Since I have a limited amount of walls, this piece will be for a limited time only. Tonight’s kickoff to “What’s On My Wall Wednesday,” is by far my favorite wall of my basement. It’s “The Ball Wall.”
I didn’t begin collecting autographed baseballs until 2013. A few times each summer, my friend Dave and I, would venture to Peoria, Illinois or Burlington, Iowa to catch Midwest League baseball games. Dave was always a “grapher,” while I just started to do it after becoming bored before the games while he was snatching signatures. Then it became an obsession, much like my card collecting.
It was exhilarating obtaining signed baseballs of players that would move up from Low Class A and become stars. While still living in western Illinois I had a small wall shelf that I would stack my collection of 20, then 30 signed baseballs. The collection grew.
I moved to Madison, Wisconsin in June 2014. In the apartment upon moving I hung a couple shelves to hold my growing ball collection. Then it collapsed. At least a dozen ball cubes trashed. The ball wall idea was scrapped.
Fortunately, the apartment was just a short-lived living arrangement while I got settled into a new city on short notice. Less than a year later I moved into a house with an extra room that became the man cave.
Simple shelves weren’t going to be good enough. On eBay, I found some decent priced ($95 shipped) UV-protected glass cases that hold 40 baseballs in cubes. I bought one and my father-in-law helped (okay, he did all the work and I assisted) install it. My collection grew. Baseballs were collected through the mail (TTM), at minor league baseball games, and the Cubs Convention.
I expanded my case buying and increased it to four cases. Then we built a house with an entire basement as my baseball memorabilia collecting canvas. One wall was perfect for six cases and I had just enough baseballs to fill them.
Now I have true respect for professionally installed man caves. It took our family handyman half a day to install my six cases to perfection. When I walked into Club 400, my first thought (after being blown away by the actual memorabilia) was how much time and money had gone into installing everything.
Currently my Cubs autographed baseball collection numbers around 300 balls. The Ball Wall holds 240, with another dozen balls in other spots throughout my man cave and the rest waiting for a home.
The best part of the collection are the stories behind some of the baseballs. Sure, some were signed TTM, others on eBay, and some were just quickly signed at a minor league game. But others, have great stories.
Lee Elia went on an extremely memorable tirade in 1983 that included more “F Bombs” than an Andrew Dice Clay show. One of his main points during his expletive-filled show to reporters was, “Print It.” So, I asked Elia to add that inscription and he obliged. Love this signature!
Speaking of 1980’s Cubs names, Bob Dernier is quite popular to this day at the Cubs Convention. You can find one half of the “Daily Double” in the hotel bar area and he’s always willing to talk. In fact, I spent an hour with Bob and his wife this year talking about places to visit in Italy. The first time I met Dernier was at the 2016 convention walking through the bar, and stopped him for an autograph. He was with his wife, so we didn’t bother with small talk. But he did! He initiated the conversation and he shared some baseball stories for at least 20 minutes.
Last year at the Cubs Convention, a small group of us hung out at the hotel the current roster of Cubs was staying. A few players came through and signed for us. Justin Grimm and his wife walked through and he politely said, “not tonight guys.” Two minutes later Grimm returned saying, “my wife told me I should sign for you guys.”
How many other teams in professional sports seek National Anthem singers for their autograph? Well, those other teams don’t have Wayne Messmer. Great guy.
Typically the autograph lines at the convention don’t prove to be memorable because they are quick and impersonal for the most part, and that’s okay. There’s a lot of people waiting! I was asking players from the 2016 roster to inscribe “2016 World Series Champions.” Some players, like Felix Pena, do not know English. Whoops on my part. Felix was a great sport and inscribed to the best of his ability.
Since moving to Wisconsin, I have made the one hour drive to Beloit for Snappers games to catch the Cubs-affiliated Kane County Cougars and now South Bend Cubs. Unfortunately, the two teams only play one series a year and the Cubs don’t come to Beloit every season. Even with that small window I was able to catch Kyle Schwarber. I was able to get two balls signed.
I passed up an opportunity for a third ball to take this picture.
And finally one of my favorite Autograph stories. I collect all Cubs autographs and t doesn’t matter if they are a prospect or not. David Bote was not a prospect. I asked him to sign a ball and he asked where. I said sweet spot. He looked at me with a big smile and goes, “Really?! You want me to sign the sweet spot?”
Having that moment, and now watching Bote succeed in the Cubs organization has been fantastic. Some people don’t understand adults collecting signatures, but it goes beyond an autograph. It’s a moment in time with professional baseball players that we look up to.