Marlins players, coaches take pride in signing autographs

Miami Marlins third base coach Brett Butler is a 17-year veteran of the major leagues from 1981-1997

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JUPITER, Fla. — Miami Marlins third base coach Brett Butler still finds it shocking when fans ask for his autograph during spring training games.

Butler, a 17-year veteran of the major leagues from 1981-1997, fulfills the requests alongside the budding superstars and various journeymen vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Along with his name, Butler draws a smiley face — something inspired by his wife, who did the same in letters or cards to their kids. He noticed how it brightened their days and wanted to do the same.

"I was brought up by a Marine," Butler said. "My dad says, ‘Treat people like you want to be treated no matter what. Stay there, sign autographs, be personable.’ That’s what I try to do. I’m a little surprised, but it’s still lovely."

No matter how long a player has been in the game, having fans both young and old want a signature on memorabilia — from a baseball to a jersey to a ticket — feels special.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia first signed in June 2003 after being drafted by the Atlanta Braves as an 18-year-old catcher.

"Salty," who boasts the longest last name in Major League Baseball history, decided early on to shorten his signature rather than writing his name out in its 20-letter entirety.

The eight-year veteran signs as he sits on the bullpen bench before warming up the starting pitcher at Roger Dean Stadium.

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"It’s something you work hard for, worked your whole career to become a big-league player," Saltalamacchia said. "You’re a big-league player now and you understand the responsibilities that come with that. It is a good feeling when people want your autograph and cherish it I guess."

Closer Steve Cishek doesn’t remember the circumstances of his first autograph other than he signed a program during a high school basketball game in his hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts.

"I didn’t know what to do," Cishek recalled. "’Do I do my checking signature? Do I make something up on the spot?’ It took me a long time even in my professional career to develop a signature."

These days, Cishek signs his name along with the Bible verse, Colossians 3:23, which he reads before his outings.

Of late, he has added Psalm 73:26: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

"Personalize it with a verse that gets me through the game," said Cishek, who hopes people will go and Google it. "It puts things into perspective for me."

Fans being able to meet their favorite players is still one of the biggest draws of spring training. They are more accessible in Grapefruit and Cactus League play.

While there is a rule about signing during regular-season games, players are able to — and usually do — sign before, during and after contests. In spring training, fans flock to the bullpen, where it’s almost always a hotbed of activity. When starters exit the game and walk back to the clubhouse, they sometimes stop for fans along the way. Other autograph seekers camp out as players pull into or leave the parking lot.

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Butler was once the little kid hoping for autographs from his favorite players. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, he went to Candlestick Park to watch Willie Mays. He also called Pete Rose a favorite.

During his playing career, Butler developed relationships with both of them. As a rookie in 1981, Butler asked Rose to sign a photo, to which the all-time hits leader wrote, "To a future .300 hitter, best wishes, Pete Rose."

"I think that’s how fans feel," Butler said. "They feel personable with you. If you give them that time it’s something you’ll never forget. It’s something that’s stuck with me all these years."

Just recently, Butler received a letter from a man whose son is set to graduate from veterinary school in May. Among the list of people who influenced his life, he listed Butler.

Turns out when the son was 10, he attended a Dodgers game. While his teammates didn’t sign, Butler did. Though Butler didn’t get around to the kid, it still left an impression after all these years because of how long he spent with the fans.

"I think it’s important," Butler said. "I’ve always wanted to be a positive influence on people, and that’s why I stop and sign and put a little smiley face to maybe lighten up their day."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.