On Thursday, December 16th 1999, the Rangers had the final night of their Toys for Tots Drive. As part of the festivities, they had several players and coaches on hand to sign autographs. While I’m sure that was the big draw for many people, that wasn’t all that was going on, so I’ll talk about that last. :)
The Rangers Email news service had sent me an email on Wednesday about this, and we had some toys to give anyway (some Beanie Babies), and Lynn & I drove out to the Ballpark. You entered through the Grand Slam Gift Shop, and they had some Marines at the other side of the gift shop collecting toys. For some reason, the Marines looked Christmassy. I don’t know why – they were in their regular uniforms – it just looked cool. Anyway, you got two tickets from some ladies who were with the Marines for donating a gift. One was to have your picture taken with Santa if you wanted (which neither of us did), and the other was for some free food they were giving away. Nothing really spectacular, but it was still a nice snack while you were there. You got what amounted to a Sloppy Joe sandwich (they said it was Brisket, but it didn’t seem like it), a bag of chips, and your choice of Hot Chocolate, Coffee, or Iced Tea. Hot Chocolate seemed like the big winner of the (cold) evening. The Ranger press release said everyone would get a free appetizer card for Friday’s Front Row Grill, but I didn’t see that anywhere.
The entire Vandergriff Plaza was lit up with Christmas lights, and it looked rather festive. They had “Christmas Light” animals, standard Christmas lights, big ornaments on the lawn, it looked really cool. There was a live manger scene in the building at the top of Green’s Hill, and even some of the offices seemed to get into things – one of them seemed to be having a party, actually! :)
There was some live entertainment, too (in front of the Nolan Ryan statue). The first group I didn’t catch much of, because we arrived when they were half done, and then I got to talking to some people in the autograph line. The first group was a chorus of sign language people. They weren’t actually singing, they were all signing the Christmas songs. I don’t understand any of sign language, but I figured for people that did, it was probably cool.
The second group was a more conventional choir of children singing Christmas songs, and the third entertainment was a local musician by the name of Alvin Johnson. He was playing some instrument – I can see it in my mind, but I can’t remember what it’s called as I write this article! His playing was very nice, and before I left, I went over and shook his hand and told him I enjoyed his playing, he seemed rather appreciative. There were also some folks from 99.5 The Wolf, but I didn’t go over there, as I don’t listen to the radio hardly at all, and when I do, it’s most certainly not Country music. :)
The big draw for most people was the autographs. There were a total of 14 people signing autographs over three sessions. Each session lasted one hour, and the folks singing were broken up into these three groups:
- Tim Crabtree, Rick Helling, Larry Hardy, Vince Cotroneo, Eric Nadel, & Mike MuÃ±oz
- Ryan Glynn, Lee Stevens, Rudy Jaramillo, Tom Grieve, & Bill Jones
- Rusty Greer, Mike Simms, & Justin Thompson
Of all these folks, Mike MuÃ±oz was a surprise. The Ranger press released listed everyone except MuÃ±oz. Wish I would have known that, I would have brought a baseball card for him to sign. :) I looked through my baseball cards, and brought the most recent card for everyone that was there that I could find. Of all the people there, Ryan Glynn looked a bit overwhelmed to me – and OH MY GOD did he look young in person. Lee Stevens almost didn’t seem like he wanted to be there – he seemed rather disinterested in what was going on when I was at the table. That could just be he was talking to someone or something else – or was wondering if he was going to be offered arbitration. :) Anyway, most everyone seemed to enjoy saying hi to the fans. Justin Thompson was the only person who saw me taking pictures, and actually stopped and looked at the camera – that was cool.
Of course, in autograph lines, you don’t get much time to talk to folks, but I did manage to get a few words in to a few of the players… Here’s my recollections of what I got to say to the folks I did talk to:
- Tim Crabtree – When I spoke with Tim, I mentioned that I couldn’t find any Ranger baseball cards of his – all I could find was a Blue Jays card of his. His response was “I know – I’m just a reliever, I don’t get any respect”. He smiled a lot, and he included his uniform number in his signature, which looks cool.
- Mike MuÃ±oz – I did tell Mike I was glad he resigned with us, to which he said “Thanks”. I didn’t have a MuÃ±oz card, but I did have the 99 Ranger Yearbook with me, and had him sign that. He was seated next to Rick Helling, and when MuÃ±oz was signing, Rick Helling noticed that former Ranger pitcher Al Levine was on the page next to Munoz. Rick then proclaimed “Hey – look at Al!” That was kind of cool.
