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'Ball Boys' Peeks Into World Of Sports Memorabilia


As fans celebrate the first weeks of baseball season, there's a new reality show hoping to win over sports fans. "Ball Boys" is set in a sports memorabilia shop called Robbie's First Base. The cast includes the father and son who own the shop and two employees.

On the show, the guys - what do you think they do? They talk about sports and they get the occasional visit from legendary athletes like Pete Rose and football legend Jim Brown.

Here's a clip from when Jim Brown came into the shop to verify his signature on a helmet.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jim, the reason I brought you in today - I want you to tell me if this is, in fact, your signature.

JIM BROWN: All right.


BROWN: When you look at the Brown...


BROWN: ...and you look at the N, that N on Brown, only one person on this Earth can write it that way. That's me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm satisfied.

BROWN: So you buy it.


MARTIN: Somehow or another, we managed to get the whole cast on the program today. "Ball Boys" are father and son owners, Robbie Davis, Sr. and Robbie Davis, Jr. Robbie Davis, Sr. is here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio. Along with Robbie "Shaggy" Reier.

ROBBIE REIER: You got it.

MARTIN: And in Towson, Maryland, Robbie Davis, Jr. and Lewis - Sweet Lou - Brown. Do I have it all...

LEWIS BROWN, III: There you go.

ROBBIE DAVIS, JR.: You got it.

MARTIN: I got it straight.

JR.: The third.

III: The third.

MARTIN: The third? The third. The third.

III: Sweet Lou Brown III.

MARTIN: I'm already behind the eight ball. I'm already behind the eight ball. So three Robbies?

ROBBIE DAVIS, SR.: Yeah. And that's why Robbie Reier is Shaggy, so not to confuse the audience because there would be three Robbies.

MARTIN: So how did this whole start - so...

SR.: Call me Senior.

JR.: Senior.

MARTIN: Senior. I'll call you senior. How did this all get started?

SR.: Two years ago, we got a phone call out of the blue from Left Field Pictures, who has the leading show, reality show called "Pawn Stars." Everybody knows that. They called us...

MARTIN: Just to clarify pawn as in P-A-W-N. I just want to be clear about what kind of program we're talking about.

SR.: My enunciation...

MARTIN: "Pawn Stars."

SR.: "Pawn Stars."


SR.: And they said they wanted to do a reality show similar to theirs, only with sports memorabilia. Would we be interested? And of course we said yes. I mean, who wouldn't want to be on a television show? And we move forward. A year later we get a phone call from them and they said, Junior, are you guys sitting down? I said, yeah. Said ABC is going to do the show, and of course we were elated. I mean, and we can't thank ABC enough. And they said we're going to do to the show. ABC's going to come in. They came in in early August and they shot 12 shows with us to make a whole season one of "Ball Boys."

MARTIN: Oh. Well, I think you can thank them by getting some ratings, so I think, you know - I think that'll do.

SR.: We're working on it.

MARTIN: All right. Mr. Davis, Jr., how did the whole sports memorabilia thing get started?

JR.: Well, I mean my dad and I have been collecting cards over the years since I was a kid. You know, I'd be doing the baseball card thing, as most kids did my age, and as the years went by, we always had close relationships with athletes. My dad was in the car(ph) business. A lot of ballplayers did the advertising for him; namely, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson and Fred Lynn. And I was always around those guys at an early age, even to the point where I always had autographs with those guys then, but never really appreciated what I had because they were just my dad's friends. They were people who were just around the time.

As the years went by, the baseball card industry changed. When we first opened up our business in 1989, it was pretty much strictly baseball cards. That's how we met Shaggy and Sweet Lou, actually. They came in as customers collecting baseball cards before they were employees. And as the years went by, when the baseball cards kind of went by the wayside, the autograph memorabilia, things that we had actually had from years past, started being what people were interested in. So it's natural, you know, we had to avenues to be able to get the sports memorabilia because we knew the athletes and now it was something that people really wanted.

Back before, you know, people would get autographs of people but it wasn't really a big deal. You know, a kid in the 60s or 70s would get an autographed football of his favorite player and then go back in the backyard and play with it. Same thing with baseball, they'd get autographs of these guys, then they go in the yard and play with it like kids do. And probably, I'd say sometime in the mid-90s, when it really became a business, where people were going after these autographs, you know, saving them or trying to resell them - whatever it was - but it was something that people looked at as an investment, more so than just something just to have.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR news. I'm talking with the cast of the new ABC reality show "Ball Boys."

Shaggy, Mr. Davis Jr. said that you guys were customers - you and Sweet Lou were customers. You kind of hung out there, right?


REIER: Yeah.


REIER: Yeah.

III: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, talk about...

REIER: I mean we definitely did. I mean I...

MARTIN: What do you like about it?

REIER: You talk sports to your best friends all day. I mean that's a pretty awesome job. Lou and I...

MARTIN: You pay these guys for that?

REIER: Well, you know...


JR.: Very little. Very little.

SR.: Not much.

JR.: Very little.

SR.: Yeah, not much. But, you know, what's really, really cool about it, and as he was alluding to, I've known them since they were 8 or 9 years old. They've been coming in and collecting cards.

REIER: You know me since I was 6. I was a little kid. There was a grocery store behind the store back then. And my mom would go grocery shopping and I'd come in the store and buy packs of cards and whatnot. I was, like, kindergarten.

SR.: And now he's in his 20s. And what's really, really cool is that we argue. We do argue about things, sports things all the time in the show and we really do it in the store.

