Opinion

Authenticators verify every step as Royals sign thousands of items on photo day

Royals catcher Drew Butera clutched the baseball that closer Wade Davis had thrown past the Mets’ Wilmer Flores for strike three and the final out of the 2015 World Series. Then somebody grabbed Butera as the Royals celebrated and asked for the ball.

“No, actually not,” was Butera’s reply.

Until he learned of the mission. The ball was to be authenticated with a hologram sticker, scanned, and handed back to Butera. He later donated the ball to the Royals, and it resides in the team’s Hall of Fame.

“I was shocked at how quick they got out there,” Butera said.

Authenticity of memorabilia is a baseball priority. Before Thursday’s workout, the Royals were part of two annual rites of spring training: Photo day and the signature assembly line.

After posing for the camera, most players made their way to a tent area to sign balls, bats, caps, helmets and other items.

Unlike the autographs given to fans and collectors after games or at public appearances, these signatures are witnessed by law enforcement officials. Three off-duty police officers, paid by Major League Baseball, affixed the authenticity stickers for some 3,000 items.

Baseball launched its authentication program in 2001 to distinguish the real thing from other items with signatures that couldn’t be verified.

Many of the items signed Thursday will be donated to groups for fundraisers by Royals Charities.

At all major-league games, a law enforcement official has a spot near the dugout — adjacent to the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium — to serve as a third-party authenticator for balls, bats, bases or anything in the game that becomes an item of memorabilia.

“They treat it as like evidence, chain of custody,” said Justin Villarreal, the Royals’ director of authentic merchandise sales. “They have to witness, they have to review, have knowledge of that ball.”

During the season, Villarreal says, “they” means the Royals Authentics store. He will have had a pregame meeting with the authenticator and by the sixth inning, they’ll communicate to see what’s available. Game-used items from earlier innings will be in the store before the end of the game.

The additional netting at Kauffman Stadium this year will cut down on the number of foul balls that fly into the stands. But authentic game balls will be available in the store, which is located along the third-base line on the plaza/field level.

“You can get them from me every game,” Villarreal said.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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