SIGN HIM UP!

Astros rookie fireballer joins ranks of Biggio, Bagwell, Correa- but there’s a price

Astros rookie fireballer joins ranks of Biggio, Bagwell, Correa- but there’s a price
Collectors are showing interest in Hunter Brown. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.
Musical chairs: who's the odd man out?

What a difference a day makes – especially when that day was Sept. 5, 2022 and Astros pitcher Hunter Brown threw six innings of three-hit, shutout ball over six innings against the Texas Rangers.

Things happen fast. Only days later, Brown was sitting in his hotel room signing hundreds of baseballs, now on sale for $99 at tristarproductions.com.

I spoke with Bobby Mintz senior vice-president of sales and celebrity relations for TRISTAR Productions about striking hot while Brown was striking out Rangers batters.

SportsMap: TRISTAR is one of the biggest and most influential leaders in the sports collectibles industry. Did you sign Hunter Brown on the basis of that one spectacular game?

Mintz: No, we’ve had our eyes on Hunter all summer in Sugar Land. We’ve been tracking his potential, his 97-mph fastball, wipeout slider. He’s the No. 1 prospect in the Astros organization. We’ve had interest in signing him for some time. When Hunter got called up to the Astros, we talked with his agent about doing something. His agent said to let Hunter get through his start and then we’ll do it. We put the deal together in the days after his debut and he was signing baseballs the following Friday. We took the balls to our office to be authenticated as being the first lot of balls that he signed, that’s important to collectors. I won't give you details of our contract with Hunter, but we will be aligned with him for a considerable time moving forward.

SportsMap: Does a player’s personality play a role in whether you’re interested in signing him or her?

Mintz: Absolutely. We do shows around the country but we’re a Houston-based business. We have a big show each year in Houston. So being a Houston athlete has a big part in our decision. Hunter is very hard-working. He was a Division 2 pitcher with Wayne State University and a fifth-round draft pick. He increased his velocity and he’s worked and worked. He does have all the intangibles you look for, he’s nice and humble and very appreciative of what’s happening for him.

SportsMap: How important is it for you to sign players when they’re young, before they hit superstardom?

Mintz: It’s critically important. We scout players just like teams do, looking for their potential. Over the years, we’ve presented players at our shows who’ve gone on to become superstars, like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tom Brady and others. Sports collecting is much like the stock market, you hope to buy an autograph or memorabilia that will go up in value. Collectors are looking to buy an autograph of a young player for $39 now in hopes that it will be worth $139 the following year.

SportsMap: TRISTAR has been around a long time. When and where was your first show?

Mintz: It was in 1987 at a small hotel near Hobby Airport. Our headliner was Mark McGwire and people were lined around the block. Some camped out overnight to meet McGwire and get his autograph. We were on our way.

SportsMap: You’ve presented thousands of athletes at your shows. What’s in your personal collection of memorabilia?

Mintz: With me, it’s personal items and memories, not necessarily the most valuable in terms of money. I have a photo of Tom Brady and he signed it with “Thank you for your friendship.” I have a photo with Peyton Manning at the first show he did after being drafted. We’re both 25 pounds lighter in the photo. (Editor’s note: 25?)

SportsMap: When is your next show in Houston?

Mintz: We will present our 37th TRISTAR Collectors Show on Feb. 3-4-5 at NRG Arena.

SportsMap: Last one, do you ever talk with athletes about their penmanship? I have autographed baseballs in my sock drawer at home … I have no idea who signed them.

Mintz: Yes, we do have conversations about handwriting, all the time. Most athletes understand that fans need to read their autographs clearly. We find that younger players are less careful about their autographs. Sometimes older players will take them aside and tell them they need to do a better job with their signature. I won’t tell you his name, but we once had a major superstar sign at our show and his autograph was so bad, so completely unreadable that we never invited him back.

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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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