By Ross Forman
There already are more than 100 autograph signers set to appear at this summer’s 38th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, with its five-day run starting Wednesday, July 26, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
That total will, no doubt, rise and, ultimately, about 100,000 autographs will be signed.
Holy Sharpie, Batman!
The National, as it’s commonly called, is the Super Bowl of Sports Memorabilia Conventions. And the Tristar Autograph Pavilion at The National, organized by Houston-based Tristar Productions, Inc., is, without question, the best annual signing session.
“It should be one of the best Chicago Nationals ever,” said Tristar Vice-President Bobby Mintz. “With a great mix of celebrities from over seven sports, plus The Fonz (played by actor Henry Winkler), the advance response has been strong. With the Cubs coming off their first World Series championship (in 108 years in 2016), and the team playing in Milwaukee during The National, (collectors) can see the Cubs on the road and the White Sox at home (during the convention).”
The 2017 Tristar Autograph Pavilion is, as expected, a star-studded event, starring Mike Tyson, Bobby Hull, Barry Sanders, Cal Ripken, Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez, just to name a few. There will also be more than 30 signers who have never appeared at The National (at least since 2006, when Tristar took over the Autograph Pavilion), such as Earl Monroe, Ken Anderson, Ray Bourque, Guy LaFleur, Lenny Wilkens, Bill Goldberg, Lance Armstrong, and others.
The autograph lineup is very strong, period. Just consider:
Number of Sharpie pens that will be used: 1,000;
Number of ballpoint pens that will be used: 500;
Number of 8x10 photos that will be signed: 45,000;
Number of baseballs signed: 25,000.
“Chicago is always a great collecting market and with the Cubs winning last year’s World Series for the first time in 108 years, we can’t wait to get there,” Mintz said.
Mintz is excited for Monroe’s appearance.
“Growing up in Long Island, New York, my father would mention ‘The Pearl’ all the time, (so) I thought that was his first name, only to find out years later that his real first name was Earl,” Mintz said. “AROD did his first three public shows with us in 1996 and 1997, and was terrific to us then. I look forward to catching up with him now.”
David Blakley, a Texas-based collector, is coming to Chicago for yet another National – and to expand his baseball autograph collection.
“I’m excited that there are some athletes signing that I have not seen at previous Nationals. I’m planning to add Alex Rodriguez to my 500-home run collection, as well as Jimmy Rollins and Kerry Wood.”
AROD will, no doubt be a top signer. Who else will be a signing machine at the show?
The top 12 signers likely will be: AROD, Lance Armstrong, Earl Monroe, Bill Goldberg, Lenny Wilkens, Kevin McHale, Bill Cartwright, Ray Bourque, Guy
LaFleur, Bill Polian, Jimmy Rollins and David Ross.
Then again, there are at least five others who might surprise, with a high total of autographs signed, such as, Ken Anderson, Pat Zachry, Michael Irvin, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus and David Ross.
And no doubt The Fonz will be a hit.
“The Fonz is one of the top 10 most recognizable characters in TV sitcom history,” Mintz said.
And Goldberg is one of the most famous pro wrestlers of all time, having first shined in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and then World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
“I wish The National started today … we started planning this one (on) the Sunday night the show ended (last summer) in Atlantic City,” Mintz said.
Blakeley added, “This year seems to have a wide variety of signers and unique categories. I think Lance Armstrong will be very popular. Even if you don’t follow sports or cycling, most people are very familiar with Armstrong.
“I’m planning to get an autograph from Henry Winkler. I grew up watching ‘Happy Days’ every week on television, (so I) can’t pass up the chance to meet ‘The Fonz.’
“One of the best things about the autograph pavilion at The National is when you see the celebrities interact with each other and become fans just like the rest of us. They often seem genuinely excited to meet universally known stars like Mike Tyson, Cal Ripken Jr., or Dennis Rodman.”
Ross Forman is a contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.