By Mike Greene (indyreds)

Through the Mail Autograph Chipper Jones I have already started to get autographed cards back in the mail from Spring Training. The real secret to Valentines day is not only to remember to get flowers and candy for that significant other in your life, but to remember to drop off your first requests to catchers, pitchers and coaches on that day as well. The position players will report a few weeks later and I usually drop my first mailing to position players on March 1st each year. The first rule to have a great Spring Training as a Through-the-Mail (TTM) autograph collector is planning. Remember you will not get it signed, if you do not attempt it.

It seems every year there are questions by members, in the Autograph Central Forum on SportsCardForum.com, on who they should mail to. The real question is who do you want to attempt to get an autograph from? No one else knows who you are truly a fan of. I usually look at the players that successfully signed in the previous season, but also attempt some that I did not see a success from, but would love to have. That being said there are a few players that I always give a shot!

Pitchers and catchers are early requests and it seems like a great place to start. There are some truly great pitchers who sign well and prospects are good guys to attempt to get autographs from as well. Brandon Webb, Trevor Hoffman and Jamie Moyer are some of the seasoned pitchers that are great at answering their mail. Trevor Cahill, Matt Cain and Edwin Volquez are a few of the young prospects that have signed well in the past. Steven Strasberg was even signing during the Arizona Fall League and Brad Ausmus has always one of the best signers as a catcher. I would suggest trying the best ranked catching prospect for your favorite team as good catchers seem to move to the Bigs quickly, so get them before they make a huge splash. I will be sending to Omir Santos and Ryan Hannigan. Try a few of the bigger names and hope you get lucky. Last season I saw a few lucky fans get successes from CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Mariano Rivera!

Coaches and managers are fun to attempt. Tony LaRussa is a definite future Hall-of-Fame member. He is a great signer that would add to any autograph collection. If you don’t have his signature in your collection he would be my first coach to send a request.

Another suggestion is to look for former players from your favorite team that have stuck around baseball as a coach or manager. Ron Gardenhire, Juan Samuel, and Howard Johnson have all joined my New York Mets autograph collection after taking jobs as coaches. There are a large number of former All-Star players who are now coaches. Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, Harold Baines, Ray Knight, Don Baylor and many other former stars sign well for the team they work for. I know that there are some bigger names and they might be worth a shot, but I doubt Don Mattingly and Mark MacGwire will sign too much mail. Then again you will not get the signature unless you try.

Don’t forget to take a look at roving instructors, front office staff and announcers for some other big names.

Position player mailing is always fun to select. Two players that I will definitely be attempting soon are Jim Thome and Chipper Jones. They both have a history of answering their mail, but Chipper will usually return your items and add a signed photo to your SASE. Most current All-Stars get too many requests to respond to all of them. Selecting prospects that you think will have promising careers might net you some great autographs. Zack Cozart, Austin Jackson, Trevor Crowe and Buster Posey will be a few of my requests this spring.

Another place that some collectors forget to look at is the non-roster invitees. Players who are coming back from injury–that used to be stars or were part of championship teams in the past–sometimes end up in this position. They will not get as much mail as collectors don’t realize they are on the team. That increases your chances for success!

I started this off by stating that the first rule to spring training TTM success was planning. The final rule is to be patient. I’m still getting some of last season’s spring training requests this year! Some players are very quick signers, some take a long time and others will not sign at all. I would suggest that you look at the TTM database on SportsCardForum.com to see what type of response time you will be looking at. Best of wishes on your mailings and I look forward to seeing all the successes!