By Chuck Greenwood
Astellar lineup of Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers autograph guests sparked a large
turnout of collectors recently at the Monroeville ExpoMart in Pittsburgh.
Under the direction of promoter Sean Bennett from Pittsburgh Sports Wholesale, this is becoming a regular stop for Western Pennsylvania memorabilia and sportscard collectors.
Since this was NFL Draft Weekend, a television set was set up for the football fans to keep watch on their favorite team’s draft selections.
Freddy Sanchez, the 2006 National League batting champion, along with Pirates teammates Jack Wilson and Adam LaRoche brought the crowd in early on Saturday.
“It was a good experience,” said Sanchez. “It gives me a chance to interact with the fans and sign some autographs for them. I think it’s important for us as players to be able to communicate with the fans, especially our fans here in Pittsburgh.”
While he’s not a big collector himself, Sanchez is starting to collect for his son and his nephew.
“I kept some of the All-Star Game memorabilia from last year,” Sanchez said. “I kept some of the passes and also the nameplate from my locker. When they get older, I think they will think that’s neat. For myself, I did keep the bat from my final at-bat in the 2006 season. That’s the bat that clinched the batting title for me.”
Wilson, the longest-tenured Pirate on this year’s roster, said he has done 20 or 30 signings at shows throughout his career.
“It’s always fun to be out there,” he said. “At a show, people are paying the company, so I like to step it up. If they’re paying, they want it for the right reason. Most of the time when you sign for people, you don’t know whether the people are trying to sell it. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
Wilson, who is known as being one of the most personable Pirates, took the time to shake hands and engage in small talk with the customers whenever possible.
“I try to be more personable at these things,” the Pirate shortstop said. “I talk to them about the team and other stuff, because they came out especially to get my autograph and then they stand in lines. I try to make it worthwhile.”
With the exception of PirateFest, this was one of LaRoche’s first chances to actually meet many of the Pirates fans.
“It actually went real well,” said the Pirates first baseman. “The guys were great. I’ve done a couple in the past and you meet some different people. That’s what I like about it. Obviously, you get to meet some die-yard Pirate fans that come and wait in line for an autograph. It’s fun to get in there and mingle a little bit.”
After the trio left to get ready for that evening’s home games vs. Cincinnati, they were replaced by former Pirates All-Stars Bill Madlock and Dave Parker. Sunday’s guests were current Steeler defensive end Aaron Smith and former Steeler standouts Ernie Mills, Bryan Hinkle and Yancey Thigpen. Smith topped the other Sunday guests in terms of tickets sold.
“From the feedback I received, this was a very positive show,” said Bennett. “There was an increase in attendance from the previous show. I think the fans enjoyed meeting the current Pirates along with the current and former Steelers. With the Penguins doing better, we now have people asking us to bring in some hockey signers.”
One of the results of Bennett’s extensive advertising for this show was the increase in the number of children at the event, which pleased Bennett.
“The Pittsburgh market is getting stronger,” he said. “One of the ways to build this market back up is to get kids turned on to collecting. I’m seeing more interest from the younger people than I have seen before.”
The wide array of dealers had a steady stream of collectors at their tables throughout the weekend. Due to the recent success of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a number of dealers had hockey cards, posters and statues on their tables. A large number of collectors were also looking for single cards, primarily to fill out sets.
Once again, B&G Sports Memorabilia operated a smooth-running autograph pavilion. The autograph fans appeared to be very happy with the wide variety of poses available for each signer.
The key to B&G’s success is its willingness to go the extra mile for its customers. It is not unusual for B&G to agree to mail out photos or other autographed items for collectors, who after purchasing autograph tickets, realize they won’t be able to stay and get their own autographs.
“We put in a lot of extra time and effort back in our office,” said Therea Ausiello. “We realize that the items that are sent in are very precious. They represent memories and can’t be replaced, especially if some of the signers have passed away.”
Pittsburgher Drew Walthers, who worked in B&G’s backroom during the show, gave his perspective on Saturday’s guests.
“By far, Jack Wilson is the best,” said Walthers. “He really liked the photos. He was very personable. He took the time to examine each photo and determined where they were shot, and what the action was. That’s something that you generally see the older players do as they reminisce, but not the younger players.”
“I think the signers went the extra step with the fans,” said Ausiello. “They got their money’s worth. The signers talked to the fans. We try not to let it be a cattle call. We want the fans to be happy when they leave the show.”
On the show itself, Ausiello said, “Sean is a great guy. It’s taken Sean a while, but he is making strides to make this one of the top shows in western Pennsylvania.”
Pittsburgh Sports Wholesale’s next show is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 2-4.
“The Steelers play at home on Monday night that week,” Bennett said. “Plus, that is the game that the Steelers will pay tribute to their 75th anniversary. I’m hoping to get a number of former Steelers and also some current Steelers to come in and sign at that show.”