Kids handing a player in uniform a ball and a pen goes back to the earliest days of baseball, when players were considered larger than life and that signature was proof of an encounter. As an adult, handing a player a ball and a pen will make you feel like a kid again. And unlike the ultra secure confines of an MLB park, Spring Training facilities offer closer to proximity to players and many of the players seek out interaction with fans.
The Angels do a great job of ensuring a contingent of players walk down the right field line and sign autographs prior to the game. You can expect 2-3 young guys and a vet or two each game. Scioscia will also frequently join the fray. Security is lax and will allow you down to the front row as long as you clear out prior to the game starting.
For even more immediate access to the starting players, Tempe Diablo Stadium is open to the public on days the team plays road games. The Angels have batting practice in the main stadium and very few fans show up to watch. So, if you hang around for the session you will stand a greater chance of catching a big time autograph when a group leaves the batting cage.
If you want the signature of a prospect, wander the back fields. In this case an organizational chart is key and a retired guy named John hands them out. As a group of players finishes one set of drills, they will head to another field and walk right by you.
If you are catching the Angels on the road, try to get tickets in the first two rows on the visitors side. Many players will sign a few items after they warm up and on the way to the dugout.
Great Autograph Spots in the Cactus League:
Maryvale Park, home of the Brewers, actually has an autograph alley out past right field. There is a walkway for players but the fence has railing wide enough to pass baseballs and handshakes through.
Goodyear Ballpark bullpens. They sit right against the grass area and players will sometimes sign balls between innings or after games. I've held an innings long conversation with Fausto Carmona here.
In general, if you wander the back fields or show up early enough to grab a spot by the rail, you stand a decent shot of getting somebody to sign a ball for you.
Most games will feature a silent auction behind home plate. The offerings typically skew towards representatives of the home team but will have items for players on other teams. The proceeds go to charity, making this a win win.
The A's will often have notable alumni available for autographs with proceeds going to charity.
Night games tend to have a crew of former MLB players available for autographs.
MLB players are young men who are off work at 4 pm and have disposable income. Don't be shocked if you see a group of them in Downtown Tempe or Downtown Scottsdale. If you want to see the big timers, you need to hit the steakhouses and upscale sushi joints. For prospects and guys not yet making millions per year, a decent bar on Mill Avenue or in Old Town Scottsdale might do the trick.
Please be cognizant of the fact these guys are off work at this time. If you make an attempt, don't do it between bites of food or while they are clearly engrossed in a conversation with coeds.
The first thing to keep in mind is that these players don't owe you anything. They are in Phoenix to train and prepare for the upcoming season and we don't know what they have on their calendar that day. So don't get upset if a player walks by you without signing an autograph.
Kids first! Always allow the kids in your area to get an autograph before you. That ball will mean so much more to a kid.
Be considerate of both the player and other fans. These guys have limited time. A quick "thank you" or handshake is great and allows the player to sign another autograph for another fan. Asking a guy to take pictures with the entire family slows down the entire process.
Have fun. Mike Trout is hounded everywhere he goes and while it would be great to get his autograph, the signature of Cam Bedrosian will also remind you of your trip and be a great conversation starter when you get home. An autograph should be icing on the cake, not the reason for the trip.
My Two Cents:
I typically come home from Spring Training with a signature using some combination of the above methods. Sometimes it can feel a little odd being a 40 year old hanging out by the front rail, though, so I often leave that for the kids. At Tempe Diablo, I will sometimes move to the walkway to the clubhouse to grab a signature after a guy has left the game.
The older players in the booths are a joy. They love being around the fans and will often talk for a while if the lines aren't long. One weekday game I spent 15 minutes chatting up Jenkins and Lee Smith. Now that was cool.
Your Two Cents:
I know there are some autograph hounds out there with some great tips, please share them. I also know there are some great stories of getting an autograph and we want to hear them. Please share below.