Lenny Steren quit his Madison Avenue job to do what he loves. Eight years later, he's living 3000 miles away and still loving his "new" profession.
Mark McGwire brought confusion and, maybe, disillusion to the baseball record books. He changed the way we think about a lot of things. Unknowingly, he also helped change Lenny Steren's life.
Steren had spent his post-college years working for ad agencies in New York. Nine years of, as he puts it, "making other people rich". He was good enough to create concepts businesses wanted. Dedicated enough to work until midnight to satisfy a demanding clilentele. But it was getting old.
Steren had been collecting baseball cards since the age of eight. He loved the game and the history and the fun that went along with it all. He kept collecting and later selling things on the side all over the country throughout the 1980s and 90s. Tickets and ticket stubs were a special interest. But on May 8, 1998, the fun part of his life finally took over the other part.
His St. Louis-born wife Tammi wanted to go to Shea Stadium to see her Cardinals play the Mets. Knowing McGwire was sitting on 399 career home runs as the series began, Lenny decided they should make plans to go to all three games that weekend, hopefully to see the big man reach the 400 plateau. Back then, it was still something of a major milestone.
"We took a bag along and as soon as 'Big Mac' would hit one we were buying a bunch of cheap tickets from the box office," Steren recalled. "He hit number 400 in the rain during the third inning of that Friday night game."
The couple purchased 200 unused tickets for the game they already were watching and with eBay opportunists then few and far between, the market was there for the slugger who's popularity had exploded in St. Louis and around the country. "I saw an endless market in the thrill of collectors outbidding each other for milestone tickets," Steren said.
He and Tammi put $1800 on their Visa, buying those unsold seats. His advertising instincts were correct. The McGwire tickets sold out in two or three months at prices ranging from $75 to $250. The "cheap seats" he'd never sit in proved to be a shrewd investment. Steren quit his job on Madison Avenue a month later.
The business was born to this Mets fan as "Mookie's Tickets and Sports Memorabilia", an homage to Steren's favorite player. Since that time, Lenny and Tammi (now Vice-President after quitting her job with Disney in 2003) have amassed an inventory of 125,000 tickets and stubs from 1929-2006. They carry football and hockey tickets as well.
Steren has become regarded as such an expert in the ticket field that PSA hired him this year to be their lead authenticator. He views between 200 and 300 submissions each week.
"The tickets are sent to me at my office and I determine what I think is real, fake or reprinted. It keeps me on my toes," he told Sports Collectors Daily. "This brings a whole new level of value to ticket collecting. Some just submit a ticket for authenticity and some want the grade of 1-10." Fortunately, Steren says the ticket industry hasn't become a strong market for counterfeiters.
"Most collectors want full season tickets when they send them to PSA to be graded. The season tickets have a four-color process with clear photos of players or stadiums. These are most desirable for selling at a show or on eBay. I'd suggest submitting tickets that are old, are from a meaningful event or milestone or are just special to you."
His own passion for the unique collecting niche remains strong. "I love old regular season tickets. Many don't have dates on them. If you were at the park in the 1920s and you had a quarter or fifty cents, they just let you in. My two oldest with dates on them are a 1929 Phillies-Cubs from Wrigley Field and a 1930 Tigers-White Sox. Nothing fancy, just old typesetting and unique printing styles. Another favorite I have is from the Mets' tour of Japan in the winter of 1974. Tom Seaver is pitching on the ticket."
Lenny and Tammi were busy at this year's National Sports Collectors Convention in Anaheim, California. Their booth was jammed with cards, tickets and just about everything else you might want to collect. This time, the National was in their backyard. The Sterens had moved west, setting up residence in Pasadena. His allegiance, however, remains with his hometown Mets.. and Mookie.
"I have never met a nicer Met, no pun intended, than Mookie Wilson. I've met him at card shows, at Shea Stadium and off-season functions. He's on my license plate in California (1 Mookie) and I had "Sir Mook" on my New York plates."
And if you're looking for a ticket to the "Mookie/Buckner game", Lenny might just be able to help.
Lenny Steren's eBay ID is...what else?...Buckner.