|Debbie Ubele and Nelson Figueroa
What a big world we collect in. I’m hoping it gets even bigger!
Since my start contacting players in the early 1970s, I’ve seen this hobby undergo several transformations. One reason I began this blog in 2010 was my urge to reconnect with other fans and collectors.
During a recent stop at http://www.sportscollectors.net/, I did a double-take over one avatar photo. I squinted. “Debbie” had some good things to say about Brad Lidge’s signing habits.
I confess. I was more interested in Debbie than in Brad Lidge’s lengthy delays in answering fan mail.
Why? I’ve seen the blank looks of befuddlement from females at hobby shows. I’ve thought most of the faces belonged to wives and moms. (I’ve hoped more sisters playing Little League would dive into the autograph pool on their own.)
There’s no law that says only males can collect baseball autographs. Here’s a hobby success story, one worth showing all the female baseball fans you know. Meet Debbie Ubele!
Q: You began collecting autographs about age 10? Who was that first autograph (in person, I’m guessing)?
A: I started off collecting young, yes. I liked sending fan mail to athletes and celebs as a kid. It was always exciting- the prospect of coming home to a mailbox with a reply from someone famous. It became a summer hobby of sorts for me, writing lots of letters and waiting for the postman to come.
The first autograph I can remember receiving is a small 4×6 from my favorite Phillie growing up (and that of many girls in Philadelphia) Darren Daulton. At the time, this picture meant the world to me, and I still have the photo today. I’ve gotten the chance to meet Darren in more recent years, and it still brings me back to the 10 year old girl who couldn’t miss a game in 1993. He’s been incredibly nice, which makes the experiences that much better.
Q: When did you first collect TTM? How did you learn?
A: Funny- I can remember getting those teeny magazines (ala Tiger Beat) and they always had a section that listed addresses for celebs where you could send fan mail. I think that’s where I first caught on to the hobby, although I really don’t have any replies from back then. I never sent S.A.S.E.s at the time with my requests (they didn’t tell me that!), but the sports teams were usually good about sending replies back with their own envelopes. My parents also bought me a book, The Address Book by Michael Levine, which helped me reach a lot of people back before the internet was readily accessible. You can still pick up copies of that book at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Address-Book-9th-ed/dp/B000H2N9Z4/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_9)- although I’m sure the addresses are quite outdated!
Q: How did your Dad help with your collecting? What did he collect?
My Dad, who is still collecting with me, collected autographed baseballs. He really worked at getting Hall of Famers, while I cared mostly about players I was actually able to watch. It worked out well, since I got to meet players like Richie Ashburn and Steve Carlton, while I was pushing him to buy baseballs by guys like Ken Griffey Jr and Frank Thomas before the prices got too out of hand. His prized possession is having baseballs signed by all but 2 of the members of the 500 Home Run Club (minus Babe Ruth and Mel Ott).
I’m always working to get baseballs for him of guys who should and could make it a few years beforehand, so not to deal with the crazy prices after. We also wind up with baseballs signed by guys who made it oh so close, but not quite there (ala Fred McGriff, Carlos Delgado).
Q: Have you asked questions in your letters? What’s a typical letter like for you?
A: I used to ask questions quite often, although I must say I got tired of not getting answers to them. Sometimes I’ll included questions, especially if I know that the person is more reliable with their fan mail.
A typical letter- I really try to be 100% honest in my letters. I think it’s important to not stretch the truth all that much. For example, if I write to a player of a team other than the Phillies, I usually say outright that I’m a Phillies fan but also a fan of them personally. I usually talk about what brought me to write to them, why I’m a fan of theirs, etc. If I’ve seen them play in person, I’ll usually mention whatever game I was at, etc. One thing I will say- I always handwrite! It makes everything more personal, and though email is great, there’s still nothing better than getting a handwritten letter.
Q: Best reply ever (or example of something more than just an autograph)?
A: Tough Question. I’ve gotten some baseballs signed through the mail that are just superb (Mariano Rivera, Tony LaRussa, Johnny Damon, Brad Lidge). I will mention two requests that are rather personally special.
