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Pat Rupp: Holding on to signature moments

I don't know where it began but at some point in our culture securing the signature of people of celebrity status became the fashionable thing to do. Today an autograph not only provides lasting proof of a close encounter with the rich and famous but also offers the possibility, however remote, of cashing in on the sale of said signature at some later date.

The subject came to mind recently as my spouse and I began the ever-so-tedious process of cleaning out our over-stuffed house in preparation for the inevitable life passage of downsizing.

It isn't that the yard seems to get bigger every year and mowing it takes the equivalent effort of running a marathon or that clearing the driveway of ice and snow every winter doesn't requires mega-doses of pain relievers and analgesic balms as well as a subsequent 45-minute nap. Well, actually, they do...but I digress.

My personal cache of autographs includes a handful from authors like movie "Field of Dreams" inspiration William Kinsella; running guru Jim Fixx; Sports Illustrated college football writer Austin Murphy and Minnesota wordsmiths Garrison Keillor and William Kent Krueger.

Unfortunately, none of those signatures will likely garner millions on the open market but all manage to evoke some fond memories.

Also included in my collection is a softball signed by coach Gary Burr and the members of the 2003 Farmington girls' team. I covered the Tigers throughout that regular season that year for the then-Farmington Independent but missed the section and state tournaments because they occurred during the final days of my Dad's life. The thoughtfulness of Burr and his team to include me in their runner-up finish will never be forgotten.

The prized jewels in my crown of autographs, however, come from the world of professional. The first is that of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson who was a mega-star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s. Interestingly, the signature was obtained at a time and place where baseball was about as far from the conversation as it could be.

Back in the day in rural Iowa one of the few winter attractions for small town sports fans were so-called "independent" basketball tournaments where teams consisting of mostly ex-college players would gather in cracker-box gyms to strut their stuff in front of the local yokels. The tourney closest to my home was contested in the thriving metropolis of Vail, a village of a couple of hundred people that swelled to two or three times that number during tournament week.

A team from Omaha, Neb., was one of the crowd favorites and for a couple of seasons Gibson, a former Creighton University star, was one of the big draws. A snarling competitor on the mound, Gibson was nothing but accommodating when it came to autographing programs, popcorn boxes and such for the youth in the Vail bleachers. Needless to say, I was pretty thrilled when he scrawled his name on my program.

By far the best signatures of my collection, however, came via my uncle Pat who was then a sales representative for 3M. He traveled the Midwest and happened to stay at the same hotel where my favorite team, the New York Yankees, was bunking while in Kansas City for a series with the hometown Athletics.

After noticing the players milling around in the lobby, Pat dashed out and bought a baseball and started his signature search. It produced three names: my hero Mickey Mantle, one of the best players ever to play the game; Don Larsen, still the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series; and Casey Stengel, who managed the Yankees to seven World Series titles in the 1940s and '50s.

I've held on to that ball for some 60 years now and am reasonably sure I could make a few bucks on its sale. Problem is I just can't bring myself to do it. Call me old-fashioned but from this seat autographs aren't about cashing in on the past. They're about holding on to it.

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