Tristar Productions celebrates its 35th Anniversary Houston show June 4-6 under a spotlight that shines well beyond the sports memorabilia industry.
The star-studded, three-day extravaganza, the first major regional show in the U.S. over the past 15 months due to the pandemic, will feature about 25 autograph guests, including four Baseball and three Pro Football Hall of Fame members. There will be about 500 dealer tables of vendors selling every possible sports collectible, including several high-profile dealers who have not appeared at a Tristar show in years, organizers confirmed.
The show, held at NRG Arena, opens at 2 p.m. on June 4 and at 10 a.m. the next two days. All attendees must wear face masks (as of the deadline for this story), per NRG Park policy.
“I never could have imagined that we’d go 16 months without promoting a sports memorabilia show,” said Tristar President Jeff Rosenberg. “Optimism is the key word right now. I’m so excited for this show, to do what we love: going to a sports memorabilia show … buying, selling, and trading sports memorabilia … getting autographs from and photos with various sports celebrities.
“Maybe we took that for granted in the past. But not anymore.”
The show floor, where hundreds of dealers will be hawking thousands of sports and non-sport collectibles, will have larger aisles and there will be more, regular cleanings of the venue throughout the event, said Rosenberg, who admitted that, yes, he is a bit nervous for this show.
He wants it to be a home run.
“We want it to come off well and run smoothly, especially since we’re really expecting big crowds” due to the high demand and interest in today’s card market, he said.
The autograph lineup includes Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Drew Pearson, Bob Lilly, Ted Simmons, Larry Walker and Willie Roaf, among others.
Former University of Texas star quarterback Sam Ehlinger, selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the recent 2021 NFL Draft, might be the most popular signer.
Rosenberg was a lot more conservative on the autograph signing slate 35 years ago, when his company held its first show in the Houston area — a two-day November weekend show with two autograph signers and about 75 dealer tables at a Ramada Hotel.
“Pulling up [to the hotel] that Saturday morning, at about 6 a.m. for a show that was set to start at 10 a.m., people were lined up outside of the show ballroom, onto the [adjacent] street, and then down the nearby freeway,” Rosenberg said. “People had started lining up for the show on Friday night.”
Saturday’s guest was Billy Hatcher, an outfielder for the Houston Astros at the time who ultimately played for seven teams in the majors from 1984-1995.
“Saturday night, people were camping out [at the hotel] for Sunday,” as the second guest was Mark McGwire, the home run hero. “People went crazy when (McGwire) came into the show,” Rosenberg said.
McGwire signed in a separate room from the main show, and Rosenberg wasn’t able to walk the show floor that Sunday until about 5 p.m. due to demand for McGwire’s autograph.
“That show was packed, and dealers were already asking me, ‘When’s the next show?’” Rosenberg said. “We didn’t know there’d be another.”
Sure enough, Tristar has soared for decades on the card show scene, bringing shows to countless cities across the U.S. Tristar has produced shows over the years in Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix, Kansas City, St. Louis, Las Vegas and elsewhere.
And thousands of athletes have signed literally millions of autographs at Tristar shows.
Pete Rose has been an autograph guest at perhaps more Tristar shows than anyone. Lance Berkman has signed autographs at the most Tristar shows in Houston.
Tristar has truly been a who’s who in the sports world, delivering an eye-popping array of autograph signers in Houston and beyond. Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali and Tom Brady have been past Tristar show guests.
Tristar held a show in Las Vegas 20-plus years ago with 60 Hall of Famers — 15 from each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, hockey and football. And Ali also signed autographs at that show. In fact, Ali was a guest at about 10 Tristar shows over the years.
“It’s hard to believe, 35 years. It feels like yesterday we started all of this,” Rosenberg said. “Humbling is the word that comes to mind, as it really has been overwhelming over the years. So many memories from 35 years of Houston shows.
“As I look back, I see an incredible evolution of the industry, the hobby. But the constant, what remains the same is, people’s love of sports and people’s love of cherishing these memories through trading cards, autographs, game-used memorabilia and more.
“The kid in me who had the idea to start [promoting] shows … he is now just an older kid who still loves these shows.”
Tristar vice-president Bobby Mintz, who has worked at Tristar shows for the past 30 years, added: “As I reflect on the past, I think about our staff that put in the hours over the years, including all our volunteers, who help to make our shows so organized and successful. All our customers who have been with us, in some cases since the beginning … we have gotten old together. All our exhibitors who have traveled with us wherever we went; many are no longer with us, and I think about them from time to time. All the cities and convention centers we have traveled to.
“It’s been some great memories.”
Take, for instance, the time Mantle yelled at Mintz, as the Baseball Hall of Famer didn’t think a long, elaborate introduction was needed for Mantle’s second of two days signing at a Tristar show.
Mantle told Mintz: “Just say I have started to sign autographs.”
“As he left, he said, ‘I didn’t mean to yell at you; I don’t like showing anyone up. I am no different than anyone else.’ That always stuck with me,” Mintz said of Mantle.
Mintz also has memories from DiMaggio autograph signings at Tristar shows in various cities. DiMaggio invited Mintz to his San Francisco home for dinner, but Mintz couldn’t go as he had to prepare for a show. Mintz now simply tags that as “a big regret of mine.”
Emmitt Smith also created show memories for Rosenberg and Mintz, including the time he arrived literally one minute before he was scheduled to sign. Tristar officials were nervous, to put it mildly. They had had no communication with Smith or his personnel, and they had sold all his autograph tickets.
Smith winked at Mintz when he arrived and simply said, “I am right on time!”
Tom Brady wore a Tristar hat years ago at a Tristar signing in Atlantic City, and Mintz asked him for the hat back after the signing as they were short on hats and they wanted other signers to wear their hat with the logo.
Tristar shows in Houston have delivered some of the biggest names ever in baseball and football, and stars also from basketball and hockey. Bagwell, Biggio and Roger Clemens have been regulars, as well as J.J. Watt, Earl Campbell and others.
Ali was The Greatest as a show signer, too.
“He never told us ‘No.’ He would do whatever the fans [wanted]; he loved meeting people,” Mintz said.
“It’s pretty crazy … we’ve had a lot of big names,” said Rosenberg, who points to such past guests as Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Albert Pujols, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, among countless other immortals.
“We’re thrilled to bring these names to the fans,” Rosenberg said.
Michael Jordan remains the athlete who Rosenberg would — someday, any day, anywhere — love to have at a Tristar show. As would collectors around the world.
“The appetite of collectors is ready for a card show. They can’t wait to get there — June 4, when the show opens … to be back at a sports memorabilia convention,” Rosenberg said. “I think there will be a frenzy — to get in, to get autographs, to just collect sports memorabilia.
“It will be a special event.”
It will be a milestone event for Tristar, arguably the biggest and best show promotor for decades.
For more information about the Tristar Show in Houston June 4-6, including information on purchasing autograph tickets in advance, go to www.tristarproductions.com.