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Autographs a central FanFest experience

July 11, 2010 |  2:44 pm

Fan fest

The FanFest autograph process started on Saturday night for me.

L.A. Times staff writer DeAntae Prince told me he'd been nearly knocked over by people seeking the autograph of Cal Ripken Jr. on Saturday, and we wondered what people do with these souvenirs. Bob Feller, who pitched for the Indians from 1936 to 1956, was scheduled to appear Sunday, the third day of MLB's FanFest, so I decided to find out what it takes to get a legend's signature.

Sunday's process, from start to finish:

10:30 a.m. -- I arrive at FanFest with an old softball and my wallet, hoping I could find something with Chief Wahoo on it to take to Feller. The only item is a large baseball cap for $38, which is about $33 out of my price range.

11:10 -- Softball in hand, I make my way to the minor league baseball exhibit, where Feller would be signing from noon to 2 p.m. By then, the line has already snaked out of the exhibit and into a corner. It will only get longer.

11:22 -- A volunteer comes around and takes down everybody's name, warning us not to leave because we are now "officially in line."

11:34 -- A man and woman who appear to be in their mid-20s, fully dressed in Indians gear, approach the line, decide it is too daunting, and walk away. Apparently autographs aren't important for everyone.

11:42 -- But for some, autographs are everything. I introduce myself to Connie Ziegler of St. Louis, who is towing a suitcase full of baseballs. She doesn't sell her signatures; she keeps memorabilia in a home office in her basement. She and her friends have traveled to each of the last nine FanFests to get autographs. This one, she said, has longer lines than many of the others. But they weren't deterred.

"This is what we do in July," Ziegler said.

11:50 -- I have counted fans in line wearing 14 different professional jerseys, including those of the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City Monarchs.  Bob Feller

11:54 -- Feller, now 91 years old, arrives in a golf cart. Nick Szumski of West Hollywood, who is immediately behind me in line, takes his picture -- and Feller stops, shakes Szumski's hand and strikes up a conversation based on the Red Sox jersey Szumski is wearing. It turns out Szumski is originally from Iowa, just like Feller himself.

"I'm an Iowa boy, that's why I'm here," Szumski tells me.

12:03 p.m. -- The line is moving faster now, and I'm starting to understand that this is the best experience FanFest has to offer. Fans all around me are striking up conversations with strangers in order to reminisce about baseball, swap stories and tell jokes. The man in the St. Louis Browns jersey tries to convince Ziegler that the Angels traded Brandon Wood and Scot Shields for three-time MVP Albert Pujols. She doesn't believe him. Nearly everyone is clutching a single baseball, jersey or magazine cover - clearly items intended to be kept.

12:22 -- The minor league exhibit also provides entertainment for those waiting in line. It includes the names and caps of every minor league team, prompting one fan to exclaim, "What's a Muckdog?"

12:38 -- As I approach the stage another volunteer checks my name against the original list. No cutters allowed. I decide to have Feller sign an All-Star folder instead of my old softball. An assistant puts a sticker on the folder to prove authenticity; and I am off the stage.

Depending on how you look at it, the process took two hours or nearly a day; but for some, procuring that signature begins with weeks -- or more -- of planning, and ends with physical proof of a few hours of baseball camaraderie with fellow enthusiasts and a few seconds of conversation with a legend.

-- Laura Myers

Photos: From top, a small part of the line waiting for Bob Feller's signature; fans take pictures of Feller as he arrives in a golf cart. Credit: Laura Myers