By Arnold Bailey
Variations of the following show notice have appeared in the Massachusetts section of the Sports Collector’s Digest Show Calendar a couple hundred times over the past 26 years.
July 9, MA, Mansfield Big Sports Card and Autograph Show, Holiday Inn, 31 Hampshire St., Exit 7A, I-95, Mansfield, MA. SH: 8:45am – 2:45pm. T:80, A-$2, free after 12:45 pm, under 12 free. Cardboard Promotions. Douglas Keating. PH: 508-369-2471 or www.cardboardpromotions.com
All those notices served as reminders that Doug Keating and his Cardboard Promotions company had scheduled another show in their long-running series of shows for collectors of sports cards, memorabilia and autographs.
The SCD notices serve as an alert and an invitation, a kind of “save the date” message for collectors. But they don’t describe everything that Keating features in his shows.
One of Keating’s special features is an appealing lineup of autograph guests. How many?
“Certainly we have had hundreds, and some autograph guests I’ve had on multiple occasions,” Keating said. “I currently have about 60 (autograph signers) a year.”
The two-day Memorial Day weekend signing lineup is typical, an interesting mix of past and present stars from several sports. From hockey the lineup included Hall of Famer Clark Gilles and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz. From baseball there were former Red Sox catcher and broadcaster Bob Montgomery and Mickey Pina. From basketball there was Hank Finkel of the 1974 champion Celtics. From football there were two Patriots players, Super Bowl stars, Ryan Allen and Justin Coleman. For good measure, add a second “Hammer,” pro wrestler Greg Valentine, plus actor Paul D’Amato, who played Dr. Hook McCracken in the “Slap Shot” hockey movie, and Jerry Thornton, from WEEI sports radio and author of “From Darkness to Dynasty.”
Other special features of Keating’s shows are the free packs of cards given to every one in attendance, and the free hourly door prizes awarded to the lucky ones among the collectors at the show.
In addition, several charities have benefitted from the shows during the past two decades.
“As per my website (www.cardboardpromotions.com), I’ve had at least one charity event/signing per year since 1997 and would estimate we’ve donated over $10,000 between money and sports memorabilia,” Keating said. “I usually focus on charities that are local.”
One example of Keating’s charitable endeavors is the Michael Donahue Scholarship Fund.
“He was a classmate of mine in high school who was killed while serving in the military,” Keating said.
Sometimes the autograph guests join the charitable focus. The appearance of former Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant helped raise $795 for charity. And former Patriots star Sammy Morris himself donated $600 to the Attleboro High School football program in conjunction with his appearance.
Also, Keating’s shows attract scores of the area’s top dealers and vendors filling up 80 or more tables. He has special promotions on many holiday-related shows, such as Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Fathers Day. And he offers collectors in attendance free admission passes to future shows. Children under 12 don’t even need free passes; they are always admitted without charge.
Keating’s shows may be the longest running continuing series of monthly card shows in the nation. They’ve been held at least monthly, and frequently more often, since he put together his first such show at age 18 in 1991.
Keating was still a high school senior when he entered the show promotion business with an event in a VFW Hall in Whitman, his Massachusetts hometown. Soon, Keating learned that in card show promotion, as in the real estate business, the key to success is “location, location, location.” He found his ideal location in Mansfield, Massachusetts at the Holiday Inn at the junction of two major highways in a town 40 miles south of Boston and 35 miles north of Providence, Rhode Island
When Keatiing entered show business, or at least the business of sports card and memorabilia shows, he joined a busy market in the Southern New England region.
There were several shows every weekend, sometimes as many as five of them on any given Sunday in Massachusetts. Few have survived the many changes in the hobby over time.
Cardboard Promotions not only has survived; but has prospered. Keating projects his attendance total this year will rank in the top five all-time for his shows. His most attended show was on Labor Day in 1999 when 760 collectors gathered. His best year was 1998 when he averaged 475 per show. Both events were before he began featuring autograph guests. This year his Presidents Day show attracted more than 600 people.
“The fact that the Patriots had just won another Super Bowl, and we had three players from that team as autograph guests, helped attract that big crowd,” Keating said.
Keating is known among the region’s collectors and dealers for his hard work and attention to details. He will tell you that the secret to success with card shows, as with most everything, is “never to rest on your laurels and understand that there’s always something that can be done to improve the show, in part, because we’re living in a changing world.” That continuing change certainly applies to the world of sports cards and memorabilia.
He is quick to credit his day-of-show helpers, vendors and collectors recruited over the long run of the show. The list includes Ernie Rotman, who handles the admission table and has been a friend for over 20 years; Jack Melchert, described by Keating as “the autograph tickets guy”; Chris Walz and his wife Bev; John Joly “who has the relatively thankless job of providing pizzas to the show’s vendors”; Bob Bukin, Keating’s “jack of all trades”; Ron Chrzanowski, who handles security, and Joe Bird.
You also can add Keating’s two children – his son, Charlie, age 8, who also has begun collecting, and daughter, Sylvia, age 11, who has taken some turns running the admission table.
In “real life,” an alumnus of Bentley College, Keating works in customer service at Savings Bank Life Insurance, and lives with his wife, Crystal Muise-Keating and kids in Woburn, east of Boston.
When asked to select a favorite autograph guest Keating said, “It’s tough to narrow down so I think in terms of interesting stories.”
George “Boomer” Scott was a fan favorite with the Red Sox in the ’60s and ’70s, especially when he was hitting his long-distance “tatters” (home runs). Distances also figured in his trips to sign autographs at Keating’s shows.
“He lived in Mississippi but wouldn’t fly, so he always drove in for appearances,” said Keating, recalling what for Scott were 2,800-mile round trips.
“Because of a health issue, he (Scott) couldn’t make the drive for one of my shows,” Keating recalls, “So I had Milt Schmidt, who was 93 at the time, fill in for him.”
“I thought the world of Milt – great career, classy, humble, smart,” Keating said of the former Bruins star player, captain, coach, general manager and “good-will” ambassador. “I’m glad I got to know both of them (Schmidt and Scott) before they passed away.”
There are other unusual memories. “Fairly recently I picked up Dwight Gooden at the airport,” Keating said. “He and Don Mattingly were the two biggest names in the 1980s, especially if you were a kid like me.
“It was a late flight and he wanted a hamburger. About the only place still open after 11 o’clock was Wendy’s. So it was Gooden and me in a relatively long Wendy’s drive-through line. Turns out he loves Wendy’s. He had their menu memorized.”
There have been times when Keating’s autograph guests were as thrilled to be involved in one of his shows as were the crowds of collectors in the hotel ballroom.
“A couple of years ago I had current Patriots Super Bowl star James Develin in for an appearance along with boxer Mickey Ward (aka “The Fighter,” the movie based on his career),” Develin was a defensive lineman at nearby Brown University before he joined the Pats as a fullback. Ward, a Massachusetts native, was the WBU light welterweight champ in 2000.
“Develin was recovering from an injury so he was on crutches,” Keating said, “But he made what was a relatively long walk to meet Ward. A retired boxer and a current football player; their paths may never have crossed, but they did on that day at a card show.”
Arnold Bailey is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be reached at email@example.com.