to sign after the game.  Some of the Greenjacket pitchers we had to get outside of the stadium, as well.
I learned at this moment that 18 Bowman Draft cards need to be prepped, as this Jake Wong card bubbled badly.  I wish I had prepped this one, but in the end, the card doesn't look all that bad.
Seth Corry was one of the pitchers who we had to wait outside for.  The setup in Augusts is that the opposing team exits their clubhouse beneath the scoreboard on the inside, and most of the Greenjacket players exit a side door outside, not too far from where we were waiting on Charleston guys.  In the end, we got everyone to sign that we were looking for.
Greg Colbrunn was a last minute box search prior to our leaving on the trip.  I brought a few boxes of cards with me on the trip, but I didn't want to bring my older Topps stuff.  This ended up being a great idea, because as the trip unfolded, sleep would become much more valuable than time to search boxes.
Because we got Gonzalez so quickly, and seeing that most of the Greenjacket pitchers had come out in hoodies, I called an audible and ran to the opposing dugout to try to knock off some of the Charleston players' cards.  We were able to get several of them pregame, as well, and by the time we left, we got everyone we had set out to get.
I was really lucky that I had noticed Josh Stowers on the Charleston roster.  I found a couple of his cards, including this Franchise Futures Bowman.  I narrowly missed Logan Gilbert later during the trip, or I would have had a really nice dual card competed.  Not to worry, though, I ended up completing some really nice multi-player cards while graphing on this trip.

We graphed outside after the game, then set out to our next stop that night, or at least as far as I could get before I finally gave in and stopped at a hotel for the night.  The next morning, we would prep some more cards and head north to Nashville, TN.

Nashville had been on my radar ever since I heard that they were to become the Rangers AAA team.  This made it easy to see a few former Wood Ducks in action again, and also ended up being a good time to see some former Mudcats as well.  This was not by design, but turned out to be a nice blessing.
We were able to catch a double header the first day we were in Nashville.  The San Antonio Missions were in town; they are the Brewers AAA affiliate.  We were able to see some guys we hadn't seen in a while who used to be Mudcats.  I was especially excited to see Keston Hiura again.  Also, we got some pretty sweet seats for the first day, right directly behind home plate.
I enjoyed the country legends race, which was pretty cool.
Chris doesn't like to smile a whole lot in his pictures, but I take what I can get.  He was getting a little irritated with the graphing, but that would change as the trip progressed.
 We were able to see CD Pelham outside of the stadium before the first game.  He remembered us from the Wood Ducks games and thanked us for coming to Nashville.  The second day we were there, we graphed outside again, and this time, as he walked up, he asked if Chris and I had tickets to that day's game.  I told him that we hadn't bought them yet, and he produced two tickets for Chris and I to use.  That was a really awesome gesture by CD.  So, prior to that game, Chris asked CD to pose with him, and we snapped this picture.
Nashville has a really nice ballpark, and seeing the skyline in the background is really nice.  We didn't get to see much of the city at all, but we did spend the night there.
Another highlight of the stop in Nashville was that this was the part of the trip where my awesome friend, Andrew, was able to meet up with us.  Andrew was providing a place for Chris and I to stay later on during the trip, and was able to break away and graph the second day in Nashville with us.
We also graphed postgame outside of the stadium, and ran into CD Pelham one more time.  We thanked him again for the tickets, and he hugged me and thanked us for coming out.  He wished us well on the rest of our trip, and really showed us why we have been rooting for him all this time.
Graphing in Nashville was super easy for us each day.  The first day, Chris and I had met up with two guys I knew from Instagram, twins Marshall and Preston.  They directed Chris and I where to stand to get autos, and really helped out.

