You hang over the rail, waiting for your favorite player to come out of the dugout and start working his way through the line. Maybe he gets to you, maybe he doesn't. Most likely, at best you get a head nod and a scribbled name. While nothing is ever going to take the place of being in the same limited area with "your guy", there might be something that will be right up there with it.
There's a new company out there called Egraphs, and as you might guess from the name, it's all about autographs with an electronic flair. You don't have a piece of paper with the major league name on it, but what you do get might be even better.
"How could an electronic signature ever compare to the real thing?" you might ask. Ah, but the difference is that the electronic version actually gets personalized to you. Not just your name, but also a message from the ballplayer. If that's not enough, each Egraph also comes with a recorded message from the player, also personalized.
How does that work? Well, you can read all the technical details on their website, but basically players sign the pictures using an iPad app and record through the same manner. Egraphs verifies the signature and voice and then sends it on to you. You can share them via Facebook and Twitter, keep them stored on your computer, or there's even a printing option (for an extra cost, I expect, though I've not been able to find what it was. Update: per the folks at Egraphs, that'd cost you another $45, but that would definitely not be out of the realm of the possible for most.)
You can read a few articles about Egraphs here, here, and here, but I got a chance to talk to Gabe Kapler, former MLB player and now the director of player development for Egraphs. Kapler's the one that talks the players into joining up with Egraphs. He's also recently wrangled some Cardinals into his new company, including Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Jason Motte.
I asked Mr. Kapler how he got involved with this company and he said it went back to his days with the Rays. The brother of David Auld (the CEO of Egraphs) worked for the Rays at the time and brought this to his attention, thinking he would be a good fit for it. "I thought the idea was brilliant," said Kapler. "There was a need for a warmer, more personal way for fans, players, celebrities to interact."
As mentioned, Kapler is the one responsible for putting the idea in front of the players, showing them how it works, and getting them to buy in. I asked him what kind of success rate he was having in this regard. "A pretty remarkable success rate," was his response. His contention is the players want to have this kind of interaction with the fans but it's difficult to do in a traditional setting. With Egraphs, they can have a connection with a fan even as they are miles apart. "There's only upside and very little downside" to the process for the players and the company goes the extra mile to make sure this isn't a huge burden on them.
The connection is really the selling point. "We found when the player wasn't rushed to go to batting practice or wasn't rushed to go watch video, they put their hearts and their souls into the Egraph and therefore the fan felt that genuine, warm nature," said Kapler, who also provides Egraphs on the site and so sees the company from both sides of the pipeline.
Of course, you know in this day and age, there's always a smart aleck out there wanting to taunt a player or try to goad them into something embarrassing. Maybe it's a Yankee fan wanting Pedro Martinez to say, "Yankees rule" or something of that nature. Kapler says that not only are requests screened on the way in, but the product is screened on the way out before it gets to the fan as well.
"We're a wholesome company that believes in creating life-changing moments for a fan," said Kapler. "We don't want a player to say something he didn't mean and we want to give him a chance to make it right." In this day of social media, an Egraph written on the wrong day could be halfway around the Internet before the sun came up if they didn't have these sort of controls in place.
There are a lot of current players on the site, but there are some retired players as well plus, as represented by Mike Olt, some hot new names on the scene. Kapler says they hope to expand on both sides of the player continuum. "Egraphs was built and created for any celebrity that has a fan. Our job is to match that celebrity up with that fan." No word on whether they are going to then expand out into the blogging community for their next version, but I'm pretty sure Dennis would be a huge seller.
As Egraphs are currently configured, you get the signed picture plus an audio component. I asked if there were any plans to add video at some point and time and Kapler said that was on the drawing board. I don't know that it'll be anytime in the immediate future, but it does sound like that will be coming which will make for an even cooler experience.
Before I let him go, I had to ask what celebrity he really wanted to add to the site. Interestingly, he wanted to go away from baseball (though he said Cal Ripken Jr. in that sport) to tap Charles Barkley, who was his favorite athlete growing up. So if you see Barkley as the face of Egraphs in the near future, you'll know why.
It was great to talk to Mr. Kapler and you can tell he's got a lot of passion for the Egraphs product. It looks like a wonderful thing all the way around and now you can get a chance to see just how great it is. Egraphs is letting me give away one free egraph to a lucky reader. All you have to do is comment on this post before the beginning of Wednesday night's UCB Radio Hour. I'll randomly select one person to receive the egraph, so be sure to leave some sort of contact info, whether it's a Twitter handle or an email or something of that nature.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball