SAN FRANCISCO -- It is part of Brandon Crawford’s routine, and in a lot of ways it is every bit as important as the swings he takes in the cage or the grounders he still scoops up every afternoon even though he’s 13 years into his career.
When that work is done, the Giants shortstop walks over to the rope line on the edge of the grass and takes photos with fans. Then he signs for kids hanging over the dugout railing, often getting them on both sides. On a lot of nights, Crawford will sign a few more autographs when he brings his bats out to the rack before a game.
The routine hasn’t changed for more than 1,600 games and it’s not limited to his home ballpark. Crawford signs everywhere, starting in the spring, when a line forms behind the plate between his rounds of batting practice.
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At Dodger Stadium last Thursday, a few hours after the Giants put him on the IL at the worst possible time, he came out to the dugout to chat with some team employees. When he heard the familiar "Crawford! Crawford! Please sign!" screams coming from the corner, he walked over and spent a few minutes with kids wearing not just Giants gear in enemy territory, but also a few in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman jerseys.
Crawford will go down as one of the best and most durable players in franchise history. It's also possible that -- given the length of his career and the consistency with which he has met with fans -- no Giant has ever signed more autographs while in uniform.
That comes as no surprise to his parents. They had season tickets behind the plate at Candlestick Park and down the third base line at Scottsdale Stadium when Crawford was growing up. He always wanted to be a Giant -- and he took notes along the way.
Crawford's visits to Scottsdale started when he was in kindergarten, and his parents had him put together a spring training binder every time he visited, with research and notes on players, baseball and the state of Arizona. It was a fun sort of homework assignment, and he had to learn how to keep score at an early age. He also had to learn how to politely ask for an autograph.
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"He was a little bit shy, except on a field or court or wherever he was playing sports," Lynn Crawford said earlier this season. "He didn't want to approach people or ask for things, so I thought that would be good practice."
When Lynn sees her son signing these days, she thinks back to the little kid who was watching players like Will Clark and Royce Clayton.
"He noticed how some players were so nice and some were not," she said. "I'm sure it registered in his head that when -- not if, because this was always the plan -- he was in this position, he was going to be somebody that was nice to these children. I think he can still relate to them."
Brandon Crawford believes there's some validity to that, and he said he has never forgotten how cool it feels to get an autograph when you're young. As he stood in the dugout Tuesday, five days before what is expected to be his final game as a Giant, Crawford thought back to some players who made an impact during those early spring training visits. He smiled as he wracked his brain for the name of a backup catcher.
"Kelly Stinnett!" he said after a moment. "He gave me a broken bat as he came off the field during a game."
Crawford's earliest autographs included Willie Mays, Don Drysdale and Lefty Gomez. When he was three years old, his father bought him a commemorative 1989 World Series ball, and Crawford went down to the railing and managed to get it to A's legend Dave Stewart, who took it into the dugout and had four or five teammates sign it.
"He was that little kid, waiting patiently and trying to get autographs," Mike Crawford said. "I think there's a relationship to how he handles it now."
A signed ball or broken bat is the kind of memento that can mean the world to a young fan, and perhaps part of the reason the Giants shortstop hasn't forgotten that he has remained a fan himself. The guest house at his home is filled with Gold Glove trophies, photos of his best moments in the big leagues and pieces of memorabilia from his lengthy career.
There are lineup cards from his debut, when he hit a grand slam, and his seven-hit game in Miami. There's a wine rack that includes a personalized bottle of Crown Royal that Matt Cain presented to every teammate after his perfect game. There are vials of dirt from the infields in Kansas City and Detroit, which Crawford's father-in-law alertly scooped up after each of his World Series wins.
There's also a clear box holding cleats and a signed baseball from Yankees superstar Gerrit Cole, Crawford's brother-in-law. When Crawford hit a homer off Cole in 2018, the right-hander retrieved it and signed it with the signature calls of "It is outta here!" and "Adios Pelota!"
Most of the items Crawford collected are throwbacks to major moments in his career, but along the way, he often reprised the role of fan. He has three shadow boxes that are designed to look like home plate alongside two batters boxes, and they're filled with baseballs.
The one on the left has autographed balls from many of his Giants teammates. The one on the right includes names like Mays, Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols. They were collected over the course of 13 years.
"Typically I'll (get them) if I'm playing against a team. If I know a guy or something like that, I'll text him or just ask one of our clubhouse guys to ask if they'll get a ball signed for me," he said during a tour this spring. "With somebody like Albert, I asked him when I was at first base when we were playing against him. Like, 'Hey, do you mind signing a ball for me,' and he's like, 'Oh yeah, no problem.'"
Pujols ended up going above and beyond, sending Crawford his bat from that game with a personalized message and signature. It's now displayed above Crawford's case of autographed baseballs, which includes one that's a reminder of how this all started and how far he has come.
When Crawford was a young fan, he got Ken Griffey Jr.'s autograph on a scrap of paper that was part of his yearly spring training book. Years later, the Hall of Famer played in Crawford's charity golf tournament and signed a baseball.
As Crawford stood in the dugout this week and thought about that full-circle moment, three young Giants fans leaned over the railing, yelling to try and get the shortstop's attention. A few moments later, he was over there grabbing a pen and posing for photos. For 13 years, that's been part of the daily routine.
"I always think it's funny when someone says, 'I've been trying to get your autograph for years,'" he said, smiling. "I'm like, 'You haven't been trying that hard.'"