This article originally appeared over a year ago at my first blog, Ball Talk.
I began mucking around in portraiture when I was 12 or so, and I started for exactly one reason: I was cheap. I wanted to send my baseball cards to my favorite players to collect their autographs, but I was suspicious of the U.S. Postal system, and thought the players themselves were suspect as well. Not wanting to lose "valuable" cards in the mail, I drew portraits based on the cards and sent those instead.
My likenesses often left a lot to be desired, but my efforts must have charmed the players somewhat, as almost everyone sent my pictures back, signed. A couple of my first drawings: (click all thumbnails for a larger image):
I was big into rookies at the time, and sent out pictures to the likes of Palmeiro, Snyder, Danny Tartabull, and Matt Nokes. Of course, I was partial to Cubs youngsters:
I sent the drawing above to Mark Grace first, hoping he'd open his mail in the clubhouse and pass the picture on to Damon Berryhill and Palmeiro before sending it back. No such luck. So when Gracie sent it back to me, I sent it right back to the Cubs, this time addressing the envelope to Berryhill. Berryhill was one of my favorite players at the time, and he included a short note with the pic when responding. Receiving that letter from him was one of the highlights of my youth.
Unfortunately, Palmeiro had been traded by the time I got the drawing back from Berryhill. I didn't want to risk invoking Raffy's wrath by portraying him in a Cubs uni, so I never sent it off to get that last autograph.
I got a few big stars to sign some things for me, but usually these players had some sort of publicity machine in place -- my pictures of Nolan Ryan and Dale Murphy were returned unsigned along with autographed head shots. I remember being shocked when Jose Canseco actually sent my picture back. I guess I thought he was a jerk even back then:
Shawon Dunston wasn't really one of my favorite players ... until he returned my pic of him along with three signed cards to add to my collection:
I rooted for the namesake of the Shawon-O-Meter for the rest of his career.
Fast forward 15 years. During the winter of 2003, I decided to try my hand at portraits once again. The subject? Mark Prior. I didn't know what to expect, assuming the charm of getting a drawing in the mail is lessened when it isn't accompanied by a pleading note scribbled in a 13 year-old's handwriting.
As a happy ending to my tale, I got my sketch back from Mark during spring training that year: