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Bill Althaus: Royals great Saberhagen still delivering for fans
Cliff Brandenburg showed up at the Rally House in Independence a little after noon on Tuesday to pick up an autograph ticket so he could meet former Kansas City Royals two-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP Bret Saberhagen.
The Blue Springs resident was armed with a large Royals banner featuring Saberhagen and Major League Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett hugging on the mound following the last out of the 1985 World Series.
Saberhagen wasn't scheduled to sign autographs and visit with fans until 4 p.m., but Brandenburg wanted to make sure he could meet the Royals Hall of Fame pitcher.
�I don't mind waiting,� said Brandenburg, a longtime Royals fan who emphasized, �I am getting this signed for me. I would never sell any of the things I have signed. If I'm waiting in line for four hours, you better believe it's for me!�
Looking like he could step into the Royals' starting rotation, a slim and trim Saberhagen arrived early and stayed late, making sure that every fan who braved the long line left with a smile and an autograph, or two.
He was committed to an hour at the Independence store and the first 150 fans in line were assured of getting two items of their choice signed.
But Saberhagen visited with every fan, posed for photos with youngsters and oldsters and everyone in between. When he was informed by a member of the Rally House staff that his obligatory hour was nearing an end, Sabes glanced down the line and saw that it snaked well past the baseball gear all the way back into the store section featuring Mizzou memorabilia.
�If someone wants to come out and meet me, and get an autograph, I want to make sure they get it,� said Saberhagen, who stayed well past his allotted time and signed for everyone � including a member of the Air Force who just happened to wander in the store late, only to see his boyhood hero.
The vast array of memorabilia Saberhagen signed was mind blowing � commemorative wine bottles from the Royals 2014 postseason celebration, Topps rookie baseball cards, jerseys, gloves, hats, original art work and World Series ticket stubs.
�I'd like to have some of the items Bret signed for my man cave,� said Rally House district manager Mike Martin, who took photos and listened to fan comments throughout the signing. �Actually, I am surprised when we bring in players and they are so great to the fans and so generous with their time. We usually bring in the modern-day players, but everyone is having a great time with a star from the heyday of the Royals. He's such a good guy.�
Saberhagen seemed to be having as much fun � maybe even a bit more � than the fans who patiently waited to spend a few seconds with him.
�I hope 10 or 15 years from now, this photo will be as special to Ariana as it is now to me and my wife,� said Andrew Wilhite, an Independence resident, who brought his wife Nicole and their 15-day old baby Ariana to the signing. �It was so cool that Bret asked to hold Ariana and posed for a photo. What a great guy. I had his autograph before, but I'd never met him and he is an amazing guy.�
Longtime Royals fan Randy Rice of Blue Springs agreed.
�I remember when Sabes came to one of the baseball banquets they used to have in the offseason and he was wearing this full-length fur coat,� Rice said, grinning. �He was the man, the talk of the town and he would sign for everyone. I collect signed ball cards, and you can get him through the mail, but it's so much better to come up and get it in person. No one does free signings anymore. This is great.�
The staff at Rally House complemented Saberhagen when it came to making the event a win-win situation for everyone.
Fans received a numbered ticket with the first 150 guaranteed a chance at meeting Saberhagen. The last ticket I saw go through the line was No. 204.
�We want to make it a great event for everyone from Bret to our fans,� Martin said.
From the harried mom who was trying to get her four young boys to smile for a photo, to the 15-day-old baby who will one day have a photo to cherish for a lifetime, it was an event that accomplished its goal � and then some.
When he was pitching for the Royals, you knew you could always expect something special from Saberhagen.
And he's still delivering today.
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