Bob Aspromonte, making his first public autograph appearance in Houston in 25 years, drew quite a crowd of autograph-seekers when he appeared at the 36th annual TriStar Collectors Show Feb. 4-5 at NRG Arena.
A third baseman who made his major league debut in late-1956 and retired after the 1971 season, Aspromonte has quite a legacy in Houston — and all of Major League Baseball, for that matter. Just consider:
• He was the leadoff hitter for Houston Colt .45s in their inaugural season in 1962.
• He delivered the team’s first-ever hit, a single off Don Cardwell of the Chicago Cubs.
• He then scored Houston’s first-ever MLB run when Al Spangler tripled.
• He also had the first stolen base in franchise history.
Aspromonte was a .252 lifetime hitter with 60 home runs and 457 career RBIs. His career started with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and later included time with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. He was among the inaugural class of inductees into the Houston Astros Hall of Fame in 2019.
He also had two historic “lasts” tied to his legacy. Aspromonte was the last original Colt .45 to start on Opening Day for Houston in 1968 and was the last active player in baseball to wear the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had one at-bat for Brooklyn in September of 1956 as an 18-year-old fresh out of Lafayette High School.
And he was teammates with none other than Jackie Robinson in 1956.
“He had a big crowd,” of autograph-seekers, said TriStar Vice-President Bobby Mintz.
The three-day Houston show drew thousands of autograph hounds and countless card collectors. There were more than 400 dealer tables and there were dealers from 26 states selling their goods.
“The industry is really hot right now — cards, shows, etc. This was the strongest Sunday [at our three-day regional show] in 10 years. It was really packed,” Mintz said. “Overall, I thought the show was a grand slam at all levels, including [number of] autograph ticket sales, attendance, exhibitor support and more, especially since, at 10 a.m. on Friday, most of the city was frozen. We lucked out — the weather did not impact the show to the level it could have.”
The signing slate was loaded with Hall of Famers from baseball, football and basketball, plus future legends and more.
Geoff Blum and Kody Clemens were the show signers on Friday night, and Kody’s dad made an appearance at the show, too. Yep, his dad is none other than Roger Clemens.
The Saturday schedule included: Orlando Pace, Dermontti Dawson, Tony Dorsett, Jack Ham, Dan Issel, Champ Bailey, Warren Moon, Elvin Hayes, Calvin Murphy, Ralph Sampson and Bruce Matthews, among others.
The Sunday schedule included: Billy Wagner, Jeff Bagwell, Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, James Worthy, Craig Biggio, Juan Gonzalez, Lance Berkman and Larry Dierker, among others.
The show’s top signers were Houston teammates Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker: “Both had huge lines,” Mintz said. Other strong signers were former Astros stars Bagwell, Biggio and Berkman.
The list of hot signers also included Worthy, Johnny Manziel, Matthews and Moon, along with Hines Ward and Marshall Faulk. Chad Johnson and Manziel were, without question, two of the most fan-friendly signers ever. Ralph Sampson, too.
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Steve Francis, meanwhile, walked around the show with his teenage son, buying basketball cards.
“We had high expectations for this show; we knew there would be a pent-up demand. But it was a really strong show,” Mintz said.
Houston-based dealer Carl Gerjes echoed Mintz: “It was a great show. A lot of people have been anxious for something good to happen, and this was something good to happen.”
Houston-based dealer Howard Lau added: “This was the best February show in at least five years. I was really surprised by the number of kids at the show, and that’s something this hobby needs.”
Longtime vintage card dealer Roger Neufeldt said he has “never done” better selling high-grade vintage cards. He had high praise for all the usual hot sellers: Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Ernie Banks.
Neufeldt also praised complete set sales of baseball and football cards. Surprisingly, basketball cards and sets were particularly hot too, he said.
Neufeldt’s Houston sales also included a 1971 Pete Maravich rookie card. He also sold 1,000-plus commons from the 1950s and ’60s to set-builders, he said.
“This show ranked top five,” of all regional shows, said Neufeldt, who has been selling cards and more at shows since 1983.
Here’s a look at some of the souvenirs for sale at TRISTAR’s Houston Show:
• Larry Dierker-signed vintage 4-by-6 postcard: $10.
• Houston Oilers baseball hats ranged from $40-$50.
• Dak Prescott autographed and framed 11-by-14 photo: $275.
• Jose Altuve-signed mini helmet: $140.
• Several dealers had sealed grab bags for sale. One dealer, for instance, was selling $20 mixed sports “packs” for $20 each, or an NBA Box for $45, with one graded card, one hit, rookies, all-star cards and more.
• Modern cards from one dealer filled multiple plastic tubs. Cards were $1 each.
• Jose Canseco-signed Oakland A’s uniform: $129.
• Joe Theismann-signed Washington uniform: $150.
• Rafael Palmiero-signed Baltimore uniform: $98.
• There was an autographed 16-by-20 color photo of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. Asking price: $300, or best offer.
• A signed, framed photo of Willie Mays making “The Catch”: $195.
• Daryle Lamonica signed 8-by-10 photo: $10.
• Walt Garrison-signed 8-by-10 photo: $9.
• 11-by-14 signed, framed photo of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider: $1,200.
• Mantle-signed Perez-Steele Postcard: $750.
• Mantle-signed, framed 16-by-20 photo from Upper Deck Authenticated: $995.
• Houston Colt .45s Ashtray: $300.
• Replica Chicago Cubs 2016 Championship Rings: $30.
• Michael Jordan 6-ring set from his run with the Chicago Bulls: $150.
• Barry Sanders-autographed Rookie Card (1989 Score), graded-8: $500.
• Signed & framed 16-by-20 photos: Warren Moon ($150) or Luka Doncic ($400).
• Mike Tyson-signed glove: $150.
• WNBA-signed basketballs with Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes or Tina Thompson: $6 each.
• Alex Bregman-signed, framed LSU 16-by-20 photo: $250.
• Bregman replica LSU jersey: $49.
• Signed and framed Yuli Gurriel 16-by-20 photo: $399.
TRISTAR’s 37th annual Houston Show is scheduled for Feb. 3-5 2023.