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Did you know that you can get free autographs from many of your favorite professional athletes? All it takes is a little bit of time and initiative, a self addressed stamped envelope, and something for the stars to autograph.

First, write a letter to the athlete whose autograph you desire. Handwritten letters are best, since they seem more personal and genuine, and they cannot be mass generated. Remember: the last thing pro athletes want to spend their free time doing is sending autographed memorabilia to business men. So let them know in the letter that you are a fan, and that you will cherish the autograph. A nice touch is to ask them to sign the autograph to you personally. If the memorabilia is signed, say, "To John, from Kobe Bryant" it will be worth less monetarily than just a Kobe Bryant autograph.

Next, determine what you want autographed. Sports cards are perfect. They're small, light, easily sent through mail, and bare the picture of the autograph giver. Other common items include photos, newspaper clippings, and baseballs. You could send just about anything, but remember: large items are less likely to be signed, especially because they are sometimes left unopened for security reasons. Also, pictures and cards are easily bent in the mail if you send them only in a light envelope. Finally, a trend of late has been for ball players to only sign cards of a certain brand, so pictures are the safest bet.

Whatever you send, be sure to include sufficient postage and packaging to get the item back to you. The easier you make signing and returning an item, the better your chances of success.

Finally, address your items to the player whose autograph you seek, in care of their team. Team addresses for temas in every sport are easily obtainable on the Internet. Just type in the city and team name in address searches on sites like Yahoo, Google, or MSN.com.

Most, but not all, athletes will accomodate reasonable requests within 6 to 8 weeks. And remember, the bigger the star, the longer it will take.

Those who don't accomodate the requests almost always return the item if sufficient postage is enclosed, but it still isn't recommeneded to send anything too valuable through the mail. If it is a rare or valuable item that you want autographed, better to hold onto it unsigned than to risk losing it. And you can always camp out at the ballpark or arena and try to get the autograph in person.