It was toward the end of the 2006 baseball season when I started to tag along with a friend who was a veteran of tracking athletes down at team hotels to get autographs. During that first trip out I felt the anticipation, the rush, the heartbreak that all graphers know. I was hooked. After venturing out a handful of times, I had collected an armful of new treasures and started to pick up tricks of the trade from observing the other collectors. But there was one lesson I came upon myself, not long after my starter kit of a half-dozen baseballs were all inked.
Collecting autographs can get expensive. Fast.
Standing in an aisle of my local Modell’s, I turned the crystal cube containing the Rawlings Official Major League Baseball (ROMLB) over in my hands. The price tag read $12.99. My face read disappointment. I knew I would need a ton of balls to take advantage of an 81-game home schedule and several special events featuring Red Sox players during the year. Then my eyes tracked down a shelf to a mesh black bag containing a dozen baseballs. Rawlings Official League—a synthetic leather replica of the real deal. They averaged out to fewer than three bucks a piece, less than a quarter the price of the genuine article. Figuring I wasn’t selling the balls and looking nearly identical when displayed, no one would know the difference. Why go broke? I’d still pick up a couple ROMLBs in case I encountered a superstar. But was a second-tier veteran or an unproven rookie like Dustin Pedroia (who was hitting .182 at the time) worth placing a $13 bet? Not when I was saving for a house and a ring. Anyway, they were white baseballs with red laces. What could go wrong?
Little did I know it would be a gamble that wouldn’t pay off.
I was happy with the results of a full season of graphing baseball, adding stars like Alex Rodriguez and Matt Holliday to my collection, as well as several Red Sox players (including that Pedroia fella who actually turned out to be pretty good). Then a funny thing happened. After another long New England winter, spring finally sprung. My girlfriend (who would become Mrs. Raymond two years later) and I bought a place of our own and I got to work decorating my new man cave. There was a perfect mantle running the length of one wall where I would display my signed baseball collection. I couldn’t wait to dig them out. When I did, I nearly screamed.
Several of my autographs had begun to vanish.
The Schilling. The Abreu. The Reggie Jackson (a Nike ball stamped “Genuine Leather” which was complete bull—or actually, not complete bull). The Henry, Werner and Lucchino. THE PEDROIA!
They were fading, bleeding. I think I saw a tear rolling off The Buchholz. It was a crime scene, and the only guilty party was me.
Learn from my mistake. Always use a ROMLB. If the cost is prohibitive, choose lesser expensive items like photos and cards, or start a team ball. I wish I did.
One of the exciting things about this hobby is the thought that someday you can entertain your kids with the stories and items in your collection. Let’s hope mine have a good imagination.