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TRISTAR’s Houston show in July provided many memorable experiences

The TRISTAR Productions sports memorabilia convention brought back familiar dealers, and provided memorable autograph experiences for collectors.

By Ross Forman

Randy Cook was his usual jovial, friendly, outgoing self at TRISTAR Productions’ sports memorabilia convention, held July 6-8 at NRG Arena in Houston. He had his usual eye-popping array of relics, strong as always on collectibles tied to Babe Ruth.

 Randy Cook was back at it on the show circuit, set up at the TRISTAR Productions’ sports memorabilia convention, July 6-8. (Ross Forman photos)

Randy Cook was back at it on the show circuit, set up at the TRISTAR Productions’ sports memorabilia convention, July 6-8. (Ross Forman photos)

He shared a story about Sunday customers, arguably his favorites from the three-day show, even though they only spent about $60 combined. But it was two 11-year-old brothers patiently looking at almost every card in every display case he had. The boys weren’t in a rush, nor was their dad.

They spent almost an hour looking at Cook’s cards, asking the veteran dealer a variety of questions, listening to the stories he told.

“They were in their element; they asked about The Babe and others, and were just very polite,” Cook said. “It was great that their dad never rushed them; he let the boys be boys.”

Cook’s passion for the hobby was never more evident than the time he spent with the youngsters, or hours later when he reflected back.

Cook is always positive, uplifting, no doubt now more than ever.

The TRISTAR July show marked Cook’s return to the show circuit following a major heart attack suffered May 2 in Columbia, Missouri.

Cook watched two college softball games and, after the second game ended, he took a few steps toward his car, but started feeling pain in the middle of his chest up to his shoulder. He wanted to sit down immediately, but saw a college player nearby and didn’t want to scare her.

Cook took a deep breath, and the pain got worse.

Still, he walked slowly, sweating profusely, to his car, and turned on the air conditioner.

Cook knew he was in trouble.

He saw a friend in the car’s rear-view mirror, and Cook blasted his horn. 

Roger Carter came right over and Cook said, “Roger, I’m in trouble” – and 911 was called.

Cook remembers hearing the sirens quickly approaching that Wednesday, but not much else.

He was taken to the University of Missouri Medical Center, where doctors quickly learned that Cook had 100 percent blockage of the main artery in his heart.

They eventually put a stint in his heart.

Cook spent three days in the ICU and was released several days later.

“I was a little anxious, (filled with) anxiety going to the Houston show,” Cook said. “But, (the hobby) is a great group of people, offering so much encouragement.”

Cook has lost 27 pounds and is doing 35-rounds of cardio rehabilitation

Just coming to a card show makes Cook smile – now more than ever.

 Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith shares a photo with a couple of Dallas Cowboys fans. (Ross Forman)

Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith shares a photo with a couple of Dallas Cowboys fans. (Ross Forman)

The three-day TRISTAR show attracted about 4,000 collectors – with autograph appearances by Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Lance McCullers Jr., A.J. Hinch, Earl Campbell, DeAndre Hopkins, Malik Jefferson, Mel Renfro, Cat Osterman, Jack Morris and others.

Tony Kemp, of #HugsForHomers fame, also was an autograph guest – and when he jumped into the arms of a collector, the photo went viral. Even Sports Illustrated retweeted the picture.

Also signing autographs at the show were Brent Strom, Dave Hudgens, Vince Young, Carl Lewis and Keke Coutee, among others.

“The show was OK, though impacted by the weather and the Astros having day games,” said longtime dealer Rich Gove.

Still, Gove noted sales of both a 1963 and 1964 Topps baseball set. He also sold unopened 1960-62 packs.

Ironically, Gove didn’t sell even one Mickey Mantle card, though he did move a Nolan Ryan rookie, along with a 1959 Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente cards from 1961 and 1970.He also sold a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

In addition, he sold several 1995 cards of A.W. Moonlight Graham from the movie “Field of Dreams” – for $5 per card.

