Topps, which has been making baseball cards since the 1950s, says it is the only manufacturer to personally witness, through a representative, every card autographed for inclusion in its products.
Most manufacturers send cards to players to sign under an agreement that they will autograph the cards and return them to the manufacturer. There have been cases in the past where the players did not sign all the cards, or had someone else sign some of them.
Topps media relations director Clay Luraschi sent a copy of an internal e-mail from the company to illustrate the extent that the company will go to get its signatures.
Tuesday, May 27th, 2003: Eric Liebler, player licensing coordinator for Topps, contacts Topps autograph representative. Joseph Vignier: EL: Joseph, I need you to catch a plane to Europe this Friday evening and get autographs from two NBA players. You must return to Topps Headquarters by the following Monday. The autographs are for Topps Finest Basketball, which ships to stores in just a few weeks. We are in danger of having to put redemption cards in for these two guys. This must get done!
The next step was for Vignier, a 24-year-old Masters graduate of Seton Hall, to get on a plane to Europe. Taking a flight out of Newark, Friday May 30th, he got into Frankfurt, Germany about eight hours later. From there he hopped on a plane to Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Once on the ground in Slovenia he grabbed a cab to the Intercontinental Hotel where he met Houston's Bostjan Nachbar. Nachbar signed the Topps cards with his picture on them and handed them back to Vignier. The young Topps employee bid farewell to the player and flagged down another taxi. He ordered the driver to take him to the train station. Next stop: Zagreb, Croatia.
Hanging on tightly to the box of cards signed by Nachbar (could you imagine the empty feeling in his gut if he left the box of autographed cards on the train?) he takes his seat on the train. He is prepared to ride through the countryside for a few hours, checking out the scenery in this war-torn land. Then the unthinkable happens. The train is stopped at the Croatian border.
There is no explanation as to why the border guards have stopped the train. If this was Italy, it would be easy. This would have been one of the many railway strikes which take place daily, for what seems like 365 days a year. This, however, is Croatia. Why in the world is it being stopped? Vignier never does find out why the train is held up, but for three hours he waits anxiously knowing he has an appointment at a hotel in the Croatian capital. Finally the train is allowed to pass and off he goes.
Arriving in Zagreb he hails another taxi (working in N.Y., he's an old hand at this by now), which takes him to the Zagreb Sheraton. He checks in and calls Gordan Giricek of the Orlando Magic. They confirm their signing session for early the next morning which is followed by a few hours sleep. As the sun comes up in the European sky the next morning, the player and the rep take care of the card signing business over breakfast, followed by a brief tour of Zagreb. Monday morning it's back on a plane to Newark.
Jose Valverde, the Diamondbacks rookie who has been solid in his role as the team's closer during Matt Mantei's injury, signed autographs last weekend at North Phoenix Baptist Church. When asked if he likes the nickname "Papa Grande" — which means Big Daddy in some translations — Valverde smiled, said "very much, " and added the moniker above his signature on a photo.
Phoenix Spectrum Mall, 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road. 60 tables. Mall hours. Admission: Free. Contact: Darrel Ereth (602) 765-0026.