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Kansas City Autograph Hound Says George Brett 'Will Give You An Earful'

Greg Echlin

Before most of the Royals’ players and coaches reported for spring training, the graphers were there. Waiting.

What’s a grapher? The term is short for “autographer,” someone who devotes him- or herself to collecting player’s autographs.

“We go to the ballparks, team hotels, and some of us who are more extreme go to spring training and travel to the All Star games," said Ethan Roth, who acquires and sells baseball autographs for a living. "It’s basically the art of getting an autograph without paying for it."

The 22-year-old Kansas City native is a life-long Royals fan. He started collecting autographs when he was nine. His family had season tickets.

At first, he would arrive 30 minutes before the game and watch the players stretch. After they stretched, players would come greet fans and sign autographs. Roth was hooked. He began to arrive two hours before games to watch batting practice, then seven hours early to catch them arriving at the stadium.

Eventually, he was showing up at the visiting teams' hotel 11 hours before game time.

“Originally when I started, it was all for my collection. I basically was a hoarder, I would just get as much stuff as I could,” he said.

While he was in college, Roth's family fell on hard financial times. So he turned his hobby into a business and started selling his collection on eBay. Last year he started graphing full-time, selling signed baseballs, cards, and jerseys online. He also works on commission for people who want a specific signature for their personal collections.

Taking into account travel and merchandise expenses, he says he made about $40,000.

“This year, I’m trying to up the ante, hopefully make around $50-60,000," he said. "But we’ll see.”

Which is why Roth arrived at spring training a week before players reported. He starts his days at the first camp at 6:20 a.m., goes camp-hopping all day, and attends night games until 1 a.m.

Though he’s a die-hard Royals fan, he says he ends up spending more time around other teams.

“[The Royals] are just not the greatest signers, so I 've ended up spending more time at [Los Angeles] Dodgers camp, and I’ve been doing well there,” he said.

Players quickly tire of seeing graphers’ faces, and Roth says he understands. But he doesn’t mind the bad rap he sometimes gets. He’s helping complete other baseball fanatics’ collections — something that used to be very important to him.

“I am a still fan and I occasionally keep an item or two," he said. "Occasionally. It’s rare, but I do.”

Some of Roth’s noteworthy moments from last season:

  • Most valuable signatures: NY Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Sanford “Sandy” Koufax, legendary pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Both sold for $250.
  • Worst Player to deal with: George Brett. “He’ll definitely give you an earful.”
  • Nicest player: Royals’ Brandon Finnegan. “You can tell he really cares about his fans.”
  • Most surprising sell: A World Series baseball signed by Superfan Sung Woo Lee. “Sold that for $125 which was pretty insane.”
Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.