Chris and I were able to get a lot of cards done on the first day, which allowed us to help Andrew out the second day.  The above Bowman Brewers Talent Pipeline card was one of my favorites that I was able to get done.  I had actually gotten Keston Hiura on it first, last year with the Mudcats.  Then, I got Luis Ortiz this year at Orioles Fan Fest, and finally was able to get Mauricio Dubon after the second game of the double header.
I also was able to complete the Recommended Viewing card with Tristan Lutz that I started at the beginning of the trip in Fayetteville.  Also, the 2019 Bowman Ready for the Show card turned out really well.
I am not ashamed to admit that we hit Hiura hard on this trip.  He limited us on signatures, but with a little help, we got all but 2 of the cards we brought signed.  He is a super prospect, and I think he is going to be a really good major leaguer, so I was glad to get everything signed that I could.  I ended up with no duplicates, so that's fair.  I finished those dual cards for my friend, Gerard, and he let me keep one, which was nice.
Graphing in Nashville isn't terribly hard, but you pretty much have to commit to one team.  Getting the home team is a bit tougher inside, since they come directly out of a stairwell inside their dugout.  The opposing team comes out an adjacent stairwell, and has to walk across the field to their dugout.  We were able to stand by the home dugout and get a few guys.  I also almost got bowled over on the second day in this spot postgame by an older grapher, but really had a good experience here.
Compiling cards for San Antonio was really easy because of the former Mudcats on the team.  I already had their cards separated, since I missed a bunch of them when they were moved up.  Guys like Lucas Erceg, Corey Ray and Troy Stokes, Jr. were really easy to locate in my Bowman box.  It was unfortunate, however, that Corey Ray was on the DL and wasn't on the trip to Nashville.
I was super excited to finally get the Troy Stokes cards out of my box.  I had just missed him when he was with the Mudcats, for some reason, so I had a bunch of his stuff.  I finished everything off that I brought on the trip.  I say this, because when I got back home, I found his 2017 Mudcats team card stuck to another card in my box.  Oh well.
There were some guys who were a bit tougher to find, and also to get to sign, but Chris and I came away with a ton of autographs.  The best spot for us was outside of the stadium.  All of the Sounds players exit the stadium from one spot, and sometimes, the opposing players who don't want to take the bus also go out this way.
Jacob Nottingham was one of the players who I had cards of, but wasn't sure if I would ever get them signed.  Luckily, I found his stuff when searching my boxes for this trip, and got everything signed.  We also helped Andrew get a nice purple chrome refractor signed, and it looks great.
One of the coolest things to happen on this part of the trip started out earlier on, outside of the stadium, as we were coming back from lunch.  We ran into a guy who was asking us about how the signing habits were outside the stadium.  It turned out that he was the clubhouse manager for the Jackson Generals, and had been in the same position previously with the Reno Aces.  We later ran into him while we were getting autographs beside the dugout pregame, and helped him get a photo with a player.

We also met up with the guy again after the game, when the old grapher almost bowled me over while trying to get a Tyler Saladino autograph.  We were waiting around to get Jake Nottingham for Andrew when that older guy encroached on the area in which we had been standing.  I didn't think a whole lot of it, but later on, it afforded for the most interesting part of the trip.

While outside the stadium after the game, the guy who was the Jackson clubhouse manager met Chris, Andrew and I and chatted with us as we graphed and tried to identify players.  He helped us out a bunch, and started asking about the old guys who were standing across the way, also doing some graphing.  I had told him that the one guy with his big ole backpack ran me down while trying to get Tyler Saladino.  The guy ran into me and gave me a very disingenuous "excuse me".  So, the clubby asked us if we knew who those guys were going for, and we were pretty sure they were looking for Jake Nottingham.  He said "I'll see to it that he doesn't sign for them" since he was friends with Jake.  I didn't want to cause much fuss, but I didn't like how the guy nearly knocked me down the stairs, which is something I try really hard not to do when I am graphing.

We had noticed that it was taking quite a while for some of the players to come out, until the Nashville clubby came out and said that XY and Z player are still inside because Tyler Saladino has just been told he is getting called up, and they want to celebrate.

Not too long after that, several players come outside, one of which was Nottingham, a few other guys and of course, Saladino.  Since that whole group, save for Saladino, knew the clubhouse guy who was with us, they all stopped and chatted with him.  Saladino kind of hung back and let them have their conversation.  While he was hanging back, he was right next to me, and I took that as my opportunity to turn to him and congratulate him on being called up.  That simple gesture turned into a 20-minute conversation that started with burgers and ended up with Saladino's thoughts on graphers.  He had a really funny exchange with Chris that ended up with Saladino signing a full page in Chris's card book.  All the while, my cards were tucked under my arm, and not pulled out for any more autographs.  I was much more content in having a conversation with him, than getting my last card of him signed.  When the conversation turned to graphing, Saladino asked me "Do you have good intentions with all this, man?  Because to tell you the truth, the whole autograph thing is creepy as hell, dude.  Take these two old guys behind me, they yell out my name all aggressively and it creeps me out.  It makes me not want to sign.  You, I can tell you're cool and kind; I don't mind signing for you."

