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Houston proves among best cities for sports collectibles

Houston skyline. Photo: Greg Smith/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Houston skyline. Photo: Greg Smith/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

[Editor's note: A look back at the TRISTAR show in Houston in February before the coronavirus outbreak.]

As expected, sales of Kobe Bryant cards and memorabilia were brisk at the annual TRISTAR Collectors Show—or as TRISTAR Productions vice-president Bobby Mintz put it, “extremely hot”—and the same could be said for Patrick Mahomes, fresh off leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory.

Joe Montana

Joe Montana

TRISTAR’s winter show in Houston on Feb. 7-9 was star-studded, as usual, with such top signers as Joe Montana, Ryne Sandberg, Johnny Robinson, Randy Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Bobby Witt, Jr, and Yuli Gurriel.

“Attendance was strong, and the exhibitor involvement was our best in a long time,” Mintz said. “We sold out of (exhibitor) space and had to add a few tables on site to accommodate those that needed some extra space.

“The industry in general is strong right now, and with the large collection of exhibitors in one place, (it) leant itself to a strong show.”

The show had the highest number of dealer tables in years, confirmed Mintz, who attributed the growth to a strong overall market and more.

Ryne Sandberg

Ryne Sandberg

“It was a real big show, and I think everyone who attended would say so,” said longtime Houston-based dealer Carl Gerjes. “This was one of the largest winter TRISTAR shows in quite a while.

“(Even with) the (Houston) Astros’ (cheating) situation, the show still was strong, very strong. The crowd was good, very good. And sales were indicative of the crowd, very good.

“This would rank among the top two or three (shows over the past) 10 or 15 years, even without the big name (autograph signers).”

Gerjes noted that all three on-site authentication companies, particularly PSA, appeared busy throughout the weekend “with long, long lines.”

R. Todd Williams of Williams Sports Memorabilia made the trek south from Iowa to sell his wares for the first time at a Houston show and his first-ever TRISTAR show. He was thrilled after the three days.

“The crowd was steady all three days and it was amazing how friendly the customers were,” Williams said. “Some would stop by and just visit for 20 minutes, which was kind of cool to see.

“My sales were across the board, and they were good – from framed pieces to Perez-Steel and Hall of Fame cards to (vintage) equipment and more.”

Williams sold a baseball chest protector from 1910 and multiple catcher’s masks.

He also had strong demand for ticket stubs and more.

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson

And, Williams sold the lone Bryant card that he brought to the show. It was a signed Score Board card that, on Friday, three people looked at almost immediately after the show opened. The fourth person to look at that card purchased it, and each of the three later returned to buy it.

“A lot of (customers) were asking about Bryant (collectibles),” Williams said.

Howard Lau of Houston Sports Connection received the 2019 STARRY Award from TRISTAR President Jeff Rosenberg, as voted by fellow dealers as the 24annual Dealer of the Year award-winner.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Lau, who has run a store in Houston for 33 years and is one of only three card shops in the Texas city. “I’m not about awards; I’m more about marketing the hobby and my store.”

Lau was photographed on Sunday at the show with Rosenberg, and Lau was wearing a local youth baseball jersey as he also is Coach Lau – his team of 11-year-olds had three games that afternoon and evening. They won two of three.

“It was an excellent show with an excellent crowd,” Lau said. “People really came out for the show. TRISTAR, which is the best show promotor in the hobby, brought the collectors and fans – and they were spending money.

“The hobby is alive and well; we just need to continue that trend.”

And once again, Houston proved it is one of the best sports collectibles cities in the nation.

Autographs galore

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson

Mintz said the autograph pavilion ran smoothly with its “terrific, engaging guests.”

There were eight baseball prospects signing at the show and “people enjoyed meeting the potential stars of tomorrow,” Mintz said. They were Brett Baty (Mets), John Doxakis (Rays), Josiah Gray (Dodgers), Adam Kloffenstein (Blue Jays), Braden Shewmake (Braves), Bobby Witt, Jr. (Royals), Josh Wolf (Mets) and Siemon Woods Richardson (Blue Jays).

Other show signers included Barry Larkin, Roberto Alomar, Keith Hernandez, Bob Horner, Gene Stallings, Curley Culp, Larry Little, Bob Lilly and Mel Renfro, among others.

“Johnny Robinson signed a lot of cool inscriptions, being his first public show since (he was announced for the) Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Mintz said. “Joe Montana inscribed many (items), including ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’”

Brooks Robinson added “Human Vacuum Cleaner” to some autographs.

Horner was among the signers who also was an autograph-seeker, as the 1978 National League Rookie of the Year award-winner scored autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers.

Sam Bradford had not appeared at a show in at least 10 years. As he was leaving he said, “I will see you in about 10 years.”

Keith Hernandez got a lot of “Seinfeld” discussion.

Lance McCullers, Jr. gave advice to the baseball prospects while he signed in private, and all were listening carefully. Among them was Wolf, who signed at the show on Friday and came back on Sunday to meet many of the major leaguers who were signing.

“He spent several minutes talking with Lance, asking for advice as he was preparing for his first spring training experience,” said David Blakley, a collector from Sachse, Texas.

Blakley, 56, said the two show guests he most enjoyed meeting were Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore.

Johnny Robinson

Johnny Robinson

“Adrian Peterson was very personable and spelled out his full first and last name for his autograph each time,” Blakely said. “He even stopped after signing a jersey to go back and cross the ‘T’ in his last name that he had missed.”

Blakley said Patrick Willis told of playing at Candlestick Park in San Francisco – and was surprised and disappointed to hear that it had been destroyed. Willis, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker, played one season at Levi’s Stadium and said it did not compare to Candlestick, Blakley said.

Veteran dealer Randy Cook took a different approach at the Houston show. Instead of riding the Babe Ruth bandwagon, he rode the Super Bowl success of Patrick Mahomes, with cards and memorabilia.

“I guessed right,” Cook said. “I sold approximately seven Mahomes autographed cards (and) seven of 10 customers asked me about Patrick.

“It’s now The Babe Ruth Collection and The Patrick Mahomes II Collection!”