- Ryan Glynn – Lee Stevens was in line before Ryan Glynn, and Ryan watched as Lee Stevens signed the card I gave him. When I was done, I moved in front of Ryan, and said “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find any of your cards”. He responded with “Yeah, I know, they don’t really have any for me, they’re just starting now”. He did seem to smile a lot, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
- Tom Grieve – Tom was sitting on the other side of Ryan Glynn, and to Ryan I said “..but I did manage to find an older card for the guy next to you”. At this, Tom looked at me, and I said “You probably haven’t seen this card in awhile” to which he want “No, no I haven’t”, smiled, and signed the card.
- Bill Jones – After Bill signed my picture, and he was signing Lynn’s, I said to him “How is your dog, Jake”? – to which he (and Tom Grieve) had a big laugh about. While he was laughing I came in with “My wife and I loved those updates the TV graphics guys were doing on Jake’s health problems last year – putting up pictures all the time”. Bill got a big laugh out of that, which was cool.
- Justin Thompson – I didn’t actually say much to him, but I did show him the pictures I took of him with the digital camera, to which he said “Hey, that’s cool”.
- Rusty Greer – I didn’t say anything much to Rusty either, except “Thank you very much”. My wife did, however. What she said will be below.
- Mike Simms – This was my favourite bit of the whole night. The 99 Ranger yearbook (which is what I had Mike sign) has a feature on each player’s page where they say who their favourite baseball player of all time is. Well, Mike has Mike Schmidt of the Phillies listed as his player. I was kid growing up in Philly when Schmidt was playing, so I can very much relate to what Simms had to say. While Mike was signing for me, I said that I really liked his comment about Schmidt, and Simms replied with “Yeah, he was awesome to watch – he was spectacular”. I replied with “Yeah, I know. I was a kid of 15 growing up in Philly when they won their World Series, I got to see Schmidt for many years”. Simms said something else, but I forget what he said there. One other thing I said to him was “Also, when I was 10, and just starting to follow baseball, the Phillies’ catcher was Johnny Oates, so when I moved to Texas, it was very cool for me having him as the manager”. Simms smiled, and looked rather surprised – “I didn’t know Johnny played for the Phillies!”. What was best about this exchange (and my wife saw this, and commented on it afterwards) was that while I was talking to Mike, he was looking right at me, and he didn’t look like a baseball player. He looked like another guy talking to another one about baseball. He looked like a fan, not a player. It was a VERY cool moment for me. I did have Johnny Oates’ Phillies card with me – if I had another second, I would have dug it out of my pocket, but I was already talking to him for too long, probably.
Lynn & I walked around the gift shop a bit, checked out the new uniform stuff. They had both new blue caps, as well as replica new road & alternate jerseys. I didn’t see the new home one, though. The stuff looked cool in person – for those who slag off the new stuff, having only seen a few stills, and the artwork on the Rangers site, see it in person, it looks cooler in person. I also picked up an Oakland A’s baseball cap for myself as a Christmas present – I just like the A’s, and love their colors. Of course, I could claim a connection to my home town of Philadelphia, as the A’s used to be there, but they left years before I was born. :)
Last night was a great family night of both holiday sights and baseball, not something one normally thinks of during the holidays.
Since the gift shop was open, I noticed a lot of parents buying white baseballs for their kids to get players’ autographs on. It did take awhile to get through the lines, especially since you had to go wait through them three times to get all the autographs. It seemed like there were true baseball fans there, and some of them brought some interesting things to be signed besides the traditional caps, balls, and pennants.
One couple brought a Santa Christmas ornament that had Santa dressed up in a white baseball uniform. It was pretty big, but I have to say I wish I would have thought of it, the autographs would make it a special piece. As Joe mentioned, we brought a lot of cards with us, some oldies that others around us enjoyed looking at while we waited.
There was one family that was behind us twice that had several school age kids with a father. The father seemed really intent on making last night a big memory for the kids. They brought a 99 Rangers cap (I think 99 Western Division) and that was what they were using to collect the signatures. I overheard the father say to the kids, “when we get home, we’ll put a sign on it saying that it’s from the 1999 Rangers. But this is for show, it’s not to wear.” They also mentioned how they wished that they could go to the Rangers banquet that was coming up to get Palmeiro’s and Pudge’s autograph.
Without a doubt, I think the fan favorite for the night was Rusty Greer. Rusty has been my favorite Ranger since I started to follow the team in 1997. It just seemed that he always hit doubles that year. When it was my turn to get his autograph on the provided picture card, I did manage to say to him to have a good year next year, and that he makes baseball fun to watch. He said thank you, but what else could he say? I basically turned back into a teenager for those few seconds!!! :)
Joe was right about his conversation with Mike Simms. Simms face changed when he was talking about the old Phillies team. He showed that he is a true fan of the sport that happens to be a player as well. It was an awesome moment, and I’m glad that I did pay attention to it, and wasn’t my normal distracted self!