Rockin' the Red (one last time in the '09-'10 season)

Rockin' the Red (one last time in the '09-'10 season)
Max headed to school on Game 7

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stalking, for Max's sake

After nearly 5 months since the epic loss, Caps Training Camp officially opened at 10am on Saturday morning, and Max and I were there at 9:40am. Sure, we couldn't wait to get into the cold ice rink and watch the players - both old and new - skate and hit and shoot and score. We couldn't wait to see the familiar names on the backs of their practice jerseys and think about all of our expectations for the upcoming season. And it's very cool at Kettler, where they practice, because you sit in bleachers right there on the ice, with the players banging up against the plexiglass when they play, and catching their breath right in front of you as they take a break. You see their faces when they're intensely practicing, when they're pushing themselves during sprints, or when they're joking around with a teammate. Having the chance to see our favorites players up close and personal makes us fully appreciate just how good they are, and it makes us feel even more attached to the team. But practice is just part of the equation for us - I'd say it's half of why we make the trip to Kettler. "Stalking," as some call it, makes up the other half...

Stalking, for us, is waiting outside for players in hopes of getting an autograph and/or photo. Max and I have become masters at it. Ever since our first practice last season, when we happened upon Brooks Laich as he walked out the doors of Kettler and signed Max's shirt, we were hooked. The next time we went, we waited outside the main doors of the practice facility and waited for more players. Max got autographs from David Steckel and John Erskine, while Will was lucky enough to get Ovechkin's after throwing a crying fit. While it was awesome to get Ovie's signature, it was a bit lost on 4-year-old Will. Max did not get his jersey signed by Ovie that day, and wasn't going to let it go. So, we went back two more times last spring, just me and Max, and were able to get Mike Knuble, Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Thomas Fleishman, Semyon Varlamov, Jose Theodore, Matt Bradley, Jason Chimera, both Morrisons (who are now gone), Laich again, and even Coach Boudreau. Max even got gutsy enough to ask all of those players for a photo after they signed his jersey. He had gotten Backstrom's autograph and photo at a Wizards game, so he had most of the team, but with two major omissions - Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green - arguably the team's two biggest stars. So we knew in the '10-'11 season, we had our work cut out for us.

On Saturday, we checked out two separate parking lots where the players park - one on top of the mall, and one a level below. We spotted Ovie's car up top, so we knew where he'd be exiting after he finished on the ice. We headed inside to watch "Group A"practice - Ovie was part of this group. As soon as the players left the ice, we headed outside, in front of the doors, Max armed with a sharpie and me with a regular camera and cell phone camera. We waited, and waited, and waited. It was hot and sunny (and remember, we were wearing pants and long-sleeves since we had been sitting inside the ice arena), Max was hungry, but we didn't budge (and I swear, he consented - I offered him several chances to go back inside, but he wanted to wait it out). I was nervous that after all of our waiting Ovie would either never appear, or just blow us off and head to his car (can't blame him - he just practiced for the first time in months, and looked a bit tired - probably wasn't super in the mood to mingle with a bunch of crazies outside). Finally, after more than an hour, Max said "Mom, here comes Ovie," and sure enough, he was on the other side of the glass door, about to come straight at us. I have to say, it's a bit surreal when he walks out - you think it's going to sound like Justin Beiber appeared, with people screeching and yelling his name - but it's quiet and kind of calm. So Max was the first person to approach Ovie (wearing a white wife beater), and ask him to sign his jersey. He did, thank goodness. He wasn't unfriendly at all, but he definitely didn't seem to be overjoyed about it. Then someone else got a turn, and Max was back in front, asking him to sign on his 8 (come on Ovie - do it right!), which he did. Then, Max asked for a picture, and thankfully, he did that too. Then, just like that, he was off and only stopped to sign one more autograph for a pretty teenage girl waiting by his car. My heart was racing and I couldn't wait to tell Russ, and to post my pictures on Facebook. But it was Max's moment - we high fived several times, stared at the photo on the camera, showed off his jersey, both talked to Russ on the phone, and just marveled at his moment. I mean, he had his jersey signed by one of the greatest hockey players of his time, and a picture taken with him!

