At the corner of Townsend and The Embarcadero, outside AT&T Park, an unusual sort of panhandler has appeared. They don't seek handouts; they seek autographs.
Dylan Courier, 18, is on the hunt for Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow's signature, the missing piece of his 30-ball 2010 World Series set. "I don't care about other signatures," he says as he takes out an official 2010 World Series baseball from his pocket. It took him three years and $600, but he is so close now that he keeps coming back every week with two other friends in hopes of completingthe set.
Courier and a dozen others have made it a habit to wait on the median. They hope that a baseball player heading home after a game gets stuck at a red light, giving them time to ask for an autograph. To increase their chances, they push the crosswalk buttons to trigger a red light whenever they see an expensive car. It's a game of catch and release.
Most have been doing it for years. They talk about players they like (Andres Torres) and players who act indifferently (Sergio Romo). "Romo changed a lot," he says. "After 2010, everyone changed."
Easley Wang, 40, who has been looking for autographs since the team was playing in Candlestick Park, doesn't take it personally. "The players don't owe us anything, except to put their best on the field," he says.
Both Courier and Wang are accomplished autograph-seekers; they've collectively amassed more than 800 signed baseballs, playing cards, and other paraphernalia.
Nevertheless, they come out here at least once a month. "You always remember your first ball," says a teenager with lip piercings who goes by J.J. His was Prince Fielder when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers.
These days, they don't get many signatures. Courier thinks players have started recognizing their faces and doing the look-the-other-way thing.
But then there's Andres Torres, a beloved journeyman, who has gotten to know some of them throughout two stints as a Giant. The outfielder, who was an obscure player before winning the World Series with the Giants in 2010, made the unusual request of asking his agent to find him a contract with the Giants after a forgettable 2012 season with the New York Mets. "Andres Torres is the nicest guy you will ever meet," Wang says.
He recalls in 2011 when he would often come and visit them on the street. "He got to know a lot of us," Wang says. "He would come and be like, 'How you doing, I didn't see you last night? You guys need a ride home? It's late.'"