I wanted to tell him about almost being bowled over, but when I said "Well, Chris and I are here on vacation.  We usually get autographs in Kinston..."  "Kinston?  I've played there, dude!" and our conversation veered off into another direction.  However, all while we were talking, the two older guys had their books out, and were inching their way toward Tyler.  This was when his buddies finished their conversation, and told him to head to dinner.  He thanked Andrew, Chris and I for the conversation, and for being cool.  He wished us well on our trip, and shook our hands.  A real handshake, not a fist bump.  Then he turned and walked by the two old guys' open books, and signed nothing.
The meeting with Saladino was so awesome, the other signings took kind of a back seat.  Still, we were able to get a good many card signed.
I also knocked off a Mudcats team card, it just wasn't the Troy Stokes that I missed.
We got almost every guy on the Nashville Sounds that we needed, which helped me get a ton of cards out of my box.
I was able to get Eric Gagne on a couple cards, one of which was a consignment I took while I was in line talking to a guy in Baltimore last month.  I told the guy that I would give it a shot with his 2002 Topps, and I came through for him.  We also saw Howard Johnson again, and he signed a few things for us.
I had two of these Adam Moore cards prepped and ready for graphing for a year.  He was with Durham last year, but I missed him.  I was finally able to get him on the trip, and after I asked everyone "Adam? Adam? Adam?" until he responded in the positive that he was who I was looking for.
After two days and three games in Nashville, we left the stadium on Monday night and followed Andrew to his place in Evansville.  This is where we would stay for two nights, and help offset some of the cost of the trip by avoiding hotels.  Andrew would also drive us to our next stop on the trip, St. Louis.

The three of us decided pretty quickly to sleep in, then go to lunch instead of get up early and try to graph arrival at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  We were all really tired, and eager to get some rest.  It also helped that Andrew lived down the street from an O'Charley's, so a nice steak for lunch really hit the spot.
We got to St. Louis early enough to walk from the parking deck down to the Mississippi River, and the Gateway Arch.  Chris had never seen the Arch, and it holds some really cool memories from my childhood, so I wanted to make sure that he was able to go by there.
We didn't have time to go up in the Arch, but we did go through the museum beneath it.  Chris seemed to enjoy it, and we got out of there and to the ballpark in time to graph pregame.
Except, we didn't even graph pregame.  Not one player came over to the wall to sign, and only three Brewers came onto the field to stretch.  The game started fairly abruptly, and we gave up on graphing inside the stadium.  We did see the recently called-up Tyler Saladino shagging ground balls in the infield, so we yelled really loud for him.  He saw us and acknowledged us, which was really cool.
Chris and Andrew both got up to go to the bathroom and missed Tyler's pinch-hit at bat.  He didn't get a hit, but it was cool to be able to say I saw him get into a AAA and MLB game in the span of two days.
Chris is enjoying himself a bit more in this pic.  I think the Saladino meeting really woke him up on why I enjoy graphing so much.  We left St. Louis, drove back to Andrew's place, then since he had to work the next day, Chris and I went on our own to Louisville, KY.

