Rangers fan piling up the autographs

Rangers fan piling up the autographs

PLANO, Texas -- Grant Schiller and his father, Mike, were in line and ready to go by 4 a.m.

That's 4 a.m. on a cold February morning at the Plano Center where Ticketstock was being held and a number of Rangers, including the club president, were going to be signing autographs.

The Schillers needed to be there because they wanted to be first in line to get a ticket for a Nolan Ryan autograph. Only a limited number of tickets were going to be issued at the February fan event and Grant -- his middle name non-coincidentally is Ryan -- just wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity, even if the tickets -- just to get in line for Ryan's autograph -- weren't being given out until 10 a.m.

"We watched two Indiana Jones movies while we were standing in line," Grant said.

Late that morning, father and son were able to return home with an autograph from the Hall of Fame pitcher to add to Grant's collection.

"Grant works hard at it," Mike Schiller said. "And he has an extremely patient father."

The hard work has paid off. Grant, 12, is a seventh grader at a Dallas-area middle school and has an astounding autograph collection. He has one huge baseball-card binder and 40 autographed baseballs filled with players' signatures. He has autographs from players in many sports, but most of them are baseball players.

"I got Mike Piazza to sign a baseball when he was with Oakland," Grant explained. "Then somebody called Todd Walker over and he signed over Piazza's name."

Most of the baseball autographs are of Rangers, not only players but managers, coaches, broadcasters and even the owner. Yes, he does have Tom Hicks' autograph.

Just one, though. He has multiple autographs of many Rangers players -- the binder must have at least a dozen of Ian Kinsler alone -- and that includes Minor League players. Double-A pitcher Steve Rowe may never make it to the Major Leagues, but Grant does have several autographs from him.

Rowe is in a special class, along with Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, Scott Feldman, Thomas Diamond, Kameron Loe and Justin Thompson. They are Grant's buddies. They know him by name and love talking baseball with him.

He has even interviewed them for his Texas Rangers Trades blog http://texasrangerstrades.blogspot.com/ that he maintains faithfully. He also got to interview general manager Jon Daniels and former manager Buck Showalter at a Rangers luncheon after he was named the 2005 Fan of the Year.

One more tradition: When Daniels and others meet with fans on the annual Newberg Report Night and December book party, Grant always leads off the question-and-answer session.

By the way, think this kid knows baseball? His school history projects have won two Blue Ribbons at the Plano History Fair. One project was on Buck Weaver, one of the nine Black Sox suspended in the 1919 World Series scandal. The other -- done with a friend -- was on Pete Rose and his suspension from baseball.

But it has become a point of pride for Grant to get the autograph of every single Rangers player who was either in Spring Training or played with them during the season. An annual week-long trip to Spring Training helps -- Diamond once took him to dinner at the local Red Robin -- but he has succeeded in that goal for three straight years.

Yes, he did get Milton Bradley and Sidney Ponson this past season and their names were added to the computer log of every player and date that Grant keeps on every autograph.

"I had to ask Bradley four times in Spring Training," Grant said. "The first time I was walking alongside of him and he just ignored me. He just kept looking straight ahead. Finally, the fourth time he said, 'You again?' and he signed for me."

Ponson was tougher and wasn't around long enough to sign. Grant got his autograph off eBay. Grant won't be denied. Just ask Doug Brocail -- actually John Wasdin -- who signed right before the first pitch on Opening Day a few years ago.

"I was near the bullpen," Grant said. "It was after the national anthem. I didn't have Brocail's autograph, but Wasdin was standing there. I told him Brocail's autograph was the only one I needed so he took it and got Brocail to sign."

However Grant does not constantly hound the players over and over again. He's not afraid to ask a player for an autograph for the first time and is pretty persistent about getting it. But once he gets a player's autograph for the first time, he will not yell out or try to bother him again.

Instead he will only get future autographs in settings where the player is signing for everybody -- banquets, luncheons, season-ticket-holder events, Newberg Book Party, FanFest, Ticketstock or Autograph Wednesdays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"Ian signs at just about everything," said Grant, who got his picture in the Dallas Morning News asking Kinsler for an autograph. Grant cut the picture out. Kinsler autographed it.

Grant has been to 27 Major League ballparks and has a baseball from every one of them, as well as the dozen or so Minor League parks and another dozen Spring Training parks. He has family in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Braves have a Class A farm team there. That's why, Grant proudly notes, he was able to get Matt Harrison's autograph even before he was traded to the Rangers.

Those baseballs are also on display in his bedroom, along with every Rangers bobblehead ever issued, baseball bats given to him by Eric Young and Michael Young, a pair of batting gloves from Hank Blalock and a pennant for every Major League team representing the youth team he has played on in Plano. Grant -- a pitcher and infielder -- also played on a team called the Bulls, which is why he has a Durham Bulls pennant, too.

His autograph collection includes Hall of Famers -- Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Ryan among them -- and future Hall of Famers. He finally grabbed Alex Rodriguez one week before the big trade at a season-ticket-holders function. If Omar Poveda one day makes the Hall of Fame, Grant will have his, too.

Grant is also determined each year to get every member of the Frisco RoughRiders, the Rangers' Double-A team that plays only a short distance away from the Schiller's home in Plano. In 2006, Poveda made one spot start for the RoughRiders, and then was sent back to Class A Clinton.

"He didn't even have a baseball card," Grant said. "So I went on the Internet, printed off a picture of him and sent it to him in Clinton. He signed it and returned it."

Poveda's autograph went into the binder with all the rest of them, from Michael Young and Rafael Palmeiro to Ryan Glynn and Tom Evans.

Yes, Tom Evans. Remember him? He was the Rangers' Opening Day third baseman in 2000 until he suffered a partially torn rotator cuff. Grant was 4 when it happened. He sent Evans a get-well card. Evans sent him back two autographed baseball cards. Those were the first two of thousands.

"That was very nice of him," Mike Schiller said. "That kind of kicked off the whole thing."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.