- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2018

At MLB’s All-Star FanFest, the lines to get an autograph with former players curl between the set-up rope barriers. Most fans patiently wait, just there for the experience.

And then there’s someone like Joseph Stuckey.

Stuckey, a 21-year-old from Statesboro, Georgia, is a self-described “grapher” — an autograph hound who has the full intention to turn the signings around for a profit. The plan is simple: Have an item — one usually bought for close-to-nothing — get the signature and sell it on his eBay store, Hometown Authentics. He has one duffle bag filled with gear strapped over his shoulder and carries another.

After all, Stuckey has college to pay for. And it’s not a bad gig, if you can get it. Stuckey says he earns $25,000 annually from selling autographed memorabilia.

“I see some people here getting ticket stubs signed, dollar China baseballs and it kind of makes me throw up inside a little bit,” said Stuckey, who studies sports management at Georgia Southern.

“There’s less that’s going to be competing against me, but they could have been getting something that’s worth a little more signed.”

This is the world of graphing.

Some are reluctant to talk about it. One man, who admitted to selling, turned down an interview request because he didn’t want his law firm knowing about it. Another, like Matt from San Diego, agreed to be interviewed — as long as his last name be withheld.

But All-Star Weekend is a gold mine for those in the hunt for autographs. It’s not Cooperstown, New York, though FanFest makes former players like 1981 AL MVP Rollie Fingers available for a two-hour signing session. This weekend, the autograph-hungry invaded the District ahead of Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

For graphers, there’s also the thrill of collecting signatures of the best, active players in the world. That doesn’t mean trying to get an autograph at Nationals Park, either.

“There’s only one Willy Wonka chocolate ticket, okay? And there’s only one [expletive] factory,” said Matt from San Diego. “The person who knows where the factory is has the ticket.

“The ticket is the hotel.”

Graphers will — for the lack of a better word — stalk the hotel the players stay at, for the small hope they get something. Matt, who’s attending his ninth All-Star Weekend, already found this year’s location before players even arrived.

Of course, there is security. But there are ways around that. With the All-Star Game in San Diego in 2016, Matt admitted to hiding out in a second-floor bathroom for 20 minutes to evade the guards. Shortly after exiting the stall, however, Matt hit the jackpot.

In the flesh was Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and a group of All-Stars leaving their rooms.

They obliged Matt’s request.

“It was like [expletive] Christmas,” Matt said, later adding, “It’s exclusivity. Who wants to take care of an entire gallery of people? But if you’re only one, [someone like] Mike Trout would never have a problem with that. Just make sure it’s one-and-done. Don’t get greedy. Don’t double dip.”

The hotel isn’t the only “campout” site. The airport is also a valuable attraction. Stuckey, for instance, planned to head to either Reagan or Dulles International when players arrived Sunday evening. He didn’t know which terminal they would be at, though he said that’s part of the fun.

Still, the consistent chase to get autographs can cause tension. In 2015 at a restaurant in Cooperstown, Yankees legend Reggie Jackson unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at a fan who sought to “double dip.” The incident was caught on video.

Golfer Jordan Spieth, too, referred to a group of autograph seekers last year as “scums,” adding that he wasn’t appreciative of “people who travel to benefit off of other people’s success.”

Chad Cordero, a former Nationals pitcher who participated in signing autographs at FanFest, said seekers trying to profit is “part of the game.”

“The stuff that gets on players’ nerves are the people who use the kids to get the autographs when it’s really one of the adults that want it,” Cordero said. “A lot of the times, the kids are used, they’ll give them some money, say ‘Hey go get so and so …’ and then they’ll give them 20 bucks to get it.”

Stuckey said if players would be more willing to sign at ballparks, he wouldn’t have to go to the airport.

“If they prefer to sign somewhere where they’re not making any money, compared down to the ballpark where I’m paying a ticket to get in and pay their salary …” Stuckey said. “I mean why they choose to sign where they’re not making any money, I don’t understand.”

So how does one get involved in all of this?

Matt started heavily collecting once his dream of being a professional ballplayer was over. A former Junior College and Division II catcher, Matt required Tommy John surgery in 2006. His dad was also passionately into baseball.

Stuckey, on the other hand, started selling when he was 16, but collecting is a whole family affair.

His parents, Jamie and Shellie, and his younger brother, Corey, were each at FanFest, so they can collect multiple signatures or split up if there are two valuable signings happening at the same time. They even wear coordinating jerseys to match. On Saturday, they repped the Cubs, Stuckey’s favorite team.

Initially, the Stuckeys were only trying to recoup the cost of going to a baseball game.

But now, storage is an issue. Stuckey said his family is running out of space in their home. Matt, meanwhile, said he has several storage units — including two large farm garages alongside his grandparents’ house.

That being said, the two don’t have plans to stop anytime soon.

“It’s easy money,” Stuckey said. “That’s really it.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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