Louisville was a really cool ballpark, and graphing there was made a whole lot easier since my good friend, Gerard, gave us the hookup with a guy named Adam, who helped us graph outside during arrival.
Chris was enjoying things more and more, except for changing out of that Augusta shirt.  Look back at the photos of him and see how many he has this shirt on in.  Yikes.
The game ended up raining out at the end of the 5th inning, but we were still able to get some graphing in, and came away happy.
The biggest (and toughest) name we were going after in Louisville was Nick Senzel.  Adam helped us identify him upon arrival, but Nick wouldn't sign.  We would have to wait by the exit postgame to get him.  I'm glad I did, though.
I had a bunch of Lucas Sims cards for a long time, and was finally able to get some of them signed.
I was really glad I had picked up the 2010 Bowman USA card from my LCS.  I have been working on getting that set signed, and didn't have the Sims card at all.
I was able to get a few of the coaches inside of the Bats.  I had already gotten my 1987 Topps Dick Schofield signed (by Adam, thanks to Gerard).
We really racked in Louisville, despite the rain.  I'm glad, since I spent a lot of time looking for the cards.  I definitely didn't want to put them back in my box.
I was also really glad to be able to get Odrisamer Despaigne to sign the cards I had of him.  Above is my 2016 Topps Mini that Ryan gave me a while back.
The Despaigne card I really wanted to get done was the 2016 Topps black parallel (on the right).  I almost missed it, but it was in my Orioles box.
Getting the Durham Bulls in Louisville was tough, but I was able to get Quinton McCracken on these cards.  He was really nice, and the cards turned out great.  Since the game ended early, and Andrew had to be out of town Thursday morning, we decided to just stay in Louisville for the night.  Chris and I weren't too enthused about the weather, but we made plans for the day at the Louisville Bat Museum and also dinner plans with my friend, Trevor.
Very quickly, Chris and I looked at each other during the tour of the bat factory and said "Wow this is so cool."
(Augusta shirt) We were each able to hold a game used Babe Ruth bat (and Willie McCovey - Chris and Cal Ripken  - me) which was pretty awesome.
Here is a better look at the Ruth bat/
I was trying to save money on this trip by eating cheaply, and crashing with friends and family, but I did splurge on a couple things.  I saw that you can order your own model bat, so I had Chris sign his name, and they made him his own bat.
I was going to stop there, but couldn't resist, so I got my own bat as well.  I think this is so awesome, so I highly recommend it to anyone going to Louisville.  Instead of heading to Lexington, as we had planned, we skipped that in favor of a nice dinner with my friend, Trevor.  It was cool being able to meet him, finally, and he was very generous with dinner, which was appreciated.  We left Louisville, and drove for 5 hours to my friend, Josh's place in West Virginia, for the last leg of the trip.

We got to Josh's place at a fairly decent time, so we decided to hang out a bit, and have some beverages and catch up.  The next day, I slept in, and prepped cards for the last part of the trip.  We were to go to a West Virginia Power game, then wake up super early that Saturday and make the trek home in time for pet appreciation day with the Wood Ducks.
It rained most of the day, but cleared up in time for the Power game.  They would take on the Asheville Tourists, and we were able to do a little graphing there.
From left: Chris, Braden, Kaleb, Josh, Tanner, Me
The best part of West Virginia was that not only am I friends with Josh, but I am also close with his brother, Braden, and several of his friends.  Two of them, Tanner and Kaleb, joined us for the game.  Another, Jared, made sure to drop by Josh's house when he found out I was in town.  It made me feel good that these guys pretty much bent over backwards to be able to make time to see me when I was in town.  That really meant a lot.
Riley Pint was the big auto I was shooting for while at the game, and I was able to get everything I had of him taken care of.
I had taken on a 50/50 for Andrew, and with the help of Kaleb and Josh, we got them all done.
I was able to get Grant Levigne and Josh was able to get Terrin Vavra for me, which helped.
We were all disappointed in Jerred Kelenic.  He wouldn't come over as he walked onto the field.  He did say he would come over later, but when he did, pregame after stretching, he seemed less than pleased to be signing.  He signed one card for Chris and I, pretty much snatching my pen out of my hand, huffing a bit, then signed my card clear off onto the page (see Bowman on the right).  I would have probably bypassed him completely, had I known this.  After the game, he completely ignored Tanner, Josh and Kaleb, which was the biggest disappointment.  We got back to Josh's really late, and I had to crash out right away so I could make the 7.5 hour drive home the next morning.

Our road trip ended with two games Saturday and Sunday with the Wood Ducks.  It was pet appreciation day, and since I had been talking about it so much, I wasn't going to miss it.  We were allowed to bring our dog, Rocky, to the game, since he was on the jersey.
The pet photo jerseys were to be auctioned off after the game, and not a whole lot of people bid on them.  We ended up with two of them, Diosbel Arias and Noah Bremer.  I don't usually wear the jerseys, but I think I will wear these.
We also finished up some graphing by hitting Fayetteville again.  I had a ton of mail on my desk, some of which were 50/50s of the Woodpeckers and Wood Ducks.  How convenient.
This was also my first opportunity to see Julio Pablo Martinez in action.
In total, Chris and I got 276 autographs.  I picked up some souvenirs for my good friend, Will, who is an Astros fan, and spent some time with my brother, Adam.  I got to see Andrew, Josh, Braden, Kaleb, Tanner and Trevor.  I got to meet some fellow Instagram graphers in person.
Most of all, Chris and I had a really great time.  It was all because he has continued to bring his grades up in school, and has been working really hard.  I hope I have finally found the key to what is motivating him to do better in school.  We will see if it pays off, but I know he has some memories from this trip that will last a lifetime.

1 comment:

osupremegrandmotherone said...

What an adventure! Making memories!