After our Ovechkin success, we headed back inside for some long awaited lunch and to watch more practice (oh right, practice) where Mike Green was now on deck in "Group C" (we completely missed "Group B" for the Ovie stalking). As soon as this last group was done, we headed outside, checked for Green's car in the upper lot and when we didn't find it, headed down below, where sure enough, it was right by a more secluded exit. And there we sat, for more than an hour and a half. When you go down below in the parking garage, a whole subculture exists. It's not just the person who caught wind that Ovie might walk out to his car in broad daylight who sticks around for a few minutes just in case. The people down below go there for one reason only - to get to the players. To get jerseys, photos, and memorabilia signed. They know every car that's parked there, who drives it, and who came/went when. When I arrive with Max, we become "them" and we sit and swap stories about which players we have met, when, how nice they were, and we show off our signed goods. Max is often the only kid there, and I am the only mom sitting with my kid. The others are 20-somethings, retirees who have a new hobby of getting Caps autographs, or uberfans (we met the guy with the light up fingernails in that parking garage one day). For whatever our own personal reason might be, we're all there together, waiting patiently for any player to walk out. On Saturday, we were swapping our stories, when suddenly Mike Green - the guy we'd all been waiting for - walked out in skinny jeans and spiky hair. Max was first in line to get his jersey signed, then asked him to sign his stick (we happened to have it in the car and pulled it out just in case), and for a picture. Thankfully, Mike Green also did everything Max asked. Our very long day that was equally divided between watching practice and waiting in parking lots, had come to a very thrilling and "mission accomplished" end.

So when people make fun of me for my stalking habits, this is why I do it. For the chance to spend the day with Max, and for the chance to have a permanent reminder of those days - photos and signatures that can't be taken away, and to always take us back not only to this era of the Caps, but to the time in life when you're a kid and you're a fan, and you think your favorite players are just about the greatest people on earth (besides your parents, of course). It might seem like I am a crazy Caps mom, and I am, but there's a deeper reason for my madness - I stalk for the Max's sake.


  1. Just do Caps fans a favor and be gracious about it when a player refuses to give an autograph. We as fans have one of the most open, accessible teams in all of hockey, and part of that, I'm sure, is because we, as fans, respect the team, their time, and their private lives.

    There may be reasons we don't know about that a player refuses to sign an autograph. The player may be tired, or not feeling great; he may have some place to go and he's running late.

    I draw the line at the doors to the facility.

    Inside, "stalking" - waiting for an autograph - is OK. Outside, not so much, because the guys have lives too, and they should be entitled to live them.

    Last year, when Mike Green was signing autographs to advertise for Muscle Milk, he arrived late (bad traffic getting out of KCI), and stayed nearly two hours past when he was scheduled to sign, ensuring everyone in the line when the line was closed got an autograph. He was gracious, and apologetic about having to leave, but he had places to go. People who arrived over an hour beyond when the event was supposed to be over and found the line closed got snippy, and that's just not cool. But events like these happen frequently - at Wendy's, at other places - and watching the Capitals' website and player Twitter feeds allows folks to find out when and where they are.

    Last year at the Season Ticket Holder party, Ovechkin could hardly buy hot dogs for his handlers because of all the stalkerazzi hanging around. I'm sure it's tough for the guys to go out to eat, even, around here, because people are always up in their faces.

    I hope the words "please" and "thank you" were uttered in all cases. Courtesy goes a long way towards keeping our players happy, open, and accessible for all of us. :-)

  2. Wow "I Rock the Red", that was a pretty condescending comment from a fellow caps fan! What makes you better than this loving mother? What gives you the right to issue directives to other fans? What makes you think anyone was anything other than respectful in her article?

    I think that's such a great thing to do with your son, Brooke. I'm sure I'll see you around the practices!