Who is this? New England Patriots' Center Dan Koppen. What is this? An autograph card from 2008 Bowman Sterling Authentic Player Worn Pro Bowl Jersey Green Parallel Short-print numbered 076/249. Where'd I get it? I got this card signed by Dan at Patriots' Training Camp in 2009. How much did it cost? I paid a total of about $5 for the Green and Blue (seen below) versions of Koppen's 2008 Bowman Sterling Pro Bowl Jersey cards.
Why is this so special? Dan Koppen has been the Patriots' starting center for the past nine seasons since he was drafted in the fifth-round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of Boston College. During that time, Koppen anchored the line of two Super Bowl winning teams in 2003 and 2004 and the Patriots' AFC Championship team in 2007. For his efforts, Koppen was named to the Patriots' 2000s All-Decade Team and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007.
Unfortunately, Koppen fractured his ankle in Week 1 of the 2011 season, forcing him to miss the rest of the season after being placed on the Injured Reserve list on September 21.
While I love all of my autographed cards, I think that some of my favorite cards that I have gotten signed are game-used cards. There is something all-the-more special about asking a player to sign a card with a piece of their game-worn jersey on it, and it is even cooler that the 2008 Bowman Sterling cards were specifically from the 2007 Pro Bowl.
Dan has always been good about signing at Training Camp, and I was fortunate enough to also get him to sign the Blue version of the card, numbered 040/349. I'm hoping that he is able to bounce back from the injury that forced him to miss almost all of the 2011 season and return to Center the Patriots for years to come.
Who is this? Former New England Patriots Linebacker Steve Nelson. What is this? An autographed card from 1978 Topps. Where'd I get it? I got this card signed by Nelson before the 2011 New England Patriots Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in September. How much did it cost? I bought the card for about 5 or 7 cents.
Why is this so special? Steve Nelson played his entire 14-year career with the New England Patriots and after his retirement was honored by being inducted into the Patriots' Hall of Fame in 1993 and having his #57 retired.
Nelson first made a name for himself playing linebacker for North Dakota State, where he was a two-time All-American. After graduating, he was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second-round of the 1974 NFL draft. A two-time Patriots' team MVP and three-time Pro Bowler (1980, 1984, 1985), Nelson was a defensive standout who helped lead New England to Super Bowl XX.
When he retired in 1987, Nelson had recorded a very Patriotic 1776 career tackles. Since then, Nelson has been active in the community and is admired for being one of the players that helped bring respectibility to the New England Patriots' franchise.
Nelson was very nice about signing autographs for fans at the Hall of Fame event. In addition to his 1978 Topps Rookie Card, he also signed this 1986 Topps card for me.
Who is this? Stanford University and Team USA First Baseman and Outfielder Brian Ragira. What is this? An autograph card from 2010 Topps USA. Where'd I get it? I got this card signed by Brian last June before Team USA's game against the New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Stars at Fenway Park. How much did it cost? I got this card when I bought two sets of 2010 Topps Team USA sets.
Why is this so special? Brian Ragira was recognized as a 2011 Freshman All-American by Baseball America, the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and a 2011 Honorable Mention All-PAC-10 after his first year as a Cardinal. Playing First Base and the Outfield, Brian hit .329, slugged .465, led the team in RBIs, Triples, and Home Runs, and had a .993 fielding percentage.
Brian was also a member of the 2009 and 2010 Team USA 18U squads, batting .386, leading the team in RBIs and slugging .649, good for second best, in 2010. In the summer of 2011, Brian played in five games as an alternate for the Team USA Collegiate Team, where I saw him play at Fenway.
A raw and powerful athlete, Brian was also a top young soccer player, competing with the U.S. Development Program 12U team, before focusing on baseball full-time and is the son of Elijah and Abigael Ragira, both of whom were Kenyan Marathon runners. And, although he was born in Texas, Brian is actually a dual-citizen of both the United States and Kenya.
If he continues his development, Brian could become a top draft-pick in 2013 and an elite prospect. Brian was nice enough to sign six cards for me before the game, and was even nice enough to sign with his appropriate jersey number for each card. In fact, he signed with a smile and thanked me when he handed me back the clipboard and blue sharpie.
