Playoff run has Royals memorabilia in high demand - KCTV5

Playoff run has Royals memorabilia in high demand

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Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) celebrates with fans holding brooms following Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Travis Heying) Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) celebrates with fans holding brooms following Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Travis Heying)

At Kauffman Stadium, a pair of party goggles worn by Royals closer Greg Holland is still available for $500.

For less than that, let's hope, you can go online and bid on a ball in the dirt, swung at by Alex Gordon in a scoreless fourth inning of Tuesday's Wild Card victory.

Used balls, scuffed bases and broken bats from Major League Baseball's biggest games are not cheap. But at least a tiny silver sticker that the league affixes to each attests to the authenticity.

At the Royals Authentics store in the stadium, Justin Villarreal heaved a sealed, 5-gallon bucket of dirt onto the counter. One of those little stickers, about the size of a fingernail, was folded from the edge of the lid to the lip of the pail.

"Here's the infield dirt from Tuesday's game," Villarreal, the Royals director of authentic merchandise sales, told The Kansas City Star. "If the lid were to open and tear that sticker on its way to a factory, "there would be no way to authenticate this dirt.

"It would be worthless."

Isn't dirt worthless, anyway?

"Dirt sells like crazy," he said.

Everything Royal has spiked in value as the team returns Sunday to The K to continue its first postseason play since 1985.

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In the minutes of mayhem that followed the Royals' 12-inning Wild Card win earlier this week, a serious operation unfolded amid the hopping around on the field.

The K had gone wild after catcher Salvador Perez blazed a ball down the left-field line for a walk-off victory. But it was all business for Kansas City police officer Jim Pruetting, off-duty and emerging from the Royals dugout in civilian clothes.

His eyes went back and forth between two spots: the bat that Perez had used and the ball he hit. The Royals' batboy rushed to pick up the lumber and hand it to Preutting. The ball boy in left field darted straight to the Oakland A's fielder to retrieve the winning ball.

Pruetting returned to the dugout to document the bat and the ball, as Major League Baseball requires him to do.

He peeled two hologram stickers from a roll. He applied them to the prized artifacts and, using a hand-held device, he scanned each sticker.

Drop-down menus appeared in Pruetting's hand, allowing him to input the details: Batter. Pitcher. Inning. Type of hit: game-winning.

Earlier in the Wild Card game Pruetting had done the same with 73 thrown balls — duly authenticated and flying off the shelves at Royals Authentics by the seventh inning.

He also would tag and scan more than two dozen bases used in the game. They were pulled from the field and replaced every inning.

Each base had "POSTSEASON" etched on the top. Fans had pre-ordered them for $500 apiece.

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Pruetting and two other Kansas City officers take turns attending Royals games, where they sit in the dugout with the home team. Every ball and cracked bat taken out of play is delivered to them to be tagged and recorded.

"We understand how to collect evidence and maintain a visual chain of custody," Pruetting said.

By "visual chain of custody," he means never losing sight of, for example, a foul-tip ball — from the time it squirts off the bat to the moment it's in his hands.

For this reason, used baseballs that wind up in an umpire's hip pouch can't be authenticated. Nor can home-run balls caught by fans, including those thrown back onto the field. In such cases, Pruetting said he can't be certain that authentic game balls weren't switched for fakes.

"Everyone on the force wants my job," he said, because it entitles Preutting and his fellow authenticators the best possible view of Royals games.

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In historic games such as the Wild Card and later playoff pairings, the off-duty officers may be stationed in locker rooms to observe players remove their uniforms. Game-used jerseys, when not kept by the players, command top dollar in online auctions at MLB.com.

The authenticators stayed until 4 a.m. after Tuesday's game to collect and wash champagne bottles emptied byRoyals celebrating in the clubhouse. The bottles and even the corks were marked with the hologram stickers, which break apart if peeled off.

Fans attending Sunday's playoff game could buy a cork for $25. The club gathered up more than 200 of them.

Twenty percent of the profits of the Royals Authentics store go to charities, Villarreal said. Many game-used items are donated to schools and nonprofit groups holding fundraisers.

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The Royals Hall of Fame most likely will make room for Perez's game-winning bat and the ball he stroked, said Villarreal.

As for less significant baseballs retrieved for authentication, prices at Royals Authentics start at $100. During the regular season the balls' starting price was $25.

Villarreal sets the prices depending on whether the ball was merely fouled off, whiffed at for a strikeout or hit into play.

Used baseballs are just the beginning when it comes to game collectibles online or in the store, which opened in 2013 on the third base side of the Plaza/Field Level.

Items range from lineup cards to name plates on lockers to Alcides Escobar's broken bat from the Sept. 26 game in Chicago that clinched a Royals playoff berth.

The hologram sticker on each product includes a code number that allows buyers to check online for information on when and how a collectible was used in a game.

Villarreal came up with idea of bottling water from The K's fountains and selling it for $10.

"Since bottled dirt sells," he said, "I thought, let's give water a shot."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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