Hounding in the heat
by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*
“Sometimes these things they are so easy,
Sometimes these things they are so cold,
Sometimes these things just seem to rip you right in two
Hold on man, don’t let ‘em get to you.”
– Izzy Stradlin, “Dust ‘N Bones”
Okay, so it wasn’t cold– quite the opposite actually. But it certainly wasn’t easy, and I sometimes felt like I was going to get ripped in two by the crowd.
For the fourth year in a row, the autograph hounding circuit brought me down to Frisco, TX on a hot summer afternoon for the Reebok Heroes Foundation Celebrity Baseball Game. Each year, various pro athletes and other celebrities come together to play a baseball game to benefit the Heroes Foundation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The previous nine years were hosted by Mike Modano, but with his retirement from the NHL, he turned the reins over to the best of the Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki.
Needless to say, with Nowitzki delivering the most recent championship banner to Dallas, it was an absolute madhouse of people trying to get photos and autographs with him and the other celebrities. This year’s game had several new additions, including two players from FC Dallas, a number of other current and former Mavs, as well as Modano and a few baseball and football players. New names were being added all the way up to the day before the game, which made preparation a bit tough, but for the most part, I was able to dig up cards or print photos of everyone in attendance.
It’s about a two-hour drive from my current home of Wichita Falls down to the Dallas area, so my friend Arron and I left at 9:30, after loading up on water, slapping on some sunscreen, and throwing in a CC40 CD. The drive wasn’t too bad: we arrived for lunch in Plano by noon. Vietnamese food rocks. I gorged myself on tom goi cuon and pho tai chin, as I knew I probably wouldn’t get much to eat over the next 9 hours.
In the years prior, I did some hounding outside the ballpark so we figured we’d arrive early and try it out. Unfortunately, we got there a little too early. We basically stood around from 12:30 to 2:30 with no one arriving, aside from Ben from the Ben & Skin Show. At about 2:45, security started beefing up and they pulled out the ropes. It was becoming pretty obvious that someone was about to arrive. The crowd was pretty bad outside, lining up four to five people deep inside the ropes. If you were in the third row or further back, you might as well forget about getting anyone. I started around third but slowly and carefully worked my way to the second tier as Vince Carter showed up. He signed for a few people, but not many before heading in. Ben Grieve came next, signing for pretty much anyone who had anything for him. I had four cards and Arron three, and he signed them all.
With the limitations of the ropes and the growing number of people outside, we figured it was time just to head for the inside as the gates opened at 3. Our early parts mostly consisted of scoping things out– figuring out who’s on what team, where the crowds are likely to be, and who might hit the batting cages to take a few swings. Things weren’t too bad early on as players started making their way out to toss the ball around and stretch a bit. We mostly went back and forth between the first and third base lines anytime we saw someone signing, and hoping they’d keep signing long enough to get over to them. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well. On the plus side, we did see Kevin Mench doing an interview with an ESPN Radio reporter so we waited for him to finish and called him over. He signed four for each of us as well as items for others around us. I asked him if he planned on winning the Home Run Contest again this year. He said he’d try.
And try as he might, he did win again, including cranking one off the roof of the covered terrace in left field in the finals. Ben Grieve finished second, with actor Josh Henderson finishing in third. Yes, the 5’11″, 170 Henderson finished ahead of the likes of behemoths like Brian Cardinal, Terrell Owens, Charles Barkley, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Before the Home Run Contest, almost every player could be seen signing autographs and I was able to reach most of them. Actor Donald Faison signed a photo for me. Mike Modano was his usual self, signing for everyone. I got him three separate times on a total of four cards (two during this stretch, two later). Delonte West was good too, signing two cards two different times for me for a total of four. And then it was Charles Barkley’s turn to come through and sign a card for me.
Charles Barkley, signing for a group outside (Bruce Chandler, DFW.com)
And then, the crowd exploded.
If it wasn’t crowded enough with a Basketball Hall of Famer signing and chatting it up, imagine combining that with the most beloved athlete in Dallas coming over. There are only four times in my life where I’ve been truly rocked by contact:
1. Getting dropped on my head in Junior Varsity hockey, causing my then best friend to swear she would never go to a hockey game again
2. Trading punches with a guy during a mini-brawl in a pickup baseball game
3. Standing next to the pit at a Dropkick Murphys show
4. When the crowd saw Nowitzki coming over to sign
Pushes, shoves, hip-checks, elbows, nearly doing a reverse header off a chair… and through all that, Nowitzki skipped my notebook a good four times as I tried to make my way down the line. No luck. Arron said he saw the crowd and didn’t bother. While I was going for that, he managed to get Nick Van Exel down the line a ways. On the plus side, Nowitzki signs by mail. Mr. Postman, I need some stamps please…
The crowd for Nowitzki lined up sometimes 12 people deep (Bruce Chandler, DFW.com)
After surviving that, I got actor Geoff Stults on a photo from one of the previous years’ Heroes games while Arron got soccer player Brek Shea. So at the break for the Home Run contest, I was at 17 for the day. Not too bad.
From there, it was time to rest. The 100-degree heat was taking it out of me, despite having a Camelbak full of water. But after sitting and popping a couple Excedrin and reapplying my sunscreen, we were pretty much good to go, catching the end of the Home Run Contest and seeing Mench’s bomb off the roof.
Mench goes boom (Bruce Chandler, DFW.com)
The game was entertaining as usual. Most of the pitching was done by actual pitchers (one a former Baylor player, one former MLB vet in Greg Swindell, and a couple others) but once in a while, others would take a turn. Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle found they should stick to the hardcourt. Charles Barkley tried as well… giving up a 3-run bomb to Kevin Mench. Sir Charles got his revenge though, getting Mench to pop up too short on Kevin’s next at-bat.
Drew Pearson was really frustrating. We each had two cards for him, and he came by and signed right near us four different times… and each time, he stopped just before reaching us. Visibly frustrated, I returned to my seat when the guy in front of me gave me a tip– head for the left field line after the game. Pearson signed there every other year.
At the middle of the ninth inning, Modano came over to our side signing for us all, including my last two cards. As Modano was doing so, over comes Terrell Owens. With some pleading from the crowd, T.O. starts taking stuff and signing it right in front of me. After getting my notebook back from Modano, I turn and hand it off to Owens, who gave me a pretty decent signature on one of my cards. Again battling a tough crowd to get back to my seat, I turn and spot Arron, who got both as well. What had been a pretty average night had suddenly turned awesome.
The game ended and we stuck around after a fireworks display just to see who we could get. FC Dallas goalie Kevin Hartman, and the Mavericks’ Dominique Jones signed photos for me. As the players cleared the field Drew Pearson was still out there taking photos with a few players. after a few shouted requests, finally, he came over to us and signed our cards, capping my total at 24 new autographs: a personal best for a Heroes Celebrity Game. And it wasn’t just a bunch of scrubs either– four from a future Hockey Hall of Famer, one from a Basketball Hall of Famer, and one from a potential future Football Hall of Famer.
After all was said and done, we were back in Wichita Falls by 1 am. Not a bad day overall. Every year I insist it’s going to be my last hounding this event, but I still might go next year considering the big names I got this time.
About the Author: Approximately 3/4 of Drew Pelto’s background is Finnish and Irish, meaning he just has to think about the sun and he gets burned, hence using an entire tube of sunblock Saturday. He currently resides in Wichita Falls, TX.
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