I recently interviewed Ryan O’Hearn who is the Royals #17 ranked prospect by Royals Farm Report. If you have read my articles or follow me on Twitter @RoyalsCollector, then you should know that I focus on the fan experience and that is where I took this interview, focusing on fans, autograph collecting, and game used memorabilia.
If you have been lucky enough to see Ryan O’Hearn come up through the system then you may have seen his fan-friendly nature. It is not uncommon to see him signing autographs before games for kids and adults alike. I was lucky enough to see him play with the Storm Chasers in 2017 and was witness to his interactions with the fans including for me and my son.
Q: What does the Royals organization do to prepare you for the celebrity effect of being a professional baseball player?
RO: Every year in spring training there is a meeting day where we cover it. Swanee on the big-league side talks about it along with etiquette. With so much social media these days there are so many ways to interact with fans and you don’t want to say something that you wouldn’t want your pastor or your mom to see.
It’s nice because as you come up through the system you get eased into it. For the average player there is not a lot of pressure as you start in Idaho Falls. Then you get a little bit more in Lexington and a little bit more as you move up. It might be a little bit different if you’re a first rounder. For me I started out in Idaho Falls and was eased into it. Going through the system and going to spring training you learn from the guys that have been through it and know how to do it. I just try to be myself, be respectful and hopefully that is enough.
Q: Do you have any role models in the Royals organization as far as watching them with the fans?
RO: My #1 would be Mike Sweeney, he’s been a good role model for me. Every spring training and whenever he comes out to watch us play I just watch to see how he is interacting with the fans. Glenn Hubbard in Lexington was a good one to watch too. They were both good players and even better people who I look up to and try to emulate.
Q: Did you have any player/fan interactions growing up as a kid?
RO: That is something unique about baseball, the amount of interaction there is with the fans. When I was growing up I went to minor league games and looked up to those guys and even the smallest bit of interaction with those guys or an autograph meant so much. I would go see the Phillies, Blue Jays and go to Tropicana to see the Rays play.
Q: Do you still collect autographs today?
RO: No, I don’t. I did when I was a kid and still have a binder of the cards somewhere.
Q: Now that you are player how do you view interactions with the fans?
RO: Every day that I get to go play baseball is a blast for me. I enjoy being out there interacting with people who love the game and came out to support us. It is an honor to be out there playing in front of the fans. Mutual respect is the way that it will benefit you in the long run as a player and as a fan.
Q: As a player now, how important are the fans to you?
RO: The fans are everything. Without the fans none of this would happen. As a player if you’re having a bad day at the plate and you give away a bat to a kid then it makes you feel like you did something positive for the day. Especially the kids, you want to interact with them as much as possible. That is one way that we can help the sport and continue to grow it. It’s nice to give back just like the players did for me when I was that age.
Q: The Las Vegas Golden Knights recently prohibited adult fans from getting autographs, what are your feelings about signing autographs for a kid versus an adult?
RO: I try to be nice to everyone, though the kids are obviously cool to interact with because a lot of them are baseball players and you may have a lifelong impact on them. At the same time the adults are fans too and they go to the games and support me, the team, and the Royals, so if I can have a nice conversation or sign some autographs for them then I enjoy that too. I have something in common with people who enjoy baseball so it’s nice to get to talk to them.
Q: Do you get a lot of people wanting to stop you after games for autographs or waiting out in the parking lot for you to come by?
RO: Yes, but it does not bother me too much. The one rule for me is that for the most part I will stop and sign whether I had a good game or a bad game unless my mom is in town. If mom is waiting then you got to get going because you can’t keep her waiting.
Q: Is there an interaction you have had with a fan that stands out to you?
RO: Nothing specific but anytime you get to work a camp with the kids is great. It happens once or twice a season and you get to spend some extra time with them. You’re not in a hurry to get anywhere or on the move to the clubhouse and you get to hangout and talk baseball. Every stop I’ve made has a group of people who are big time supporters and you learn to appreciate that and you get to interact with them every day. I don’t know what it like in the big leagues yet but in the minor leagues it’s a pretty intimate, close proximity where you see these guys every day. You get to build a relationship with them and you get to have these interactions with them quite often, which is great. I learned to appreciate that and any kind of impact I can have, especially on the kids, is really cool for me.
Q: The Storm Chasers put on one of those baseball 101 clinics for their Lil’ Chasers club in 2017. Bubba Starling, Malcom Culver and yourself were the players that worked with the kids. Is that something you volunteer for or get asked to do?
RO: They have events like that throughout the season and you get to pick and choose which one you want to do. I have been fortunate enough to be part of one of those every year and is one of the ones I like to do. You get to interact with the kids and play baseball and those are two things that I enjoy. Anytime you get to go out on the field and have fun with the kids it’s fun for me too.
Q: Have you had any bad experiences with fans that you would care to share?
RO: Luckily no, not that I can think of off the top of my head. You have your normal hecklers but not any bad experiences.
Q: Do you get mail from fans asking for autographs and how do you handle that?
RO: I get quite a bit during the season and have no problem sending that stuff back. I think it’s good karma and anytime you can help someone else out or make a fan then there is no reason you should not do it.
Q: On eBay there are over 50 listings of cards that you signed for the Topps baseball card company for their 2017 Bowman chrome card set. How many did they send you to sign?
RO: Too many, there were 4,000 cards that I did in June of 2017.
Q: Do you get asked for your equipment like bats and batting gloves and how do you handle it?
RO: Yea, people ask all the time and it just depends on the day as to what happens. Baseball players are weird, we get into routines and have superstitions. Sometimes if I have a pair of batting gloves does not feel right to me then I would rather give them away then throw them in the trash, especially if it could bring joy to someone else. As far as broken bats go, I have always been one to give up the broken bats after the game because it makes you feel a little bit better when you see the look on a kids face. However, If I’m raking with the bat and the batting gloves then I will definitely be holding on to them but if I think it’s time for a change then yea why not get it away and maybe make someone’s night.
Q: How often do you change bats?
RO: It depends, I get superstitious sometimes. I get to the to the field sometimes and feel like I need a fresh bat. Start something new and get a fresh feel going and I’ll give that bat away or put in back in the collection and sometimes you go back to it. It’s just a superstition thing or a feel thing.
Q: Do you have certain bats that you use for batting practice versus game play?
RO: I don’t like to use my gamer in batting practice. It’s the same model most of the time and is usually a little more beat up.
Q: Do you use other players bats during the season?
RO: I’ve used quite a few different models of bats and switch them out with guys. I use one of Bubba’s bats for a couple of weeks last year. That’s kind of how you learn what you want. For a while I used a buddy of mine’s bat, Derek Fisher of the Astros, because we switched out and I liked his bat. It just how you figure out what you like.
Special thanks to Ryan O’Hearn for the interview.
Photo Credits: Minda Haas Kuhlmann