Mar 22, 2024 - Sports

A North Texas family's spring training tradition

Three people standing in front of a Texas Rangers sign

How it started (2009). Photo: Courtesy of Jodi Campbell

The Campbell family travels from North Texas to Surprise, Arizona, every year with a spiral sketchbook filled with trading cards and dozens of baseballs, ready to be signed.

State of play: The Campbells have followed the Texas Rangers to spring training annually since 2008.

  • They've seen fans flock to spring training in 2011 and 2012 after back-to-back World Series appearances. And they've sat in a near-empty stadium during what Rangers fanatics simply call the bad years.

Why it matters: Spring training is the best chance for diehard fans to meet players and see workouts up close.

Flashback: Steven Campbell remembers casually meeting players like Adrián Beltré, Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus when he was a kid on spring break with his parents, Jodi and Scott.

  • During their first Arizona trip in 2008, the Campbells turned to spring training regulars for advice on how to organize autographs and meet players.
  • They learned the basics, including keeping ink pens for the athletes to use while signing baseballs. Sharpie signatures fade.
Three people standing in front of a Texas Rangers Champions sign
How it's going (2024). Photo: Courtesy of Jodi Campbell

The intrigue: The Campbells are nostalgic for previous training camps when fans could get closer and players seemed to enjoy interacting with fans.

  • Andrus would sit on a folding chair after workouts to sign trading cards and baseballs. And Hamilton would spend a couple of innings signing and greeting fans after he finished playing in a game.

The latest: Surprise expected a larger influx of visitors this year to see the reigning World Series champs.

  • And, like after the Rangers' previous visits to the Fall Classic in 2010 and 2011, the Campbells expected the crowds to balloon this year.
  • "When they won the World Series, it was like, 'Alright!!' and then, 'Oh man…" Jodi says of realizing how busy Surprise would be.

What they're saying: Even before the championship, access was changing at spring training. More fencing and barriers have been added to manage crowds.

  • "We used to drink from the same water coolers they did," Steven tells Axios.
A woman holds up a signed baseball card
Jodi Campbell has a process for getting autographs at spring training. Courtesy of Jodi Campbell

How it works: The family keeps trading cards organized by player names, so they can quickly find the right card when they see the athlete walk by.

  • Jodi watches for players walking out of the batting cages. She scribbles a pen on the inside of her forearm to make sure it works before darting off to say hello and ask for an autograph.
  • Steven met Rangers manager Bruce Bochy after workouts and got a baseball autographed. Once the balls are signed, they're stored in individual plastic baggies.

The bottom line: Steven and his parents have managed to collect more than 2,000 signatures during their years of meeting players.

  • Each autograph is a reminder of getting to chat with their favorite Rangers.
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