Ryan Thompson had The Westin Seattle scoped out. From where certain elevators, escalators, and stairs led to and from, to potential key entry points from the parking garage, he felt good about his level of preparation.

Rays’ Ryan Thompson Was An Aggressive Autograph Hound

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Ryan Thompson had The Westin Seattle scoped out. From where certain elevators, escalators, and stairs led to and from, to potential key entry points from the parking garage, he felt good about his level of preparation.

Sure enough, the 13-year-old Thompson, armed with a binder of baseball cards, was enjoying a fruitful evening acquiring autographs of Yankees players, who were in town to play his beloved Mariners.

However, there was a key autograph he had yet to obtain.

“After a couple of hours, I had gotten many autographs and I told myself, ‘I have not checked the parking garage in a while,’” the Rays’ reliever recalled. “I get on the escalator and start going down to the parking garage. I turn around and wave to my dad, then I look up, and here come Tanyon Sturtze and Derek Jeter.

Sturtze pitched two-plus seasons for the Yankees following stints with the Rays and a few other teams. Thompson appreciated autographs from all players, but this moment was about one of the game’s greats.

Ryan Thompson had The Westin Seattle scoped out. From where certain elevators, escalators, and stairs led to and from, to potential key entry points from the parking garage, he felt good about his level of preparation.
Ryan Thompson, Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

“I am like, ‘Derek Jeter is a legend and at the top of my list of players I am looking to get,’” he said.

Panic set in, though, as Jeter was about to head up in an elevator while Thompson was going down the escalator and away from the shortstop.

“I am 13 years old and I am missing the best autograph opportunity I have ever had,” he said. “I am going down this escalator, and I turn around and start sprinting up it. I am hardly making up any ground because it’s going down and I am trying to go up.”

Thompson made it to the top, but paid a price.

“My shoe caught the top step and I fell and hit my head on the metal grate right in front of Derek Jeter,” he said, in recalling the misadventure. “He and Tanyon Sturtze turn around and they are like, ‘Ooooohh,’”

Though winded and bleeding a little, Thompson was focused on completing his mission and asked Jeter for an autograph. Alas, insult was added to injury. A lesson had to be learned before a coveted autograph could be obtained.

“He was like, ‘Kid, it’s not worth it,” said Thompson. “I was like, ‘Yes, it is worth it! Yes, it is!’”

Jeter did not sign, got on the elevator and Thompson’s night was over. His pursuit of the Yankees’ great, though, was not.

The next day, Thompson, none the worse for wear, saw Jeter outside the hotel and got two cards signed. That experience had its moment as well.

“He signed two baseball cards and as he handed the first one back to me, I put my thumb on the autograph,” he said. “So, it has my thumb print smudged on it. I noticed it right away, so I quickly handed him another card to sign.”

The Jeter episode is Thompson’s headliner from his pre-teen and teenage years when he and his father, Ed, would make the four-hour drive to Seattle from their home in Oregon. They would stay for a series, which gave Thompson time to acquire plenty of autographs. Between hanging out at what is now known as T-Mobile Ballpark during batting practice and the visiting team’s hotel, he consistently did well for himself.

Thompson also had another means of acquiring coveted signatures: he learned what vehicles Mariners players drove. That was key in acquiring the autograph of one of his favorite players, Edgar Martinez, who was at the end of his career.

Ryan Thompson had The Westin Seattle scoped out. From where certain elevators, escalators, and stairs led to and from, to potential key entry points from the parking garage, he felt good about his level of preparation.
Ryan Thompson, Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

Freight trains that would snake their way past the ballpark a couple of times each evening were welcome sights. That meant players could be stuck at a crossing for a few minutes when leaving the ballpark following a game. The delay gave Thompson and other autograph seekers time to run out into the street and get their favorite players to sign.

That is what Thompson was hoping for one night as Martinez was exiting the ballpark. A train did not come by, but a stoplight did the trick.

“We were always hoping for a train,” he said. “One night, there was no train and Edgar drives away. He is stopped at a red light about a block down the road. I go sprinting out into the street and my dad is freaking out.”

Unlike a couple of years later at hotel, Thompson kept his feet.

“I am running in the middle of the road and I knock on Edgar’s window,” he said. “Being the amazing person he is, he rolled down the window and signed for me.”

Signing for fans is something Thompson, who turns 30 on June 26, is happy to do. However, shouting out a player’s last name or uniform number doesn’t cut it.

“If you call us by our first name, then we will be more likely to come over and sign for you,” he said.

While some bullpens are close to fans, do not bother the players while the game is in progress. Get them before the game.

“It depends on the ballpark, though fans have close access in many of them,” he said. “They constantly ask for autographs, but signing during the game is not something players are going to do.”

Thompson, though, will gladly sign most any other time. That is especially the case if he sees his younger self in an autograph seeker.

“I have a soft spot for kids getting autographs and having a strategy behind what they do,” he said.

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