Who is this? New England Patriots Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. What is this? An autograph card from 2007 Upper Deck. Where'd I get it? My wife, Kristina, got this card autographed by Gostkowski at Patriots' Training Camp in 2008. How much did it cost? I got the card out of a pack in 2007.
Why is this so special? Stephen Gostkowski replaced Adam Vinitari as the New England Patriots' placekicker in 2006 after being selected in the fourth-round out of Memphis, where he played both football and baseball. As a matter of fact, Gostkowski was originally on a baseball scholarship, and had to make the football team as a walk-on.
Known for his accuracy, Gostkowski is one of only two players in the history of the National Football League to score 500 or more points in his first four seasons. In addition, he led the NFL in scoring in 2008 and was selected to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams.
As you can see from the 2007 Upper Deck card that my wife got signed in 2008, Gostkowski has a very nice and clear signature. However, when I got him to sign his 2009 Upper Deck card during Patriots' Training Camp in 2011, the signature was not nearly as nice. To explain the difference, I have a few theories: (1) Gostkowski was less popular in 2008, and was more enthusiastic to sign his card for a fan, (2) Gostkowski was more enthusiastic to sign for my beautiful wife than he was to sign for me, or (3) Gostkowski was suffering from severe dehydration/heat stroke and/or was intoxicated when he signed my 2009 card. My guess is theory 1, but I could be wrong.
Who is this? Washington Nationals Catcher Wilson Ramos. What is this? An autograph card from 2008 Donruss Elite Extra Edition. Where'd I get it? I got this card signed by Wilson when he was a member of the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings, before a game against the Pawtucket Red Sox. How much did it cost? I got this card when I bought two sets of 2008 Donruss Elite Extra Edition for about $12.00 around Christmas-time in 2009.
Why is this so special? Wilson Ramos is one of the best young catchers in baseball. He was acquired by the Washington Nations from the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline in 2010 in exchange for closer Matt Capps. In his first full-season in the Majors in 2011, Ramos batted .267 with 15 homeruns in 113 games.
Unfortunately, on November 9, 2011, Ramos was kidnapped by four armed men in Venezuela, his homeland, where he was playing in the Venezuelan Winter Baseball League. Ramos is just the most recent target of gangs who target athletes and their families in what has become a lucrative kidnapping and ransom business.
Wilson seemed like a very nice young man when I met him, and I hope that he is quickly and safely returned to his family. Until then, he will be in my prayers.
Who are these guys? New York Yankees Minor Leaguers Ray Kruml and Addison Maruszak. What is this? An autograph card from 2008 TriSTAR Prospects Plus. Where'd I get it? I got this card signed by Addison in July and Ray in August when they were playing for the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees against the Pawtucket Red Sox. How much did it cost? I got this card when I bought two sets of 2008 TriSTAR Prospects Plus a few years ago.
Why is this so special? Neither Kruml nor Maruszak are top prospects, but both took the time to sign this card, which means that, regardless of whether or not either of them ever make it to the Bronx or become big-leaguers, both will always have a place in my autograph collection.
All too often, fans and autograph collectors are focused on chasing the "big fish," allowing players like Ray Kruml and Addison Maruszak to pass their entire careers barely noticed playing in half-empty ballparks across America. I like the inclusion of Kruml, a 2008 11th round-pick out of the University of Southern Alabama, and Maruszak, a 2008 17th round-pick out of the University of South Florida, in sets like TriSTAR Prospects Plus and Donruss Elite Extra Edition not just because they provide me something to get signed, but also because they memorialize their baseball careers on cardboard for all-time.
Ray Kruml was also nice enough to sign two copies of his 2008 Donruss Elite Extra Edition and two copies of his 2008 TriSTAR Prospects Plus card for me.
I thank Ray and Addison for signing my cards, and I wish they both long and successful careers in the future.
I'm only putting autograph-related links in this blogroll. However, if you have a blog or a collector site not specifically about autographs, but with an autograph page or an "autograph" label on your blog posts, I'll put that link here.