The first from Luke Montz, former Washington Nationals prospect who is now in the Marlins organization. I attended a Trenton Thunder game where he was playing with the Harrisburg Senators and came over to hand me a baseball by the bullpen (he was trying to annoy the kids nearby who were begging him for baseballs). We had a good laugh over it, and I mailed the ball to him to thank him and hope he would sign it. He got back to me via email (first time a player had done that for me !) to let me know he had received my letter and that the ball was on its way back to me. I wish I could say we kept in touch, but I’ve always followed his career since.
The other, a signed inscribed book from Chris Coste of the 2008 World Champion Phillies. I sent along his book, The 33 Year Old Rookie, for him to sign, as I had been missing all of his local book signings thanks to school. The inscription will always be a favorite of mine- “To Debbie, Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning! Also, your penmanship is way too good to be a future doctor. – Chris Coste #27” I was so happy to know that he took the time to read my letter personally, and it gave everyone in my life a good laugh.
Q: Tell me about your avatar photo on SCN, please.
A: Surely- the picture is of me and Nelson Figueroa, during his stint with the Phillies in 2009. He has always been one of the nicest guys in baseball. When he was a Phillie, he always came out before games to sign autographs for the fans (ala Jamie Moyer style). I was at a game with a friend of mine, who offered to take the picture. I later mailed him a copy of the picture, which he signed for me with the inscription, “Keep on Smiling 🙂 Nelson Figueroa”. With that package he included a Phillies Phiten bracelet, which I still wear and had the opportunity to thank him at a later game. Just a great guy all around.
Q: When did you realize that autographs are a male-dominated hobby? How has it helped, or hindered, your collecting?
A: Oh I think it helps. It definitely helps. I think players like to see a few women in a crowd of men clamoring for their autograph. I will say, I’ve had so many men over the years do a double take when they see me at an autograph show or buying baseball cards. While I think the ratio of male to female fans in sports improves each and every year (particularly for MLB & the NFL), some people are still really surprised when a girl knows so much about sports. I think I’ve probably intimidated some guys with my knowledge and interest in sports. I’ve never been turned away from it though, either. Philadelphia is a pretty great town for female sports fans. We come in great numbers, and we tend to know a lot about our teams.
Q: How are the current Phillies as signers, in person or by mail?
Hahaha- this is the tricky question. I constantly read on SCN fans upset when they receive the “dreaded preprint” from a current Phillie because “they are too busy to sign.” I honestly have had great luck with the Phils, although, I rarely send requests to players that I know are sending back preprint autographs. I’m really not against the preprint anyway. I think it’s kinda nice that someone is handling the mail and returning items to fans with some form of reply, rather than having the items lost forever. Would it be nice if Roy Halladay signed some mail- sure! Does it make me like him less? No. Then again, Jayson Werth sent back a photo I mailed to him signed after the 2008 WS season- something I didn’t expect. Brad Lidge autographed a baseball for me. Sometimes it’s worth taking a shot. You just never know.
As for in-person, I can honestly say that Ryan Howard has always been really great to me in person. I’ve got a number of photos and cards signed by him. They are a tough team because they are a popular team, especially at home, but again I’ve had a lot of success (Utley, Hamels, Rollins, Madson, Ibanez, Victorino have all signed for me at one point before games/ during BP at Citizens Bank Park). They are tough, but well worth the effort in my opinion.
Q: Future goals for your collection?
I really want to purchase signed baseballs of Babe Ruth and Mel Ott to complete my Dad’s 500 Home Run Club collection for him. That’s a huge goal for me. I’m hoping that happens sooner than later, but we shall see.
Other goals- saving up for a Pujols ball as we speak! I’d love to get a chance to meet Josh Hamilton in person as well when he’s in town or in Baltimore. I continue to work on my ever-growing Chase Utley collection as well 🙂 1 Jersey, 1 Bat, 6 autographed baseballs, numerous photos and signed cards so far!
Q: Advice to females who might want to start collecting autographs?
Do what you enjoy- no matter what! Don’t let anyone, guy or gal, tell you otherwise. I think it can be an expensive hobby for anyone to get involved with, but a fun and rewarding one as well. I hope that one day I can share this hobby with my children, sons or daughters.
Thank you for a wonderful e-interview, Debbie. In the medical field and in the hobby, you’re changing lives!