It all started with a trip to the eye doctor. No, seriously. The series of events that led up to my encounter with one of the most anticipated baseball standouts is unreal. I overheard the optometric technician rattling off facts about the visiting minor league baseball team in town to play the Idaho Falls Chukars. I couldn't help but ask.
He told me about this kid named Hunter Greene, an 18-year old slugging and pitching sensation out of Notre Dame High School of Los Angeles. He got drafted number two overall to the Cincinnati Reds, which followed up with a $7.23 million signing bonus, the largest for a draft pick in MLB history. That's a lot of money for a teenager. Since he’s straight out of high school, he gets compared to the likes of Lebron James, but because of his baseball potential, Sports Illustrated wonders if he might be the next Babe.
I had to try to get an autograph.
The Billings Mustangs were in Idaho Falls for the Chukars’ 7-game homestand. I heard about Hunter just before the 6th game of the series, which only gave me two games to try and secure a valuable piece of sports memorabilia with his signature on it. I immediately began searching for a hard copy of the May 1st SI issue.
I reached out to friends and family on social media, contacted the public library, and even went to the extent of calling up local dentist and doctor’s offices in hopes they might have an old issue sitting in their waiting room. I had no such luck.
I resorted to taking a baseball I had snagged off a foul tip at a game earlier in the season.
We managed to run the score up on the Mustangs on this night, despite giving up two losses to them at the start of the series. As the 8th inning came to a close, I ditched my friends to go wait by the locker room.
The game ended and Hunter was one of the first guys to come off the field. I was right there waiting with a Sharpie in hand and he signed my ball just like that.
I was stoked, but I still wanted that signature on the SI cover.
The Mustangs only had one more game left in Idaho Falls this season, so I resorted to getting a high quality print made of the Sports Illustrated cover the next day. I’m not proud of that… but desperate times call for desperate measures.
So just like the night before, I waited until the end of the game was near before heading towards the locker room. I was determined to get this one last autograph, for collectible’s sake, so I made my way towards the locker room at the end of the 7th inning. When the game ended, Hunter Greene was one of the first players off the field, but went straight into the locker room. Nobody else seemed to notice, but I did and I was worried my chance was gone.
Low and behold, many locals guaranteed we would get an autograph if we just waited somewhere between the locker room and the bus. Sure enough, he came out and there was a crowd of more than twenty people waiting to have him sign different items.
After letting all the kids go ahead, I managed to get him to sign my print. The embarrassing thing was that I bought a brand new silver Sharpie this time so the autograph would show up on the print. However, because it was new it didn’t want to write (even though I tested it thoroughly beforehand). So he just used another kid's marker to sign my print. All was good.
As he headed for the bus, I managed to snag a selfie with him, and wished him the best of luck on his journey as a professional baseball player.
At times I thought to myself, “Is it silly of me to be chasing around this 18-year old dude just for a signature?” I mean, I’m sure some of you think I’m ridiculous, but if you’re a true sports fan you know how valuable these collectibles and memorabilia items can be down the road. But when you’re getting called the “Lebron James of baseball,” I think it would be a missed opportunity if I hadn’t tried to meet him.
I’m excited to know a player with whom I have a tangible connection, who I can follow in the MLB. Judging from my encounter with Hunter and scrolling through his twitter feed, I can see that he is a humble kid who has his priorities straight. It seems he knows how huge of an opportunity he has in front of him, and he’s ready to take it on headstrong. I wish him the best of luck in everything he does. It was very cool to meet him and grab a couple collectibles while I was at it. I plan to have them on display in the backdrop of the Abstract Sports Podcast studio in the future. This ridiculous story will be fun to look back on someday if and when Hunter Greene fulfills his potential as a slugging pitcher in the MLB. I look forward to watching him play in the majors.