3. CHARITY EVENTS
Charity events may be my favorite place to graph. Celebrities are plentiful and spirited, there is often good food and drink, and any donations required for autographs go toward a good cause. A less obvious benefit is that these events give you access to your home sports teams. A few players will host their own charity softball game or bowling tournament each year, drawing teammates and other celebrities. Remember, local players can be more difficult to graph because there are no team buses to ride to practice or hotel rooms to check into, limiting your opportunities.
Charity events are usually well-publicized and occur around the same time each year if an annual event. Your local newspaper gossip column is a good place to start. In Boston, check out the Boston Herald’s The Inside Track—an invaluable resource I consult daily for local celebrity news and special events.
2. PLACES OF WORK
One of my earliest graphing memories is lowering a baseball nestled in a decapitated two-liter soda bottle over the railing at McCoy Stadium, hoping to get signatures from the Pawtucket Red Sox. The ballpark is often the first place a young sports fan gets a chance for an autograph and personal encounter with a hero. Considering the major sports, baseball and basketball players are the best signers before the games while football, hockey and soccer offer limited opportunities for interaction between fan and player. This discrepancy has less to do with the signing habits of the athletes (incidentally, I think baseball players are the worst signers) and more to do with the design of their arenas (e.g. how close fans are to the action and player entrances; the existence of plexiglass boards surrounding the playing surface) and gameday routines. Some teams in those hard-to-reach sports will hold a postgame autograph session but it’s typically limited to smaller leagues such as women’s professional basketball or minor league hockey (which are great meet-and-greet opportunities if you’re a fan). So, if you are a football (or futbol) fan are you out of luck? Hardly. There is one place where you can graph your favorite athletes in almost any team sport—practice.
“We’re talking about practice. We’re not talking about the game. We’re talking about practice.”
They may not count in the standings, but practices can offer a better opportunity to get a tough graph than the games themselves. Here’s a rundown by sport on practice best practices:
Baseball – Spring training’s small venues and fan-centric atmosphere offer a month-long paradise for graphers. Granted, you need to be in Florida or Arizona to take advantage of the access and goodwill but you could do worse for a Spring Break locale. During the season practice is nearly non-existent as teams play nearly every day. You may not see an official practice until the offseason. Even then, it’s a crapshoot depending on how accessible the player’s parking lots are at your ballpark.
Basketball – Many teams have separate practice facilities and, for the most part, practices are closed to the public. However, the player parking lots are where you will be scoring. Security varies by venue but often you can get access to the lot.
Football – Like spring training, NFL training camp offers intimate access to your favorite team for a month. While some teams, such as my hometown Patriots, hold camp on the same grounds as their home stadium, some teams retreat to smaller venues which can offer even better access. I remember as a child taking field trips to Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island where the Patriots trained at the time. Players walked several hundred yards from the dorms to the practice fields with only a rope holding fans back. Needless to say, I came home each day with a slew of signatures.
Hockey – See Basketball.
Soccer – Major League Soccer teams typically head for warm weather locales in March (for the second half of their training schedule) where they practice and hold exhibitions against local college teams. Like some football training camps, these collegiate venues offer an excellent opportunity to graph your favorite footballer.
Lights. Camera. Graphing.
Athletes aren’t the only celebs that can be graphed at work. It takes a little more research and a lot more luck but you can also have success meeting actors and actresses while they punch the clock. If you happen to live in a movie hub (New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and, recently, Boston) you still need to find out where and when a film is shooting. Even then, the scene may not feature one of the stars. And if the scene does, in fact, feature that hottie whose picture you have as your desktop wallpaper, they could be filming in the middle of the night inside a highly secured office building…in the middle of a rainstorm. What I’m saying is, it ain’t easy. But then again, on the morning of September 28, 2009, I didn’t expect to be greeted by an instant message from a delirious colleague reporting that she saw Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz filming a scene outside our office. That’s where the luck comes in.
Luxury hotels are far and away the top locations to get autographs. When celebrities are on the road, the hotel is their home base. A base with minimal security and one that offers an excellent chance to get up close and ask for a graph (whether they comply with your request or even acknowledge you, well that’s a different story). Since I started in-person graphing about five years ago, at least 60% of my successes have come from parking myself by the front door waiting for someone to meet or step out of a vehicle. What’s more, there’s a chance you could be waiting for a celeb and run into someone else you didn’t know who was also staying there (I graphed Dane Cook and got a picture with Ed Helms this way).
A few words of warning—hotels are private property and while on occasion I have graphed inside the lobby, I don’t condone it and suggest sticking to the public sidewalk out front. Also, it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t pursue someone once they’re inside the hotel or call them on their room phone (I don’t think I even need to mention this but have witnessed someone do this more than once). Famous people deserve their privacy and a respite from the microscope of a life lived in the public eye.
So, how do you know when a celebrity will be swinging that revolving door? It’s a tough question to answer and it really depends on what their schedule it for that day. If they are in town for a specific event, it’d be a good idea to show up at least an hour early. In town shooting a film? Without knowing the shooting schedule it’s a crapshoot. Sports are a bit more predictable as teams tend to stick to a routine on the road. For example, basketball teams hold a morning shoot-around (unless they get in very late the night before) and send buses to pick up players and staff before the game. Baseball teams, on the other hand, have a less structured pregame routine and many players take cabs to the ballpark at various times rather than riding the bus. As such, it’s much more difficult to predict when that star player will be stepping out.
Where are the best places that you get autographs? Help me grow this list by leaving a comment.