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Sketch Artist
2005-04-13 07:08
by Alex Ciepley

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:

2005-04-13 13:01:20
1.   Alex Belth
Alex, these are just as good now as when you first posted them. Boy, Canseco really is an asswipe. Talk about insensitive. I can totally picture him signing that one. I really like the drawing of Dunston, maybe cause it reminds me of another Brooklyn boy, Willie Randolph. Oh, and the dreamboat sketch of Prior is too much. It stands out because you drew it so much later, when your talent really matured, but also because it's about the most flattering rendering that ol' jughead Prior could ever hope for. I don't think Prior is ugly, but your picture looks as if you melded him with Scott Erikson.

Still, terrific stuff. Thanks for re-posting it.

2005-04-13 17:48:24
2.   Rich Lederer
What, no Wally Joyner?

WRT Mark Prior, I know the following line makes your heart go pitter, patter...

M Prior (W, 1-0) 6-4-0-0-1-6

I won't mention the results of today's "other" starter.

2005-04-14 06:14:05
3.   Hank
Thanks for sharing this -- I missed it the first time around. Somehow it never occurred to me as a kid to send anything away to my heroes. The best part of your stuff is that I imagine it captures your youth in a way that a signed card could not. Great piece.
2005-04-21 14:04:53
4.   Sushirabbit
What a cool thing to have done. I bet those guys WERE flattered. Weird that Canseco signed on his face...
2005-04-22 22:07:36
5.   Scott Long
Being an amateur psychologist and handwriting expert I would suggest that Canseco signing his autograph on his face is the act of someone insecure, despite his physical appearance. Is there a scared little boy hiding underneath the steroided body that he has sculpted? I guess the bigger question would be, who really cares, when it comes to Jose.

Good stuff, Alex.

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