When a popular player is traded most team fans will feel a momentary loss, possibly coupled with a need to purchase the replica jersey of their new chosen “favorite” player. The Boston Red Sox have many young players – Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart to name a few – that will fit the bill for most. For those fans, Mike Napoli is a fun memory from the bearded 2013 champions.
Team focused player collectors, however, often face a more personal consequence, and for Eric Atkinson, Red Sox fan and preeminent collector of Napoli memorabilia, the recent trade that sent Napoli back to the Texas Rangers meant the end of a truly epic collecting quest. Like many, Atkinson only collects items from players while they’re donning his team’s uniform.
“The hand writing was on the wall. I knew Mike would most likely get shipped to a contender,” Eric told us. “It was a great run in Boston a lot of wonderful memories and I wish him nothing but success except when his team is playing the Red Sox.”
The collection started innocently enough, as part of a lifelong accumulation of game used equipment and stadia from the core four Boston teams. Napoli was a likable character, generally known to Atkinson through a friend, and both were similarly bearded. With the retirement of Tim Wakefield, Eric needed a new favorite player.
The collection started slowly but picked up speed as Napoli began to heat up during the summer of 2013 and carried forward over the next two years. Atkinson tapped his contacts with teams and collectors to track down some incredible Napoli game used gear. “MLB auctions, the team stores at the stadiums, eBay auctions etc., all proved to be valuable resources,” he recalled.
Some of the items he was able to track down included bats, jerseys, helmets, cleats, hit balls, locker tags and caps.
- 2013 Marathon Monday Jackie Robinson Day home run jersey
- 2013 ALCS jersey worn when hitting HR off Justin Verlander
- 2015 Mother’s Day HR jersey
- 2013 jersey worn for walkoff HR vs Yankees
- 2013 road World Series jersey
- 2014 HR ball vs Orioles
- 2013 Opening Day jersey with Newtown patch
- 2013 season used batting helmet through game 6 of the World Series
Despite such successes, there are still a few items that have eluded him and remain grail items, including Napoli’s 2013 Boston Strong jersey, a game used fielding glove and the red oven mitt Napoli has been wearing on the base paths this season.
With the birth of his daughter, his player collecting became a family affair; Mother’s Day and Father’s Day had new meaning and Napoli uniforms used for these games were added to the collection. First game and first home run mementos were tracked down as Atkinson shared the collection with his family. His favorite piece, of little monetary value, is a spring training jersey worn by Napoli while hitting a home run that he watched with his newborn daughter in his arms.
Despite Napoli’s slow start this year, the collection continued, with a wary eye on twitter trade rumors as August approached. Napoli wound up moving on, but none of the pieces Atkinson obtained will leave his Red Sox collection, which he’s been building for 30 years and includes thousands of items.
Of course, to the casual observer, player collecting does at times border on obsession, and Atkinson is no exception. How many Napoli items are enough? The count for Eric is well over 150 and growing. As for the why, the challenge to collect multiple styles and specialty jerseys appealed to him. Following his favorite player over 162 games and searching for game used items marking Napoli’s successes provided many opportunities.
“Every jersey, bat or hit ball has a story,” he stated. “It is a connection to a shared game or shared memory that makes these items unique and fun to have.”
However, one thing is clear, his collecting will not follow Napoli to Texas, but give him a period of collecting mourning before he moves on.