By Barry Blair
In one of his biggest hits, James Taylor sings “In my mind I’m going to Carolina.” For Wes Starkey, the move to Carolina has been a hit for him as well, with the shows that he promotes all around the state.
Seven years ago, the Floyd, Virginia native took over Inside Pitch Promotions, and now he does up to 18 shows a year, and they are successful, all of them. This has happened at a time when a lot of shows across the country have struggled.
“I’ve been a collector myself for over 30 years,” he said at a show in Hickory during the summer. “When I got into promoting my own shows, I had no idea it would take off like it has.”
This led him to retire as a successful high school women’s softball coach, athletic director, and teacher at Floyd County High School, where he had been for over 30 years.
“My teams were in contention for a state title on several occasions, but we never won the big one,” he lamented.
There is no doubt he has taken the same principles that made him a successful coach and administrator and applied them to the collectibles business. All you have to do is watch him in action, dealing with his vendors and customers. He moves around the floor, always promoting, always talking, and taking care of business as the show goes on. He has a lot of regular dealers, some who come from as far away as New York and Florida.
His shows are all across the state, held in large venues, and they draw large crowds.
“We average a little over 1,000 people coming to a show,” he said. “The number of tables available vary from 200, on up to 400 in the larger markets of Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh.”
Most shows sell out weeks in advance. He has a waiting list and does his best to try and work everybody in. While the bulk of his business is sports cards and memorabilia, he has expanded to also have vendors of toys and comics.
At this show, the floor is already crowded by 9:30 a.m. Customers wait to get their turn at some tables. Aaron Judge cards are hot. After his success at the All-Star Game Home Run Derby, and having assaulted Joe DiMaggio’s long standing record for most home runs by a Yankees rookie, his cards are the hot item all around the room.
Add Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger, and the Braves’ hot young prospect Ronald Acuna to that list as well.
“I came prepared with Judge and Bellinger cards, but not for Acuna,” said one vendor, his table covered with rows of only rookie cards. “They were all gone in 30 minutes. I’ve got a guy out on the floor trying to find me some more right now.”
He had large stacks of Dansby Swanson and Trae Turner. I pointed and asked about them.
“I brought a bunch of these, but they have cooled off as Dansby can’t get his batting average much over the Mendoza line,” he said. “I’ve sold a few, but nothing like I thought I would.”
The dreaded Mendoza line is named for former player Mario Mendoza, an outstanding glove man who struggled to get his average to stay up over .200 throughout his career. He was forever immortalized when George Brett once told a sportswriter “that I look in the paper to see who is hitting below the Mendoza line.” For that, he lives forever in baseball infamy.
“The demand for the Nationals’ Turner died off after he was injured,” the vendor said. “Nobody knew who Bellinger was when the season started, now I can’t get enough of his cards. At the last Charlotte show, everybody wanted Dansby and Turner, now, not so much. Is this a crazy business or what?”
“It’s kinda like the stock market,” I told him.
“You got that right,” he said.
It wasn’t very long ago that the cards of the Cubs were all the rage, but a lackluster first half of the season changed all of that, at least in this part of the country.
I notice that all the Carolina shows seem to have a large demand for older cards. Both Edward Lawson of Morristown, Tennessee and “Uncle James” Wall of Morven, North Carolina deal strictly in older cards. They said on this day that business had been good. They have been doing Wes’s shows since he started. Lawson was looking to buy and sell as he prepared to go to The National.
“I always do well there,” he told me, as he helped me find a couple of former Boston Red Sox star Rico Petrocelli cards I was looking for.
No doubt about it baseball cards are the big thing at these shows. But they are not everything. At his Charlotte shows, the demand is good for Carolina Panthers football cards, and also for hometown guy Steph Curry’s Davidson College and Golden State Warriors cards.
Across the state, you see a lot of ACC memorabilia. He even has dealers who sell nothing but cards, programs, and pictures of University of North Carolina players, especially basketball. Needless to say, Michael Jordan is the subject of much adoration no matter where you go in the state. You see some Duke stuff, but not as much as you would think. In Hickory, they are partial to the San Francisco Giants World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, who lives nearby.
In Raleigh, people like to tell you stories about the late baseball HOF’er, Enos “Country” Slaughter, who lived in nearby Roxboro.
You see some NASCAR stuff in North Carolina, something you don’t find as much of anymore at other shows. Charlotte is the home of The NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Did I mention wrestling? Wes brings in wrestlers to do autographs and the fans come to see them. Do they ever. Last December, in Raleigh, he had Ivan Koloff, “The Russian Bear.” It was one of his last appearances as he passed away unexpectedly a couple of months later. In Charlotte, in April, it was WWE Hall of Famers “The Rock and Roll Express,” and the line for their autographs and pictures was never ending the whole time they were there. A lot of people slung one of their championship belts over a shoulder and had their picture made with them. I’m not sure what they paid for that privilege, but boy you couldn’t have made them any happier.
You can check the show schedule in the back of Sports Collectors Digest for the state of North Carolina to see when the next Inside Pitch Promotions show is scheduled. The shows are currently held in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Hickory, and Salisbury. Some of the Raleigh shows are done in conjunction with Michael Christopher. u
Barry Blair is an author/writer and freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He lives in Jonesborough, Tennessee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website www.rightfieldpress.com.