MARTIN: No. I'm shocked by this.


SR.: And the reason I do it is because when kids grow up they go away from home and you don't have them anymore. Well, I get to be with these kids - and I'm telling them right now - I love being with them and I get to be with them every day. And I don't know what young people talk about but as soon as something happens with a ballplayer that they know, one of the young guys, and he does something good, 'cause on ESPN you see it all the time, they do something good, and they'll say how great he was, I'll get the banter going because I'll interject - Willie Mays or Michael Jordan or somebody that is going to be opposite to them. And that just excites me and that's where we get the banter from. And we do it all the time. I purposely do that.

REIER: All the time, Senior. You do it all the time.


SR.: Because I told them my athletes are better.

MARTIN: Lou, I've got to get - Sweet Lou, I got to get you in this. So what do you like about it?

III: Everything. I mean I was going in there when I was real little. And I remember a time I didn't have enough money and I wanted a Barry Bonds baseball. So my mom didn't have the money to give it to me. So we go in the store and I was talking to Senior and I was talking to Robbie Jr. And Robbie Sr. says, you know what? Just take it. When you get money come back and pay me however long it takes. It didn't matter to him. He just wanted me to have it because he knew how special it was. So I think it was maybe like a couple of days later, my mom was like, well, I'm going to go to the store and pay for it. She wouldn't take me again because then I was going to try to buy another baseball.


III: Because I would spend all my money. I'd work in my mom's basement just to go buy like a Marcus Allen mini helmet of the Raiders. I did anything just to get memorabilia. But...


MARTIN: What's the - Mr. Davis Sr. - what's the most, I don't know, exciting thing that's come into the store?

SR.: It's Babe Ruth, because everybody knows who Babe Ruth is. He's an icon. So whenever I get anything autographed by Babe Ruth, and years back I got a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Someone had it and wanted to sell it and I knew someone in Los Angeles who was looking for that kind of baseball, and I put them together. And that's the cool thing about what we do and the Internet because you can do those kinds of things. You can make a deal from Washington to Los Angeles, and that's what I did. And that was really kind of cool because you touch a moment in history when you touch something signed by those two guys.

MARTIN: Mr. Davis Jr., I wanted to ask you, what is it you think people are interested in and watching this? Because it's not like - forgive me, guys, you know I love you all - but it's not like there is a dearth of sports talk out there. You know, there's radio, there's ESPN; it's all the time. What is it you think people are interested in with this?

JR.: I think why people are interested is because it's something you could legitimately have. You know, somebody could legitimately have an autographed baseball or a football or, you know, it could just be sitting in the basement, under their bed, whatever it is, and wonder what in the world it's worth and how to sell it. So to have a TV show where you can kind of get an idea of what you have, and how special it is, and how valuable it might be, it's totally interesting.

MARTIN: Shaggy, I was asking you this question too because, you know, a lot of people think that young guys like yourself, are the ones that advertisers are trying to reach because they don't really watch TV.

REIER: Yeah.

MARTIN: They don't really care about scripted programs.

REIER: Well, I mean...

MARTIN: So maybe watch sports. They'll listen to their mobile devices and whatever.

REIER: That's true. I mean...

MARTIN: So what do you think? You think guys your age would want to watch this and why?

REIER: Well, absolutely. Because you've got the knowledge of the memorabilia prices and stuff, you also get the history of the players and you really get that family and friends feel of your buddies just chillin' and arguing sports. And that's not, you know, when you had these roundtable discussions on ESPN or something like that, that's fantastic and that's a formula that's worked forever. But this is totally different because it's just completely just laid back, exactly as you are. There's no suit and tie. You're not coming in the studio at a certain time.

MARTIN: I don't know, you all are pretty well-dressed.


MARTIN: I don't know, looking kind of fine. I assumed you dressed up for me.


MARTIN: Sweet Lou, let me ask you this question here because you're in Baltimore so you can't grab me. So has anybody ever gotten Mr. Davis Sr., has anyone ever shot him down? Because it seems to me that he kind of has an answer for everything. And so...

III: Honestly, and I'm not even lying, I have never seen it.


III: I have never seen it. I even tried to get him down because I know what I he does and it still wouldn't work.

SR.: He's correct. I was wrong once. But...

MARTIN: But you forget when it was. When?

III: When?

SR.: None of us can remember.


III: Was I alive?

MARTIN: All right.

SR.: You were alive.

MARTIN: OK. Well, it's good to see you all here. I'm surprised I was actually able to peel you away from the store for long enough to get you all in one room, even though you're actually in two different studios. And that's because, Mr. Davis Sr., you were...

SR.: We have to run a business.

MARTIN: Right.

SR.: I mean and we...

MARTIN: So that's for real. This is not made up. This is not...

SR.: Yeah. This is not. Yeah, we...

MARTIN: ...for the cameras. This is a real shop?

SR.: We honestly do run a business, yeah. If you come there, the way you see us now is exactly how we are at the store. I mean I can see people not liking us because we are real.


SR.: What we, the image we project on camera is exactly how we are.

MARTIN: Robbie Davis, Sr., Robbie Davis, Jr., Robbie "Shaggy" Reier and Louis "Sweet Lou" Brown III are stars of the new ABC Show "Ball Boys."

SR.: We are the ball boys.


MARTIN: Jr. and Lou joined us from member station WTMD in Townsend, Maryland. Sr. and Shaggy were kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thank you, gentlemen.

JR.: Oh, no problems.

SR.: Thanks for having us.

III: Thank you.

REIER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.