Autograph Alley: Guante de Azul

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Al Gruwell is a friend of mine and fellow longtime autographer. He has this humongous blue glove (Guante de Azul, in Spanish) he got made that he takes to baseball games, partially in an effort to acquire 'graphs.

He was kind enough to write a story for me for Autograph Alley about "Guante de Azul" and some of his favorite tales that go with it.

Thanks, Al. Miss seeing you and big blue around the park.

Here's the story of the glove.

I have been a baseball fan for years, and have attended hundreds and hundreds of games. Some time around 2007, I saw a video clip of Manny Ramirez goofing around in the outfield with a HUGE glove.

I did a little research, and found out the glove was made by Akadema, who supplied Manny with his gamers. I contacted the company, and was disappointed to find they only manufactured the glove for right-handed throwers (I'm a lefty), and wouldn't make one for me.

I saw that Trevor Reckling, a pitcher for the Kernels, used that company's glove. I asked him if he had any contacts, and he said to call the company and ask for a certain guy. After some negotiations, they said they would make one for me, but it might take a few months.

I agreed reluctantly, and about five months later, it showed up. I showed it around, and heard everything from, "Why would you buy a glove you can't use?" to "That is friggin' awesome."

My best friend in the world is Aaron Nieckula, who managed Kane County and Burlington in the MWL, and in 2009, was in Stockton, managing the A's affiliate there. He invited me out there, and I brought the glove with me. It was a hit with the players on both teams, who goofed around with it in batting practice. I thought, "Hey, I might have something here."

I decided to take it to ball games after that, and Nuke (Nieckula's nickname) and I made a trip to Yankee Stadium in 2009 after his season ended. The fans in the Bronx went nuts for it, and Nuke said, "Man, we should be charging people for photo ops, we could pay our bar tab for the weekend."

I thought that since the fans liked it, players would also, and I could use the glove to get their attention, and maybe come over and sign a ball or card for me in the hyper-competitive world of autograph seeking at a big league game.

In 2011, my girlfriend (now wife) Terri Bjornsen and I decided to take a baseball weekend, attending a game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and two at Miller Park in Milwaukee. We (well, I, Terri goes as a good sport) like to go early for batting practice, as it's the best chance to get a sig.

I was in the front row and waved the glove at Matt Treanor, a catcher with the Kansas City Royals. He laughed and tossed a ball at me to see if I would catch it. When it disappeared into the glove, he doubled over with laughter and jogged out about 150 feet away, looked over, grabbed another ball, and made a motion like, "Catch this, buddy." I caught it again, and he pointed at me and showed his teammates the glove.

Unfortunately, nobody came over for a 'graph, but I scored two BP balls, which I gave away to kids (I only like pearls, unblemished balls out of the wrapper). The next day in Milwaukee, the fans went nuts for it, lots of photos and high fives. I wanted to get a couple of minutes with former Kernel Brandon Wood, who at that time was playing for Pittsburgh.

Although I didn't get Woodie, I did get Jason Frasor to come over (he said he had to see the glove), and got him to sign a ball for me. The next month, in Kansas City, the glove made the JumboTron, and the next day (after Terri asked me to marry her), several fans stopped me and said, "Hey, saw that glove last night", and even took a photo with a guy who had a tan right-handed glove made by the same company.

White Sox Coach Greg Walker took a ball out of the glove (I leaned waaaay over the dugout), signed and tossed it back. "Nice catch, nice glove," he said. "We could use a few of those."

In 2012, Terri and I made several trips to big league parks, as we were moving to Houston, and wanted to see all the parks in the Midwest before we moved. In St. Louis, we had seats next to the Pittsburgh dugout, and after scoring Joe Magrane (former Cardinal pitcher) at a signing before the game, I headed to the dugout in 100-degree weather.

If I had a dozen baseballs, I could have got all of them signed. Regrettably, I only had two left, and got Pedro Alvarez and Manager Clint Hurdle. We took a trip to Wrigley Field, and, again, lots of fan interaction, and settled into our seats in the bleachers. A player on the Rockies motioned for me to toss it down. I obliged, and we snapped photos of him fielding with it. He tossed it back, and then threw me a ball to see if I could catch with it. I snagged it, then another, as the player motioned to one of his teammates to look at the glove.

Since the players were wearing warmup tops with no numbers on them, I didn't know who it was. Then I realized that, oh, man, that was Carlos Gonzalez. I should have tossed a ball down, dang it. We made a few trips to Houston to check out houses, and checked out a few games at Minute Maid Park. I was able to get the attention of several players with the glove, and got a few balls signed.

So far in 2013, we have attended two exhibition games against the Cubs, and the opening day game against the Rangers. The first night, I got Cubs' pitching coach Chris Bosio, who said, "Do you want the no-hitter stuff on it?" as he signed.

"Absolutely," I said, and the next night, I got Orel Hershiser, who was there for the ESPN game the next night. Opening night, I motioned to Craig Gentry, and he said, "I'll get you after BP." I thought, "Right, all players say that." But, he came over, giving me a perfect 3-for-3 weekend.

While walking around the street fest the Astros had before the game, Terri and I talked about what we should do, since we were stopped for over 50 photos, and lots of smiles from fans. The glove was photographed by a photographer, and we found it made the Dallas Morning News, even though I was tagged as "Hal Gruwell."

We've decided to give the glove a Facebook page and plan on taking photos of people taking photos, having people post photos, photos of mascots holding the glove, and pics of me getting players signing. We are partial season-ticket holders, so we hope to have a very successful season, though the Astros probably won't.


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