Saturday, June 05, 2004

Major League Baseball : News

Autograph session goes awry
Prior says store misrepresented arrangement
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com

Mark Prior squeezes the rosin bag before the start of the game against the Pirates. (Brian Kersey/AP)

CHICAGO -- It's been an interesting 24 hours for Mark Prior.
On Thursday night, Prior attended what he thought would be an autograph session at a collectibles store. Instead, the event was botched and the Cubs' pitcher was criticized for not honoring his contract.

And on Friday, Prior made his season debut for the Cubs, striking out eight over six shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Prior called what happened Thursday "an unfortunate event" and was upset at comments by the store's owners.

According to Prior, he was approached in late February or early March to sign collectible stadium figurines at the "Just Ducky Too" store in suburban Naperville.

"I didn't know today would be such a big day," he said of Friday's start. "When I did the deal I wasn't hurting. There were stipulations that if I was pitching, we'd cut back and I'd sign 300 autographs."

But then Prior learned in late April that the store was advertising his appearance as a "meet and greet social event."

"That's not what I signed up for," he said.

Prior's agent contacted the store, but the store's owners said they had already sold 150 of the stadium figurines. Prior offered to do a question and answer session with fans.

"Knowing what today was, I wasn't going to be in the mood to take pictures and shake hands with 150 people, and I think most people would understand that," Prior said.

The store also refused to change the date of the event, Prior said.

"That's fine," Prior said. "I signed up to do something, and I was not going to back out of it. I went to business school so I know how things work. I know what I was legally contracted to do."

The store asked if Prior would sign the 150 stadiums sold, then sign another 150 and he would finish the remaining autographs in private.

When he arrived, there were tents in front of the store hosting a charity event. Some Chicago media outlets were there. Prior didn't want to do interviews; he doesn't talk the day before he pitches.

The first three or four people who came up to him said hello, but he wasn't asked to sign anything. The owner of the store was not around.

"I will be honest, I was very disturbed by some of the reactions of the kids," Prior said of the children. "They were being dragged through the line and pushed."

Prior and his agent then went outside and tried to regroup.

"The bottom line is they were trying to pull something over on me where they had obviously lied to their customers and they wanted me to do their work, when, to be honest, I didn't sign up to do their work," Prior said. "If it was a meet and greet, I would've turned it down and done it in the offseason."

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the owners of the store were threatening legal action. The Cubs pitcher said he fulfilled his end of the contract and signed the 300 items he was obligated to sign.

"I'm not going on the attack," Prior said. "I have nothing to gain."

He also has not been paid for his appearance.

The Daily Herald (Ill.) newspaper had the story on the front page of the news section, above the article about the CIA director resigning with the headline, "Joy, then tears: Prior's visit a mess."

The Daily Herald said customers were given contradictory information regarding whether or not they'd be allowed to take photos with Prior. There was also confusion as to how long he would attend the event.

"It was an ugly situation," Prior said. "Do I wish it didn't happen? Yes. Did it affect me today? That's something for you to decide.

"To be perfectly honest, I'd rather just call this thing off," he said. "It's not about the money for me. The only thing is that they're taking shots at me and making it a personal issue on my character. We have kids crying, we're trying to take care of them. I'm in a no-win situation. I was being asked to do something (that) I wasn't aware I'd be doing."

"Those same people who are mad at him for leaving would be booing him if he wouldn't have done good for being out last night," Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood said. "It's tough situation to be in. He's getting paid a lot of money to pitch and I think he made the right decision to come in and get ready for it."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker talked to Prior about the mix-up and knows all about the demands placed on the players.

"This is a town of personal appearances," Baker said. "I turn down more stuff and I'm still everywhere. I'm doing something (Friday night) for the NAACP. How can I tell Mark and my players not to go anywhere, but I'm doing one on the South Side?"

Prior has been accommodating to the media during his rehab. He is also active in charity work with the Cubs.

"They're trying to make me out to be this guy and this professional athlete who doesn't care about the fans," Prior said. "For them to say how their customers were mad at them, and they have to give all this money back, well, you know what? You lied. You cannot blame me."

Prior is learning how difficult it is to be a celebrity. During his rehab he had to address rumors about his health -- a newspaper in New Jersey reported he was going to have Tommy John surgery -- and was the topic of the Chicago Tribune's daily "Prior Watch." Did he learn a lesson from this?

"I understand what my role is here," he said. "I know what my role is in the game of baseball. I know what my role is in the city. I'm a very private person about private things.

"If you want to talk about baseball, let's talk about baseball," he said. "If you want to talk about charities, I'll tell you what charities I'm doing. But if you want to talk about what I watched on TV or ate last night, I don't think that's everybody's business."

Thursday, June 03, 2004

news-daily.comMore than sports than just autographs
By Jeffery Armstrong

I'll be the first to admit to anyone that I am a sports fan.

I love to watch and play most sports that are out there and because it's my job, I find myself watching (or at least listening to) sports that I'm not crazy about (hockey, pro basketball, pro baseball). It's safe to say that I will most likely be a fan of sports for as long as I live and breathe.

The thing I'm not is a fanatic, and I never really have been, even as a kid.

I have a subscription to ESPN the Magazine and in the latest issue, it showed a photo of several Boston kids who actually lay down on the sidewalk and stretch their hands under the fence of the Boston Red Sox player's parking lot clamoring for players to sign their baseballs. I was stunned to see such a display. Later on in the magazine, Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez said one fan chased his car for two blocks in order to get an autograph from the star hurler. Pedro did stop and sign the kid's ball and ordered him not to do that again. Again, I was stunned. When I was a kid, I never thought to track down any of my favorite athletes just to get them to write their names down on a piece of paper, glove or baseball.

Where were the parents of the kid who ran after Pedro? That kid could've been hit by a car and been seriously injured. My parents would've beaten me senseless if I would've tried to do something like that. But there was no need for them to worry n I've never been that interested in getting autographs.

From what I've seen of these players' signatures, they are little more than chicken scratchings. A lot of them don't have time or don't care to write legibly and what is the fun in that? I'd like to be able to show my friends or family that signature and they automatically know who wrote it.

Plus, athletes are so popular that you're not guaranteed to get their signatures. There are so many people wanting autographs and so little time players devote to signing that you might not get your item signed.

I wasn't a fan of former Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken, Jr. but I did admire the fact that he would hang around after games for hours on end to sign autographs. I thought that was really cool. If I were an athlete or entertainer, that's what I would do.

Instead of getting autographs, I've been a fan of photos. I'd rather get a photo of my favorite athlete and myself together than that player's signature. I believe a photo is much better than a crap signature. A photo together makes it look like you and your athlete are connected, almost buddies in some way. Or a photo of the athlete by himself or herself is proof that you did meet that individual.

I only have one athlete's autograph in my life and that was former Houston Rockets star center Hakeem Olajuwon. He was filming a commercial and I was by myself around him and I asked him for his signature. I can't tell you where that piece of paper is at this moment; I'm sure it's long been thrown away.

I do have photos with current Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green and myself (when Green was with the Minnesota Vikings) and with former wrestler "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes and myself. They are safely in my possession and will be for years to come.

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