"Call them 'Mister' and then their last name. Be polite. Say thank you."
Riley Martin, 13, is an avid autograph collector who often can be found practicing his hobby at the Lake Elsinore Storm's home of The Diamond. A three-ring binder full of signed cards, many of them featuring current and former Storm players, takes up ample real estate within his backpack. And he's always on the hunt for more.
Riley has found success at his hobby through preparation, persistence and, as the above quote illustrates, politeness. Speaking respectfully to someone who's in the position to grant a request isn't exactly a radical departure from societal norms, but Riley finds that it helps elevate him within what can be a crowded and competitive endeavor.
"I came up with that on my own," said Riley, regarding his adherence to etiquette. "I thought I'd be nice to people. They're not just people who sign autographs."
Riley lives in San Diego, where he is currently a seventh-grade student. But he frequently spends his vacations and summer months with his grandmother, Lou Ellen Ficke, who, as he put is, "lives up the hill in Lake Elsinore." On the Friday evening in which I spoke to Riley, he was attending the game with his grandmother as well as his 3-year-old sister, Elya.
Riley attended his first Storm game at the age of five and learned something about Minor League Baseball that deeply influenced his decision to collect autographs: If you're paying attention, there's always the chance to interact with a future big league superstar.
"Do you know who Corey Kluber is?" asked Riley, referencing the Cleveland Indians ace. "He used to pitch here [in Lake Elsinore, in 2008]. The first game I was here, I still remember seeing him. So I thought that was pretty cool. I saw Corey Kluber. He's now a Cy Young winner."
It was four years ago, at the age of 9, when Riley began collecting autographs in earnest.
"I went to one [Storm] game in 2013 and got a team ball signed," he said. "There are three people on there that are on the Padres and other teams right now: Jace Peterson , Cory Spangenberg and Travis Jankowski ."
To increase his chances of getting the autographs of future Major Leaguers, Riley studies Padres' top prospect lists and trades information with fellow autograph collectors.
"Usually I get them after the game, or after batting practice," he said. "I like it here [at The Diamond] because usually [Storm players] are surprised that anyone wants their autograph."
Despite living in San Diego, and despite the fact that the Storm are a Padres affiliate, Riley's favorite Major League team is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He said his favorite autograph in his collection is from Mike Trout, signed on a 2015 All-Star card, that he obtained in 2016 prior to seeing the Angels play the Royals in Kansas City. This was during one of many baseball-centric vacations that Riley has embarked upon with his grandmother, who said Riley's ability to procure Trout's autograph was a direct result of the skills he learned in Lake Elsinore.
2017 Road Trip
"[Storm general manager] Raj [Narayanan] taught him where to go and how to scope out the field. And now you can find so much online," said Lou Ellen, enjoying a meal with her grandchildren in the stadium's Diamond Club restaurant. "So he knew, before we went to the Kansas City stadium, where he should stand and where he should be and that sort of stuff."
And, not surprisingly, she took pride in her grandson's polite approach to his craft.
"He learned that early on," he said. "So that's important. It's important in life, period, but particularly for that."
My conversation with Riley, meanwhile, took place in The Diamond's picnic area along the third base line. A pregame Q&A with Storm pitchers Zech Lemond and Cal Quantrill had just wrapped up in the same general area, leading to a brief interruption in our chat. Terrence Tucker, who does double duty as Storm clubhouse manager and director of community and player relations, personally brought the players to Riley.
"Hey, sorry, but I know these were the guys you wanted," said Tucker, to Riley. "You better hurry, dude!"
Riley went into action.
"Can you please sign my program?"
Mission accomplished. And with that, there was only one thing left to say.