Gove also was selling for $25 the rare promo cards of DeWayne Buice and Wally Joyner from Upper Deck – to hype the then-new card maker. These were the first cards ever produced by Upper Deck, made one year before Upper Deck’s first set (1989 Baseball) was produced.

Now signing

 Keke Coutee (right) spends some time with a young fan. (Ross Forman)

Keke Coutee (right) spends some time with a young fan. (Ross Forman)

Keke Coutee was a Sunday show-signer, bringing smiles to the faces of many locals – just as he wants to do on Sundays this fall. Coutee was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft and quickly signed a four-year contract.

Coutee played at Texas Tech from 2015-17, grabbing 159 career receptions for 2,424 total yards and 17 touchdowns. He also had one rushing and one kick return touchdown.

But first, let’s clarify the name.

Keke is his nickname, given to him by his mom since many couldn’t pronounce his real first name: Key’vantanie.

Coutee said draft-day was “the most stressful day” he’s endured

“Just to get that one call (from the Texans) was a blessing; it was like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I’m very, very happy to be a Houston Texan.”

As a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2015, Coutee played in all 13 games, making two starts, with 11 receptions.

Coutee broke out as a sophomore in 2016, playing all 12 games, catching 55 passes for 890 yards and seven touchdowns.

Last fall, as a junior, Coutee caught 93 passes in 13 games for 1,429 yards and 10 touchdowns, along with a 92-yard kick return against Baylor. Coutee’s 1,429 receiving yards ranks second in school history for a single season behind Michael Crabtree’s 1,962 in 2007.

“I had great coaching and a lot of great teammates, all of whom helped me get to the next level,” Coutee said.

Now 21, Coutee played at Lufkin High School in Texas

“I feel like (the Texans) will have a great year (in 2018),” Coutee said. “We have a lot of great players. … I think we can be one of the best teams in the NFL this year. We have a lot of ammunition, a pretty stacked team.”

Coutee was a collector of Michael Vick cards and never got hooked on autograph collecting.

So you know

Tony Kemp was one of the most popular show signers, certainly for his Hugs For Homers.

 Tony Kemp jumped into the arms of a collector at the TRISTAR Productions’ show in Houston. (Ross Forman photo)

Tony Kemp jumped into the arms of a collector at the TRISTAR Productions’ show in Houston. (Ross Forman photo)

“I started (the hugs) in AAA, just a way to keep (the mood) light, and then I brought it up (to the majors) with (Evan) Gattis – and people liked it,” said Kemp, 26, who made his major league debut in 2016.

Kemp has since produced T-shirts, showing Kemp in the arms of Gattis.

All shirt proceeds are going to the Astros Youth Academy, for kids who can’t afford baseball equipment.

The shirts, available at, are $25.

“Ever since I was little, I always wanted a shirt to (benefit) a charity,” Kemp said.

More than 1,200 shirts have already been sold, raising more than $5,000 for charity.

Kemp said the best thing about the 2018 Astros is that the team “comes to the field every day with a positive attitude, making sure that we take care of business.”

Kemp graduated from Centennial High School in Franklin, Tennessee, then went to Vanderbilt University. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-SEC in 2011.

Kemp was named an All-American and the Southeastern Conference Baseball Player of the Year in 2013 and was a fifth-round pick of the Astros in the 2013 MLB Draft.

“God gave me abilities, and I just go out there and have fun,” he said. 

So will the Astros repeat as World Series champions?

The answer will be revealed in the fall, but there certainly is optimism in Houston.

“Our team wants two, three, four or more rings, so we never quit,” Kemp said.

Kemp said his man-cave is filled with jerseys, including Mookie Betts, David Price, Aaron Judge and others. 

“It’s going to be pretty cool when I can get each (hung and displayed) in shadow-boxes,” he said.

Kemp also has autograph baseballs, such as Nolan Ryan, who he acquired in early July.

When asked who the one autograph he’d like to add to his collection, Kemp snapped, Ken Griffey Jr.

Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at