By Bryan Petrulis
With professional sports on a never-ending quest to find the best talent and grow their respective sports, organizations have turned to scouting foreign territories as well as local areas. Baseball and hockey traditionally have showcased talent from many different countries. Football, basketball and other sports have been mostly homegrown players but in recent years there has been a bigger influx of foreign competitors.
Because of the expanded talent search, the way we collect autographs has been affected. Not only does this provide collectors other opportunities to try and obtain autographs, it also presents new obstacles to obtaining autographs.
Depending on how industrious you are or what your economic means might be, one of the new opportunities that presents itself, in our quest to build our autograph collection, comes in the form of a different league or venue that players might be playing or performing at in a foreign country. After the season ends here in North America, many professional baseball players head to a warmer climate and play in winter leagues south of the border. Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Australia and the Dominican Republic are a few countries that have professional leagues that start in October or November and conclude in January. You can find many players playing for teams from their home countries. Many North American players head to these countries to keep in shape in the offseason or to draw interest in their careers by having a good showing.
Some of the drawbacks of attending Winter League games is that you need a passport, need to purchase airline tickets and find a place to stay. These come with an added expense but if you are willing to spend the money it might be a nice vacation experiencing a game in a foreign country. But keep in mind these are foreign countries and a few of them have been prone to crime and violence against foreigners – especially Americans.
I have a collector friend that has been to games in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico and he has not had any trouble. Granted, his girlfriend is fluent in Spanish but otherwise has had many successful trips obtaining autographs from players who otherwise might be tough here in the States. He also said that the amount of collectors there was very minimal and at times he was the only person asking for autographs in the stadium before the game.
If you do not have the means or the will to travel to a foreign country in an effort to build your autograph collection, you can still attempt to add foreign players to your collection through the mail. Compared to traveling to a foreign country, using the postal service is a much more economical way to obtain autographs. This way not only works for players playing overseas but might be the only means to contact a player who has retired from the game and moved back home. Not all players who play in North America reside here during the offseason or wind up staying here when they retire.
The first thing you need to do when writing to a player in a foreign country is you need to get a good address. Foreign addresses are different from U.S. addresses so make sure the address is good and the envelope is addressed correctly so your request arrives where you want it to arrive.
The second thing you need is the correct postage on your envelopes so that they arrive with no problems. This is the most confusing portion of the process and I get many questions on this. There are two parts to this portion of the process. There is the outbound envelope, which is the envelope addressed to the player, and the return envelope, which is the envelope addressed to you that the player will use to send your item back to you.
When sending to a foreign country from the United States, at the bare minimum, you will have to place $1.15 of U.S. postage on a normal sized envelope up to one ounce. Most autograph requests including a letter, card and return envelope will fall into this category. Anything other than a normal envelope such as an odd shaped envelope, non-flat envelope or package, you will have to refer to the United States Postal Service website or bring your letter to your local post office to have it weighed to give you an idea of how much it will cost to send your request. Anything greater than one ounce, the price will depend on the size, weight and destination of your request. The post office does have international flat rate boxes and envelopes that hold up to four pounds, but those start at $35.65 for the envelope and $36.70 for the box so they are pricey. Also, for anything other than a flat letter, you will have to fill out a customs label and have that on your package.
An example of sending a package to Canada: I sent one card, a blue Sharpie and self-addressed stamped envelope to Lindsay Carson in Calgary. It cost me $10 in U.S. postage to send that request. But I also sent a blue Sharpie, self-addressed stamped envelope and 10 cards to Al MacAdam in Ontario and it cost the same.
The second portion of writing to players in a foreign country is the return postage that you place on your return envelope. A common mistake or misconception is you can use United States postage on your return envelope in order to get your item back from the player. You cannot use United States postage to send a letter from a foreign country. This would be like sending a letter to Germany from the U.S. using German postage. You need the correct amount of postage and the correct country’s postage to get your return envelope back from that foreign country.
For example, German postage from Germany, Canadian postage from Canada, Swedish postage from Sweden, etc. Every now and then a return envelope slips through the cracks when someone did not catch that the postage affixed to an envelope was incorrect and you get your request back in the mail. Do not run the risk that you will not get your item back. Place the correct postage on the envelope.
Since these are foreign countries, their postage is not readily available here in the United States. The best way to obtain the proper postage is to visit that country’s postal service website. There you can find out how much it will cost in that country’s postage to affix to your return envelope as well as being able to order that postage. I have used www.canadapost.ca to obtain Canadian postage as well as find out how much that postage will cost. I have also used www.postnord.se to obtain Swedish postage. If you have trouble figuring out pricing or how to order the postage from a certain country’s website there is usually an email address that you can use to ask for help.
You can also order foreign postage stamps from www.airmailpostage.com. They have stamps from many countries available. They also have an email address on the site so you can ask any questions about postage or international rates.
If you prefer to have the player send your item(s) back and you send them something other than a flat envelope, the foreign country might consider that a package and require a customs label for that package. That customs label would have to be for that country and not a U.S. customs label. What I mean by a flat envelope is flat pieces of paper such as 8x10s, magazine or cards would allow you to send and receive your item(s) as a letter, flat envelope or large envelope making postage cheaper. Sending a pen, puck, ball, jersey or stick, for example, would make your envelope bulky thus turn it into a package costing more money and requiring a customs label.
Sending autograph requests to players in foreign countries is much cheaper as compared to traveling to those countries, but over time it can get expensive. Depending on what you send and how you send it can determine how much you will be spending. Sending something as a package will be more expensive than sending something as a letter. By placing return postage on your return envelope, you are lessening the burden on the player to get your item back to you. You want to make this process as easy as you can for the player.
If you do not want to put in the work for the foreign postage you can also try sending the player a couple dollars in U.S. currency and hope they will be fine with placing postage from their country on your return envelope. I have seen that work a few times but I do not suggest it as you do not know how much work that player wants to do to get your item back to you as well as if a foreign currency will be acceptable to that player.
I hope this information gives you a few ideas on how to obtain autographs from foreign players. With prices for things the way they are I hope to save you time, money and effort in building your collection. If you have any questions, need further clarification, or want to add something I left out please feel free to contact me.
Bryan Petrulis is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.