By Ross Forman
Albert Pujols did his first major memorabilia signing on April 6, 2001 – four days after making his major league debut.
His marketing agent called Houston-based TRISTAR Productions weeks earlier and asked for a favor – for TRISTAR to do a signing with this youngster who was going to make the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster out of spring training.
The agent stressed, this Pujols player was going to be really good.
Bobby Mintz and the team at TRISTAR agreed.
“I went to his hotel room with the balls (to be signed as) they didn’t have MLB photos of him yet,” Mintz said. “He was very nice, very easy (to work with). At the end, he looked at me and said, ‘Bobby, you really should save these (signed) balls; they are going to be worth a lot of money some day!’”
Mintz replied, “Albert, thanks, yet we need to sell them. If you are (correct), we will come back to you (to) sign more … and pay you more.”
Pujols answered, “Sounds good.”
Mintz added, “I hope you are right!”
Fast-forward to 2018 … Pujols has had a Hall of Fame career that should earn him a first-ballot induction in Cooperstown, New York, when he decides to retire. Just consider some of his on-field accolades, dating back to 2001, with more than 10,000 at-bats for St. Louis and the Los Angeles Angels:
• 3-time MVP;
• 10-time All-Star;
• 2-time World Series winner;
• 2-time Gold Glove Award-winner;
• 6-time Silver Slugger.
Pujols has also won a batting title, a Rookie of the Year award, the NLCS MVP, and more.
He will be an autograph-signer this summer at the 39th annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland. Pujols will be signing on Saturday, Aug. 4, starting at 11:30 a.m., in the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at The National. His signature ranges from $299 to $599, and inscriptions are $59 each.
He will be the No. 1 signer at the 2018 National, without question.
“We are very fortunate the Angels are in town and there are night games, so he can appear. I really look forward to seeing him,” said Mintz, a vice-president for Houston-based TRISTAR Productions, which has run the autograph pavilion at The National since 2006 in Anaheim, California.
Longtime baseball autograph collector David Blakley, of Dallas, will be attending the show once again.
“This year’s National offers (the) chance to get signatures from players (who) aren’t normally available,” he said. “I’m planning to get signatures from Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, and Albert Pujols.
“Pujols is especially exciting because I collect 500 Home Run Club members and 3,000 Hit Club members. And he’s both. The interesting thing about Pujols is, I won’t be able to have him inscribe his HR and hit totals since he is still playing. Maybe I’ll do something like ‘500 HR & 3,000 Hit Club.’”
Kluber and Lindor, both playing for the Indians, will be in high-demand at the show, too. Kluber is signing Friday, Aug. 3, starting at 11:30 a.m., while Lindor will be signing Thursday, Aug. 2, starting at 2 p.m.
The show runs Aug. 1-5 at the I-X Center. The National was last held in Cleveland in 2014 and this is the seventh year that the annual memorabilia extravaganza will be held in Cleveland.
The first National Sports Collectors Convention was held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel in 1980, followed by Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago over the next three years.
The National has been held in Chicago more times (11) than any other city and will return to the Windy City in 2019.
“The National is the signature event for the industry. No other event is the heartbeat of the industry. It is like going to the Hall of Fame … and you can buy everything,” Mintz said. “This will be the largest collection of sports autograph guests ever, with (more than) 150 sports celebrities under one roof. The autograph pavilion keeps getting bigger and bigger each year, and Cleveland is a great host each time we are there as the I-X Center is one of the nicest, easiest to access convention centers in the country.
“The city loves having (The National) there, and Cleveland is within a three-hour driving radius of so many big cities, (including) Detroit, Buffalo (and) Pittsburgh.
“Cleveland is a terrific location for a show of this magnitude.”
Yes, The National’s Autograph Pavilion will be big, really big. Enormous, some might say. The most signers, the most autographs, the most everything.
The TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion will encompass 40,000 square-feet and an estimated 125,000 autographs will be signed at the five-day show.
Here are a few more stats about the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion for the 2018 National:
• Number of Sharpie pens that will be used: 2,500;
• Number of ballpoint pens that will be used: 500;
• Number of 8x10 photos signed: 10,000;
• Number of baseballs signed: 15,000;
• Number of footballs signed: 5,000.
“I really believe it will be the best (Autograph Pavilion at The) National ever, which is our goal every year,” Mintz said.
The Autograph Pavilion is simply a who’s who from the sports world, led by Pujols, Lindor and Kluber. Other top signers are expected to be Jim Brown, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Julius Erving, Jim Thome, Rogers Clemens, Oscar Robertson, Joe Thomas, Barry Sanders and Cal Ripken Jr.
Five of the surprise signers, meaning, those who might sign more autographs than some might anticipate are Luis Tiant, Tommy Helms, Livan Hernandez, Jose Rijo and Tom Cousineau.
Mike Fratello and Mike Hargrove also will be sought-after signers, as will Isaac Curtis.
“Lindor and Kluber are going to have long lines, as they don’t do many shows and are stars outside Cleveland (too). Thome is so hot, a new Hall of Famer, and he too doesn’t do many (public signing sessions),” Mintz said.
If that’s not enough
Want more about the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at the 2018 National Sports Collectors Converntion? Here goes:
Actors Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen, both of whom starred in the movie “Major League,” will be signing autographs.
“People are looking forward to seeing them,” Mintz said.
The famed Hansen Brothers of “Slapshot” fame will be signing.
“Everyone remembers this movie,” and these legendary hockey players,” Mintz said.
Three signers who no doubt will be getting autographs from other signers:Reggie Jackson, Corey Kluber and Joe Theismann. Kluber collects other Cy Young award-winners on baseballs.
Advice on how best to attack the Autograph Pavilion: “Focus on players you likely can’t get at other shows and signings. Also, look at the age of many of the guests, as you never know when you will get another chance.”
Getting Personal, from Mintz: “My first recollection of watching Monday Night Baseball was in the 1970s, (and) I couldn’t have been much more than 8 or 9 years-old,” Mintz said. “My dad came in the room and asked what I was watching. I said, ‘the Big Red Machine.’ He said, ‘The Big Red, what? What is that?’ I said, ‘The best team in Major League Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds.’ Yep, those Reds’ teams might have been the best teams ever. I always look forward to seeing Dave Concepcion and all the Reds. It never gets old.”
More from Mintz: “Dr. J is always someone I try and take a photo (with), as he was my favorite growing up and still is one of my favorites today. So nice, smooth, and cool.”
For more information about the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at the 39th National Sports Collectors Convention, go to: www.TRISTARproductions.com/schedule.html#National.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.