Just a few hours after CBS Sunday Morning gave baseball cards the last rites, the second sports memorabilia related reality show was being telecast on a rival network. ABC’s Ball Boys, set at Robbie’s First Base near Baltimore, launched with back-to-back episodes in the odd time slot of Saturday afternoon.
Set in what is a family owned and operated shop, the show plays up the sports history angle pretty well and to keep things moving, provides some lively–if not convincingly authentic–banter and debate.
“Arguing with my dad is like playing for the Astros. You always know you’re going to lose,” says Robbie Davis Jr. about a debate over whether Babe Ruth would have been a star in today’s game. The discussion arises after a customer brings in a 1927 Yankees-St. Louis Browns scorecard autographed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others. The seller asks for $18,000. The shop offers $10,500 and buys the item.
Left Field Productions, which gave us Pawn Stars, the runaway hit on History Channel, is in charge of the show and Ball Boys shared quite a bit in common with its Las Vegas based cousin. The intro, featuring the voice of Robbie Sr., was along the lines of Rick Harrison’s set up on Pawn Stars. There was even a moment in episode one where one of them says “you never know what’s gonna come through that door”, the identical phrase uttered by Harrison during the Pawn Stars’ introduction each week.
Like Pawn Stars, Ball Boys is also going to utilize a group of folks who drop in to provide authentication. In one of Saturday’s episodes, Troy Kinunen of MEARS looks over a Reggie White jersey and gives it a thumbs up as most likely being game-worn rather than team issued.
Jim Brown shows up to authenticate his own signed helmet, which results in some of the best and worst moments of the show. Brown is typically low key and stands around as the price of his autograph is negotiated by a seller. “This has to be the most awkward negotiation ever,” says an employee named Shaggy.
In another segment, Robbie goes in search of a Notre Dame championship ring to flip to a customer who wants to give it to her husband as a birthday present. After a little briefing on rings, the shop buys a 1977 model for $6,200.
The shop is unable to make a deal on a group of vintage Navy football ticket stubs, held in far too high esteem by the owner. Another man who caught a Steve Swisher home run ball has a photo proving it, but doesn’t realize it’s not anyone’s holy grail and walks away without the $5,000 he was asking.
The show’s producers say they looked at about 300 different shops across the country before settling on Robbie’s, in part because of the personalities. Left Field called them in early 2010 and it’s taken two full years of planning, production and shooting for Ball Boys to actually hit the air.
Davis Sr., an auto dealer before opening the shop (which doubles as a place to mail packages–a fact that’s not revealed in the show), told the Washington Post that he was paid “a few hundred bucks” to get the show off the ground. If it’s a hit, they’ll have more negotiating power for season two.
Maybe the most interesting segment of the shows was in the second episode where the entire crew travels to Steiner Sports where they buy a birthday present for Robbie Sr. We get a glimpse of round vials of ballpark dirt, piled in boxes and labeled by team. It seems the Yankees aren’t the only team able to peddle dirt that just happens to rest inside the ballpark.
“We sell $1 million of dirt per year,” says the Steiner rep.
You can watch a trailer for the second of the two episodes of Ball Boys here.