SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Will Locante remembers Christmas ’99 well.
Just before the turn of the century, his parents gave him an autographed jersey of Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, as well as a football and picture of George when the team was the Houston Oilers.
“I was pumped,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that Eddie George actually touched this thing.”
He idolized George while growing up in Nashville. Then 9, football was Locante’s favorite sport. Before thinking about baseball, he wanted to be a running back in the NFL.
“And at that time, he was the most powerful running back in the NFL,” Locante said. “So I was like, ‘That’s my guy right there.'”
Sixteen years later, the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher keeps the autographed memorabilia back home. They mean more than a quick buck or two.
“They know it means a lot to you,” he said. “So it means a lot to you also that they took the time to give it to you. It’s something you can hold for a long time.”
Autographs are different for everyone. Some people seek them to sell at a price that may be outrageous. For others, seeing that signature on a picture, piece of paper or other object takes them back to the old days.
Pitcher Dan Runzler said he was 8 or 9 when his friend gave him an autographed picture of Ken Griffey, Jr. Like Locante with George, Runzler admired Griffey, Jr., when he “took the baseball world by storm” as a member of the Seattle Mariners.
“He was an unbelievable player,” Runzler said. “He was really good with the fans. He brought a lot of joy for the game. To have an autograph of my favorite player was pretty cool.”
Today, Runzler stores that autograph in a case at his parents’ house. Selling it isn’t an option.
“I would never think about getting rid of it,” he said. “I’ll probably hand it down to my son.”
While some people bask in the glory of an autograph they receive, some players enjoy signing their name for others.
Pitcher Archie Bradley is more of a handshake person than an autograph fanatic. However, he does give out autographs during charity events.
“Anytime I give an autograph to a kid it means a lot,” he said.
Then came his first spring training start with the Diamondbacks in 2014. After the game, Bradley got a picture of himself pitching, signed it and gave it to his mom.
“That was really special just because of all the stuff she had done for me and all the sacrifices she has made,” Bradley said. “It was a small gesture of me thanking her and letting her know how much I appreciated her.”
Last June as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, outfielder Jamie Romak earned his first hit in a game against the Colorado Rockies. Afterwards, Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau sent Romak an autographed bat and congratulations.
Romak keeps his relics at home, and plans to do something special with them once he finds his “forever home” and builds his man cave.
“It’s cool to have a memento of our job, something we take a lot of pride in,” Romak said. “And when you see some of the greatest players in the history of the game, it’s just a cool little artifact to have and take with you.”
Chris Caraveo is a journalism student in the graduate program at Arizona State University. This story is part of a partnership between Arizona Sports 98.7 and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.