Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's a sign of the times

Baseball autographs go high-tech as players, fans connect via iPad

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Jim NASH is such a big Yankees fan that he named his son George Mattingly Nash, combining two of his favourite players: George Herman Ruth and Don Mattingly.

So when he noticed Mattingly was participating in a startup venture called Egraphs, which offered an autographed digital picture with a handwritten note and a personalized audio message, he didn't think twice about paying $50. Nash never would have walked up to the Los Angeles Dodgers manager and asked for his signature.

"It's much easier, especially for a grown man," the West Virginia native said. "It's much more personal."

Egraphs launched at the All-Star break, a technological breakthrough that extends the autograph business from the age-old methods of writing to stars, leaning across ballpark railings and hanging around hotel lobbies.

Now, power up the computer and get a prize from the likes of R.A. Dickey, Cliff Lee, Andrew McCutchen and Clayton Kershaw. Or even retired stars that include Pedro Martinez.

"It's actually kind of cool. It's like new age for me," Mattingly said.

David Auld, a former Microsoft employee who is the Seattle-based company's chief executive officer, started the venture last October and brought in former major leaguer Gabe Kapler as director of business development. Kapler was contacted by Auld's brother, Brian, the senior vice-president of business operations for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kapler's team from 2009-10.

"Taking the cold out of the autograph experience with the celebrity made a lot of sense," Kapler said.

In an era in which players carry iPads and wireless has become more ever-present in clubhouses than smokeless tobacco, the idea seems to have caught on rather quickly. Among the early players to sign up were Tampa Bay's David Price and manager Joe Maddon.

The company's website, www.egraphs.com, lists about 130 players, with several sold out -- including David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia. Prices range from $25 to $100, depending on the player.

For the players, the process is relatively easy and speedy.

"We built a custom iPad application," said David Auld, who used engineers he knew from high school. "They record an audio message through the iPad microphone."

Consumers can share their Egraph on social networks and purchase a framed print with a certificate of authenticity. Each signature and recording is biometrically verified.

"It's cool. The best part of that is the audio," said New York Mets 20-game winner R.A. Dickey. "I get to give an audio message to a fan, which is pretty neat."

Each of Dickey's messages is different.

"It all depends on the note that they write and what they share," he said.

Among the audio messages thus far, St. Louis first baseman Matt Carpenter told a fan named Laura "if it wasn't for sugar-free vanilla pudding, I'd have no chance in the big leagues! Thanks for all your support -- and Go Cards!"

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 D4

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