Fans flock for autographs, even before first Pirates spring training game

jajones1@bradenton.comFebruary 18, 2013 

BRADENTON -- It looked a lot like a crowded bus stop Sunday afternoon, with a gaggle of 15 or 20 people bunched up outside the exit gate of Pirate City,

But this was no bus stop, and these were no commuters.

They were autograph hounds, what one hobbyist called "graphers."

By 3 p.m. Sunday, most of the Pittsburgh Pirates who had been working out at the training facility and dormitory complex at 1701 27th St. E. had put on their civvies and left the area in their cars.

Thirty minutes later, only die-hard graphers Alan Pollard Jr. of Palmetto and Glen Gullekson of Tampa remained outside the gate.

Pollard was accompanied by his five-year-old daughter, Abigail, who had collected a signed card of her own to show off: star center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

"She has grown up around baseball. She was four months old when she went to her first game," said Pollard, a Marauders season ticket holder, who bought a four bedroom house to contain his memorabilia.

Fans who collect the baseball cards for themselves, or maybe to trade with friends -- but not to sell -- are "graphers," Pollard said, shortening the

word for autograph. The hobby itself is called "graphing," he said.

Gullekson and Pollard seemed happy with the autographs they had been able to collect during a few hours of waiting.

"He was very nice," Pollard said of Pittsburgh star McCutchen, who stopped at the gate and signed for fans.

Gulleckson agreed.

"This is probably the most fan friendly team in Florida," he said.

Almost to prove the point, one of the last players to leave Pirate City Sunday afternoon was Clint Barmes, a veteran short stop and second baseman.

Barmes rolled down his window, signed for the Pollard and Gullekson and shook their hands.

The Pirates practice at Pirate City 9:30 a.m., daily this week.

They play their first game at McKechnie Field 1:05 p.m. Sunday, hosting the Atlanta Braves.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1

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